Grimm close to post-prison run for old seat

 Grimm close to post-prison run for old seat
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Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), fresh off a prison term, wants to win back his old congressional seat — a campaign that could set off a contentious primary with the Republican who holds the seat now.

Grimm, who was released from a seven-month prison term for fraud in 2016, admitted publicly for the first time last month that he’s debating another bid for office during an interview with New York City’s NY1 television station earlier this month. The news outlet reported last week that Grimm has decided to run and plans to kick off his return bid with an Oct. 1 rally.

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But the former congressman will face long odds as he looks to put his past behind him and return to public office.

Any return to Congress would have to go through Rep. Dan Donovan (N.Y.), the Republican who replaced Grimm in 2015. Top Republicans are already standing by their incumbent and would be reluctant to jettison him for a candidate with a criminal record and a reputation for erratic behavior.

But the hard-charging Grimm is already making it clear he believes he can beat Donovan by attacking him from the right. The former congressman has already started laying the groundwork for a primary attack, criticizing Donovan as insufficiently conservative.

Donovan will have plenty to lob at Grimm — including the national headlines Grimm earned after threatening, on-camera, to throw a reporter off a balcony.

“Dan is a gentleman, very measured and well-spoken, but almost soft-spoken, where Grimm threatens to throw you off a balcony,” said David Catalfamo, a New York-based GOP strategist.

Catalfamo, like most Republicans who spoke to The Hill, doesn’t think much of Grimm’s chances.

“This is likely more about rehabilitation than winning — I don’t see a path for him,” Catalfamo said.

Federal prosecutors indicted Grimm in 2014 on 20 charges related to Healthalicious, a restaurant Grimm owned. Prosecutors accused Grimm of hiring undocumented immigrants then paying them in cash, thus lowering his restaurant’s payroll tax burden.

Grimm resigned from Congress and eventually plead guilty in December 2014 to helping to file a false tax return, admitting to much of the alleged conduct as part of the plea.

Grimm was released early from prison in May 2016, after serving seven months. But Grimm hasn’t sought a quiet return to private life. Instead, he’s been making the rounds ahead of a potential bid, New York City Republicans told The Hill, making it clear he desires a return to Congress.

The sources added that Grimm has some support, with former Staten Island Borough president and former GOP Rep. Guy Molinari in his corner.

While some Republicans admit they’re still fond of the former congressman, whatever affection that still remains for Grimm isn’t likely to be enough to get him over the top against Donovan.

As rumors of a Grimm bid intensified last month, a full slate of local leaders, including state GOP Chairman Ed Cox and current Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, backed Donovan in a statement noting their “disappointment that Mr. Grimm would consider such an action.”

And Donovan already has a relationship with President Trump, a valuable commodity that could help insulate him from an attack from his right flank. Donovan traveled on Air Force One with Trump, where Trump asked his opinion on then-Homeland Security Secretary John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, who was to be named chief of staff upon the plane’s arrival in Washington.

“One of the places where the Republican machinery still matters is Staten Island. And Dan Donovan seems to have that locked up,” Catalfamo said.

Jessica Proud, Donovan’s spokeswoman, downplayed the threat of a primary challenge in a statement to The Hill.

“We’re not really concerned about a challenge from a felon who was one of the most liberal members of Congress,” Proud said. “Voters won’t be duped by him again.”

Grimm has still another challenge ahead: convincing his old constituents to give him another chance.

He and his allies have said his prosecution was driven by politics, citing the fact that Loretta Lynch, who prosecuted Grimm as a U.S. attorney, later became President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE’s attorney general.

The former congressman said in an NY1 interview late last month that his case should have resulted in a civil fine instead of a criminal proceeding, describing the charges as political and unnecessarily punitive.

“People forget, they want to say, ‘Oh, [he’s a] tax fraud.’ It was three delivery boys and a kitchen worker off the books, which has always been a civil matter,” Grimm said.

“I should’ve received a civil fine. But I’m not bitter and angry. Politics corrupted the justice system.”

Voters may be hesitant to cast their ballot for someone just a few years removed from resigning in disgrace. But the city has experience on that front — former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) briefly led the 2013 mayoral race until new sexting revelations surfaced, some proof that voters could be receptive to another Grimm bid.

David Birdsell, a political science professor at New York City’s Baruch College, noted that the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election could give Grimm a chance to appeal to GOP voters angry with federal investigations into Republican politicians.

“Remember when this race will be taking place, sometime next year. You could have a Trump-[related] prosecution, you could have strong Republican backlash,” he said.

“Many people believe the investigation will focus predominantly on Trump’s business operation — there could be a party-wide pushback on prosecutorial zeal for non-political charges against those who hold political office … but it could also backfire spectacularly.”

Grimm sees Donovan as vulnerable from the right, a point he made clear during the NY1 interview, when he said Donovan is “doing a great job as a liberal Democrat.”

Grimm criticized Donovan for voting against the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill and a bill that would have stripped Justice Department funding from so-called sanctuary cities, which do not comply with federal immigration laws — exactly the kind of fuel for the grass roots that could boost his primary challenge. But each of those attacks could be undercut by the fact that both votes had unique implications for New Yorkers.

Donovan voted against the House bill meant to repeal and replace ObamaCare, a measure that passed by just one vote. As New York City’s only Republican congressman, his vote against the package puts him at odds with many GOP voters in the only New York congressional district that Trump won.

But the bill included a provision meant to sweeten the deal for upstate New York Republican lawmakers that would have come at New York City’s expense. The language would have shifted the burden of Medicaid costs from counties to the state, but excluded New York City.

In a statement announcing his decision, Donovan lambasted that amendment for “putting an unfair and disproportionate burden on City residents to cover the state’s exorbitant Medicaid expenses.”

A recent sanctuary city bill also put Donovan in a similar bind — it would have defunded New York City and other sanctuary cities of federal funding unless it complied with federal immigration law.

Donovan, who joined with Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) to vote against the June bill, has said he doesn’t support the city’s decision to ignore federal immigration law but that he doesn’t want to support a measure that would strip the city of millions in important security funding.

Grimm has another problem if he’s going to hit Donovan from the right: He wasn’t exactly a conservative stalwart in office, either. Both Grimm and Donovan have received similar ratings on the conservative Heritage Action scorecard in their careers — a 35 percent ranking for Donovan last term compared to Grimm’s average mark of 39 percent over his two terms scored by the group.  

Still, one former Grimm staffer told The Hill that his former boss could have an “outside shot” if Donovan “keeps screwing up” by opening up vulnerabilities on his right flank. He pointed to Donovan’s support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors to stay here and work, as one issue that could hurt his standing within the party’s base.

Even in an unpredictable political atmosphere, though, Republicans remain skeptical of Grimm’s chances. But multiple New York City Republicans speculated that Grimm’s bid might get something out of the race even if he loses.

“There are reasons to run beyond just winning. Do I think it’s great for the party? No. Do I think he’s going to win? No,” Catalfamo said.

“But do I think it might ultimately be good for him to run a decent race and come out and be rehabilitated — if he runs the right kind of race.”