By Elise Viebeck - 05/09/11 10:21 AM EDT
It’s been a tough few weeks for freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) who, since beating Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon by 3 points in November, is the only Republican in New York City’s congressional delegation.
Like a third of his fellow New York representatives, Grimm was born in
Brooklyn, and he faced a harsh welcome there and in Staten Island over
the April recess.
His string of town-hall meetings, where talk of
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan met
with shouting, boos and protests, became the recess’s leading example of
how the GOP leadership’s agenda is faring in centrist districts.
“Overall, people got to speak their mind and give their opinions and say
I was wrong on something where others said I was right,” Grimm told The
Wall Street Journal, “and I think that was all part of it.”
A Gulf War veteran and former FBI undercover agent on Wall Street, he
brought a compelling narrative of public service to the voters of the
13th district which, before McMahon, had elected centrist Republicans
“You have to be respectful of the diversity here,” he said. “There’s a
lot of people in the trades unions here in Staten Island and Brooklyn,
whether it be carpenters, plumbers, electricians. And I have to
represent them fairly, even though the traditional Republican view is
often very unfavorable to unions.”
Grimm also says he agrees with the actions taken by New Jersey Gov.
Chris Christie, a Republican who has inspired a national campaign
against excessive public-employee pensions and other union benefits.
similar to that, but it doesn’t mean you have to be against people who
work hard,” Grimm said. He calls union laborers the “backbone of the
In handling the town-hall crowds, which numbered in the hundreds, Grimm seemed occasionally flustered. The New York Times called his performance “alternately cordial and combative” at the first forum. At one point, he called the idea that former President George W. Bush had contributed to the current budget deficit “insane.”
“He’s been improving every time,” Tony Ferrantino, an audience member,
told the Staten Island Advance following one event.
Grimm said the
most surprising and challenging part of his job is the “grueling”
“I’m aggressive — I set the schedule as I do,” he said.
“That’s part of the growing pains of being new. I’m struggling to pay my
bills — not because I don’t have money in the bank, but because I don’t
have time to write out the checks.”
Asked if he’ll keep up the pace, he says yes, describing himself as
“just a very determined, stubborn Marine.”
Grimm is perhaps best known for his time spent as Michael Garibaldi, or “Mikey Suits,” the persona he adopted for several years while working for the FBI to expose fraud on Wall Street.
One operation, dubbed “Wooden Nickel,” targeted illegal currency trading
and put more than 30 brokers behind bars. Grimm now serves on the House
Financial Services Committee, likely owing to this experience.
all of his record is so shiny, however.
According to recent reports, Grimm was involved in a tense incident at a
Queens nightclub in 1999 in which he is said to have threatened the
estranged husband of his date with a gun and refused to let the other
patrons leave, saying he was an FBI agent.
The evening’s events resulted in a lawsuit, which was later dismissed on
jurisdictional grounds. According to The New Yorker, Grimm called the
account “fiction” and a “witch hunt” in an interview with the editorial
board of the Staten Island Advance. His office did not respond to
additional requests for comment for this piece.
Grimm sees his tough persona as a political asset.
“People voted for
me because they know I’m not the type of guy to get pushed around. I
speak my mind,” he said, describing an incident in which he upset Tea
Party supporters by releasing a statement calling those who opposed the
fiscal 2011 continuing resolution the “extreme wing of the Republican
He said some conservatives had questioned his patriotism for supporting
“When someone threatens me, or calls me un-American after I
put my life on the line for almost 16 years for this country, I’m not
going to stand for that, regardless of who it is,” Grimm said.
His heroes, he said, are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — for
“toughness” — and former President George H.W. Bush, “my
commander-in-chief from the Gulf.”
“One of the most accomplished and
well-rounded patriots this country has ever seen,” he said of the 41st
president. “He is certainly the most dignified man I’ve ever met, and he
really epitomizes, in my opinion, the ultimate American.”
Grimm said his hope now is to “grow into a true statesman,” but the
question remains whether Brooklyn and Staten Island voters will permit
him, after such a narrow first election.
“Brooklyn grows leaders. Brooklyn is awesome. Anyone who doesn’t think Brooklyn is awesome is in denial,” Grimm says. “It’s a tenacious city, New York City as a whole. To survive in Brooklyn, and to get to the top, you have to be at the top of your game because the competition is unbelievable.”
Current Office: New York representative
Date of Birth: Feb. 7, 1970
Birthplace: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Occupation: Small-business owner; former FBI agent; former Marine
Political Experience: None
Education: B.B.A., City University of New York; J.D., New York Law School
Fun fact: In March, Grimm adopted a Teacup Yorkshire Terrier that had been rescued from a puppy mill. He named the dog “Sebastian.”