Last year, Mark Murphy ran a sharply negative campaign against Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm that focused on an ongoing federal investigation into the incumbent’s 2010 fundraising efforts. The drumbeat was relentless; Mr. Murphy held regular press conferences about the investigation, worked it into his everyday messaging and even sent out direct mail with a faux mugshot of Mr. Grimm’s face on it. Despite these intense attacks, Mr. Murphy went on to lose 46 percent to 53 percent to the Republican Mr. Grimm in a swing district narrowly carried by President Barack Obama.
Councilman Domenic Recchia, who is planning to take on Mr. Grimm next year, is charting a different course for his campaign.
“Listen, I don’t get involved with people’s private lives,” Mr. Recchia told us as we sat down outside his government office earlier today. “This is not about Michael Grimm and his personal life, what he might have done or might not have done. I don’t know. This is about myself running for Congress to support the people of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn so I can really help them.”
Though he indicated he won’t make personal attacks against Mr. Grimm, Mr. Recchia has plenty of criticism for the incumbent congressman’s politics. Mr. Recchia claims his campaign was inspired by the Republican-controlled Congress’ initial stalling of the Hurricane Sandy federal aid package. Mr. Recchia was previously been fundraising for an unnamed 2013 citywide race–probably comptroller or Brooklyn borough president–but said he decided to run for federal office after watching Speaker John Boehner stall the Sandy package. Though Mr. Grimm initially blasted Mr. Boehner, he later supported the Speaker in his confirmation.
“In my days in working with Superstorm Sandy … I had to worry about my own district, worry about what was going on in the city. Then the [Council] Speaker called me, said, ‘We have to get moving. We need money. Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan. We need to fund hospitals, we’re out schools.’ We had to move money around. So I’d be working the district, meeting with her at night, going over funding,” the councilman said. “I just came to realize, ‘How are we going to make up this much money?’ We’re relying on the federal government. Then with the Republican Congress, they cancelled the vote. Then John Boehner started to use the [Republicans] of New York so he can get his support to be the speaker. That was unacceptable. I thought that was horrible that somebody would do that. To hear Michael Grimm say, ‘I’m not going to support him.’ Which is great, I’m glad. But then he goes and supports him. That’s unacceptable.”
Along with his concern about the handling of the hurricane, Mr. Recchia touted his legislative experience as another reason for his run. Referring to himself as a “numbers guy,” Mr. Recchia cited unemployment as his “greatest concern” and touted his work as the chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee as evidence he’s ready to take on economic issues.
“I have to work with Washington right now!” he exclaimed at one point. “We had the preliminary budget hearing on Monday. There are many questions asked about the storm, financing, where the money’s going to come from. What the impact’s going to be. How much are we going to be reimbursed? We’re still waiting to be reimbursed! … We really need someone from Congress that can make a difference. That understands the budget. That really knows how to get things done.”
Of course, Election Day 2014 is a long way out, and Mr. Recchia’s messaging could change with time. Though Mr. Recchia maintains he will focused on substantive financial and policy issues, he didn’t completely rule out the possibility he would bring up Mr. Grimm’s fundraising controversy in the future.
“The campaign is a year and a half away, alright?” Mr. Recchia said when we asked if he might change his tune. “I’m sure many issues are going to come up. I really want to keep this about what I have done, my track record. I have a good track record on serving communities, building consensus, working with both sides of the aisle. That’s what we need. I want to do what’s necessary, not what’s easy. That’s why I’m running for Congress.”