Rep. Michael Grimm’s (R-N.Y.) third term in office will end a day before it was supposed to begin, setting off a scramble to win his competitive Staten Island district.
Grimm, who pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion as part of a 20-count federal indictment against him, has said he will tender his resignation on Jan. 5, 2015. The Staten Island Republican easily won reelection on Nov. 4 despite the indictment hanging over his head.
The special election isn’t a primary. Instead, the candidates are chosen by party organizations in the state, so Republican and Democratic leaders will have the opportunity to put forth the people they believe will have the best shot at winning the 11th District.
Here are the early front-runners from both parties to be on the ballot in the special election.
There are two GOP candidates at the top of the pack: Daniel Donovan, the prosecutor at the center of the investigation into the death of Eric Garner; and Nicole Malliotakis, an assemblywoman representing parts of Brooklyn.
Either candidate would get the endorsement of the Conservative Party of New York if they were on the ballot, removing the danger of a split that’s wreaked havoc on past Empire State special elections.
“Both of them are very suitable for the Conservative Party,” the group's chairman, Mike Long, told The Hill. “They’d both be acceptable.”
District Attorney Daniel Donovan: The Richmond County district attorney is wildly popular at home. He won a third term in 2012 by taking nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Still, his handling of the racially charged Garner case, which has provoked protests across the country and attracted a media frenzy, could be an issue.
Donovan has faced criticism because a grand jury decided not to indict a New York police officer, Daniel Panteleo, in the death of Garner, an unarmed black man. Panteleo put Garner in a chokehold for allegedly resisting arrest after he was approached for selling loose cigarettes.
“I think some will try to make an issue out of it, but it was the grand jury that made the decision, not [Donovan],” said Long. “He has a very good reputation.”
Donovan said in a statement that his phone "has been ringing off the hook" from people encouraging him to run, and says he’s “very seriously considering the race.”
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis: A child of Greek and Cuban immigrants, the assemblywoman is viewed as a rising star in New York City’s conservative circles.
She worked for former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) before winning her first election to the State Assembly in 2010. At 34, she’s a fresh face for the party and is believed to have national ambitions.
“She’s a young and very impressive assemblyperson,” Long said. “She works very hard, studies well on all of the issues, and is an articulate spokesperson.”
Malliotakis told the Staten Island Advance on Monday that she’s considering a run and will make a decision soon.
“I am taking a serious look at the seat," she said. "As someone who currently represents both Brooklyn and Staten Island, I have a thorough understanding of the needs of the district. I will be discussing it with my party leaders, county committee members, my supporters and my family, and will make a decision shortly."
Former Rep. Vito Fossella: The former congressman, who represented the Staten Island district for six terms, has been floated as a potential contender.
However, he’d be dealing with his own personal baggage in a race.
Fossella was arrested for a DUI while a member of Congress in 2008, and it was later discovered that he fathered a child out of wedlock while he was married. He declined to run for reelection that year.
Fossella considered a primary challenge to Grimm in 2014 but opted to continue his career as a managing director at the Park Strategies lobbying firm in New York.
He told The New York Observer on Wednesday that he’s “not really” interested in returning to Congress, but he didn’t shut the door completely.
“For now I think I’m in a good place in my life,” he said. “My hope is that the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn go to the polls, when they go to the polls, and just choose the best person for all of us.”
State Sen. Andrew Lanza: Republicans believe the state senator would be a strong candidate, but he’s been recruited before and declined to run.
Long said he believes Lanza prefers his spot in the state Senate and will stay put.
Democrats see a window of opportunity to pick up a GOP-leaning district, but they’ll have their work cut out for them.
Grimm pounded Democrat Domenic Recchia by double digits in the November general election despite the indictments hanging over his head.
“There’s been a lot of drama in this seat last several years, so a no-drama candidate that can do the job will have as a good a shot as anyone getting in,” said Phil Singer, a Democratic strategist in New York.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick: The state lawmaker is the preferred candidate among Democrats right now.
He has spent more than a decade in the State Assembly and formerly worked in Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D) New York City office.
“As far as raising money and putting together an organization and keeping an ear to the ground for all of the things that need to be taken into account, Cusick has the best shot in that sense,” Singer said. “He runs a tight ship and is well-organized.”
Cusick has said he’s open to running for the seat.
"I've been getting a number of calls from folks asking me to think about running," he told the Staten Island Advance. "It's something I won't rule out and will give strong consideration to."
Former Rep. Michael McMahon: Democrats don’t have a deep bench for this seat, so the second tier is made up of those who have been there before.
The former congressman served one term in the House, succeeding Fossella, before he lost to Grimm in the GOP wave of 2010. McMahon considered a rematch with Grimm in the most recent election, but stayed on the sidelines.
In an interview with Roll Call last week, McMahon wouldn’t rule out a bid but said his focus right now is on mourning the two officers killed recently in a racially charged shooting.
“Here in New York, we are really broken-hearted about these officers who’ve been killed, and that’s everyone’s main focus,” he said. ”It’s not something that I’m ruling out or ruling in, but it will get serious consideration after we mourn our tragic losses here.”
2014 nominee Domenic Recchia: The former city councilman failed to impress in his bid to take out Grimm this November, falling by double digits to the embattled congressman.
“I think Grimm benefitted by having an opposition candidate that couldn’t close the deal,” Singer said. “When an incumbent is running under the cloud of indictment and wins reelection, it’s a credit to that person’s political skills, but also an indictment of the opposition’s political skills. Grimm was adept at exploiting the missteps of his opponent and was able to deflect from his legal troubles.”
But as a last resort, Recchia could easily kick-start a campaign by taking advantage of his existing operations if he were interested.