Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t win any popularity contests in Staten Island and southern Brooklyn–but he’s still throwing his weight behind a Democratic candidate for their House seat.
Mr. de Blasio, along with Democratic activist Bill Samuels and Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos, will host a fund-raiser for Councilman Vincent Gentile, a Brooklyn lawmaker, on March 19, according to an invitation obtained by the Observer. The fund-raiser at Mr. Samuels’ East Side home is likely to bring in a nice haul for Mr. Gentile, an underdog in the special election for the 11th Congressional District, but it could prove controversial in neighborhoods where Mr. de Blasio’s progressive brand of politics is reviled.
The fund-raising email, sent from Mr. Kallos, also urges Upper East Side Democratic clubs to volunteer for Mr. Gentile.
“As you may already know, Council Member Vinnie Gentile is running for Congress is the 11th District. It would mean a lot to see Upper East Side clubs mobilize around this race,” Mr. Kallos wrote. “With the Special Election less than 60 days away, Vinnie needs our full support now. As you know, fundraising is vital to his campaign’s success and Vinnie would appreciate any support you can provide.”
In a statement to the Observer, Mr. Samuels, a prominent liberal, said he was “thrilled” to host a fund-raiser for Mr. Gentile. “Vinnie has had a long and distinguished career in public service, and I think he will be a fantastic Congressman. Support for his campaign is growing every day,” he said.
Mr. Gentile, up against Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, a Republican, will need to raise money quickly to compete in the race. National Democrats will be reluctant to allocate any resources until he can prove he can be competitive with Mr. Donovan, who is a front-runner in the race for the right-leaning district.
Mr. de Blasio’s financial muscle will help. He will also be returning a favor: When Mr. de Blasio was an underdog candidate for mayor in 2013, Mr. Gentile and his club, the Bay Ridge Democrats, endorsed Mr. de Blasio. The two Democrats and fellow Brooklynites also served in the City Council together.
The district, the most conservative in New York City, was previously represented by a proudly anti-de Blasio congressman in Michael Grimm, a Republican who resigned in January following a guilty plea to a tax evasion charge. Mr. Grimm repeatedly battered his Democratic rival, former Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr., for being too beholden to Mr. de Blasio and the liberal political establishment. Mr. de Blasio did not host a fund-raiser for Mr. Recchia, but he lent a staffer to his campaign.
Mr. de Blasio praised Mr. Gentile in February: “I think Vinnie’s a great public servant. I’ve known him almost 20 years, and I think he has a lot to offer that district,” he told reporters. (A spokesman did not comment on the upcoming fund-raiser.)
When asked if he was worried about Mr. de Blasio’s unpopularity in Staten Island weighing down his campaign, Mr. Gentile only had kind words for the mayor.
“Councilman Gentile is happy to have the support of the Mayor of the City of New York and looks forward to working with him to deliver for the people of New York’s 11th Congressional District,” said Justin Brannan, a spokesman for Mr. Gentile.
Mr. Donovan’s campaign gleefully slammed Mr. Gentile for associating with Mr. de Blasio.
“Mayor de Blasio and Vinnie Gentile are cut from the same cloth,” stated Donovan spokeswoman Jessica Proud. “He voted with Bill de Blasio 99% of the time and supports the same far-left agenda that raises taxes and kills jobs. Mr. Gentile has already voted to raise income taxes on middle-class New Yorkers–it’s scary to think what he would do in congress.”
The special election is set for May 5.