Since taking office two years ago, Republican Congressman Michael Grimm has been dogged by accusations of fundraising impropriety and shady business associations—accusations he denies. Grimm came into office on a wave of Tea Party support. But unseating him isn't proving so easy for challenger Mark Murphy, who's ten points back in the most recent poll.
The son of a former congressman from Staten Island, Murphy’s most recent job was in Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office. Before that Murphy spent nearly two decades in California working in the film industry.
But for Murphy, the race isn't so much about his past as it is about Grimm's.
"What do we know about Congressman Michael Grimm?" intones an announcer in a television ad, as images of newspaper headlines flash across the screen. "One of the most corrupt members of Congress. Thousands from pornographers. Grand jury probes.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the congressman, he is confident he can win.
"When you're an elected official and you get that title of politician, this is unfortunately what happens; you become a very big target," Grimm said in an interview. "But I think it's in all sincerity and I don't want to seem arrogant in any way, and I don't mean it in an arrogant way, but it is a result of my success."
Voters do respond to Grimm. "He's Republican; so am I, our whole family," said Sophie, a Russian immigrant, on her way to walk the boardwalk. "And I believe in things he talks and he does."
Former NYPD officer Walt Rodriguez isn't so sure: "You know, I was kind of concerned and I certainly wouldn't vote for him, you know?"
But will people vote for Murphy?
Privately, Democrats in Staten Island and Brooklyn have expressed concern that Murphy's sole pitch seems to be that he's not Michael Grimm. They suspect this accounts for Murphy's low media profile. WNYC made multiple requests to sit down with Murphy to talk about the race. We were given a few minutes over the phone. Murphy rejects the suggestion he's running an Anybody-but-Grimm campaign.
"I have two jobs in this campaign, two very important ones. I have to meet as many people and community leaders and get as many votes as humanly possible, but I can only do so much of that one-on-one and hand-to-hand," Murphy said.
Grimm own surplus of hand-to-hand politicking was on display during a recent meet-and-greet with a sports fishermen group supporting his campaign. Bedecked in a well-trimmed suit, Grimm chatted about boat building and federal fishing guidelines with the anglers, some of whom had just returned to shore.
“You catch any today,” Grimm asked Guy Ahearn, president of the Staten Island Tuna Club.
“Yeah, we did. We did OK. We caught two weakfish and a sea bass,” Ahearn said, noting he rarely returns without a catch. “I’m kind of lucky in that way.”
“Lucky — I think it’s a little more than luck,” Grimm said.
“Well, we’ll have to take you out some day and see how much luck you got,” said Ahearn.