It’s a tale of two Islands.
State Senator Diane Savino said Republican Congressman Michael Grimm was “race-baiting when he recently said he didn’t want Staten Island to turn into Coney Island.
“It’s offensive on so many levels,” Ms. Savino, a Democrat who represents Coney Island as well as Staten Island’s North Shore, said of Mr. Grimm’s remark during a televised debate against Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia.
“I do not want Staten Island to be the next Coney Island,” Mr. Grimm said at the College of Staten Island Tuesday, during the debate co-hosted by NY1 and the Staten Island Advance, in response to Mr. Recchia touting the area’s growth.
Mr. Recchia represented Coney Island as a member of the City Council; he was a key figure in a controversial rezoning effort there highlighted in a PBS documentary, Zipper.
Ms. Savino said Mr. Grimm’s comments — and others made by the GOP arguing that Mr. Recchia would repay “Brooklyn housing project votes” by building public housing on Staten Island — amount to race-baiting.
“Ultimately, what he’s doing is race-baiting. He knows it, and so does everybody else. He has continuously used the specter of Coney Island as what we don’t want on Staten Island,” Ms. Savino said.
She went on to slam the congressman for doing the same to his own constituents — pointing out that a television ad he released in early October showed pictures of apartments in Park Hill and the Stapleton Houses, both on Staten Island and in Mr. Grimm’s district, as a narrator warned: “Now Recchia refuses to stand up to de Blasio’s plan to build government housing in our neighborhoods.”
“He’s used images of Park Hill and the Stapleton Houses in his own commercials as images of what we don’t want on Staten Island. Those are his constituents,” Ms. Savino said. “They are already there. So if he doesn’t want to represent those people, he should tell them that. It’s just, it’s unfortunate — it’s race-baiting, it’s insulting and really just should stop it.
(While the Stapleton Houses are housing projects, the Park Hill Apartments — made famous by the Wu-Tang Clan — are not.)
Beyond the racial undertones, Ms. Savino said Staten Island would be lucky to get the same influx of economic development as Coney Island.
“The Coney Island re-zoning has resulted in a $4 billion influx into our local economy here. We should be so lucky on Staten Island. We have been struggling for years to get that kind of economic development. We are on the verge of it on the North Shore but no thanks to Michael Grimm” Ms. Savino said, before rattling off a number of upcoming developments in the borough she said he had “absolutely nothing to do with.”
A source close to the Coney Island re-zoning declined to comment specifically on Mr. Grimm’s remark, but also pointed to the region’s successes in recent years.
“This notion that Coney Island rezoning has been unsuccessful — well, let me just kind of reframe this for you: attendance is at an all-time high, thousands of jobs have been created with the opening of four brand new amusement parks now, and millions have been invested in infrastructure including boardwalk improvements, new public plazas and a restored historic carousel,” the source said.
Mr. Grimm, meanwhile, dismissed Ms. Savino’s comments as “ultra-liberal rhetoric.”
“This is typical ultra-liberal rhetoric from someone who is so out-of-touch with Staten Island that her biggest claim to fame is legalizing marijuana when our borough has the worst prescription drug epidemic in the country. Everyone knows that Domenic Recchia sold out Coney Island to low-income housing developers–there’s an entire documentary showing Recchia telling small businesses in his district to take a back seat to developers,” Mr. Grimm said in a statement to the Observer. “So it’s no question that given the chance he’ll join forces with our radical, liberal Mayor and do the exact same thing to Staten Island, and I am 100 percent opposed to letting that happen.”
Upon reading those remarks, Ms. Savino took a swipe at Mr. Grimm over the 20-count indictment he faces relating to a restaurant he owned prior to entering Congress — including allegations that he underreported wages on tax forms and lied under oath while being sued by employees who said they were illegally underpaid.
“While I am immensely proud of the passage of the Compassionate Care Act,” Ms. Savino said of state law paving the way medicinal marijuana, “I still consider my greatest legislative accomplishment to be Wage Theft Prevention Act, which is the one that is going to nail Michael Grimm’s sorry ass to the wall.”
This story has been updated with additional comment from Ms. Savino.