New Member of the Week: NYC Republican stands ground

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.”

Like many of his freshman colleagues, Grimm rose in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party support and an endorsement from 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R).

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 since 1993.

“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.

“[I’m] 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 workforce.”

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” schedule.

“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.

Not 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 Party.”

He said some conservatives had questioned his patriotism for supporting the CR.

“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
Party: Republican
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
Family: Single
Fun fact: In March, Grimm adopted a Teacup Yorkshire Terrier that had been rescued from a puppy mill. He named the dog “Sebastian.”