Michael Grimm Captures NY's 13th District Seat

11/03/2010 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ashley Killough Freelance journalist and student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

All was happy for Michael Grimm and his supporters late last night in Staten Island after the GOP candidate bested the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Michael McMahon, to win the House seat.

"The country called, and Staten Island answered. Staten Island showed up. The country needs us and who better than the people of the United States of America to take our own country back?" Grimm said to a crowd of cheering fans at the Renaissance Hotel in Staten Island.

Republicans had represented the 13th Congressional district, which includes all of Staten Island and Southwest Brooklyn, for about two decades until McMahon took the seat in 2008.

"I heard from a lot of people [while campaigning] that it's too late. That America is gone. We've spent too much money. We've borrowed too much. We have too many regulations. We can't bring our country back," Grimm said. "But, ladies and gentlemen, they couldn't be more wrong. Not only can we do it. But tonight, we did it."

The race between the two "Mikes" became neck and neck in the final days of the campaign, drawing attention for its negative campaign ads and tactics. The candidates took part in multiple debates and argued heavily on budget issues, health care reform and immigration.

McMahon far outspent Grimm, with about $2 million to Grimm's $900,000 as of the third quarter, according to Federal Election Commission data. But with his message on lowering taxes and reducing government, Grimm's campaign had the backing and momentum of local Tea Party movements, a key factor in Republican victories nationwide.

Both candidates worked until the final hours of the race Tuesday afternoon, traveling all over the district and asking for votes. McMahon said he was sure of a win while passing out fliers and shaking hands with Staten Island Ferry commuters as they headed home on Election Day.

"It's going great. We've gotten our message out. As an independent fighter for Brooklyn and Staten Island, my record speaks for itself," McMahon said.

But at the Renaissance Hotel later that night, Grimm supporters grew more excited with each ballot update that revealed Grimm was holding the lead. Just before midnight, the former FBI undercover agent made his victory speech.

"When America is down, when our backs are to the wall, we stand up and we get the job done. So now, the real work begins. We're going to Washington. We're going to take Capitol Hill, fire Nancy Pelosi," Grimm said. "And that's right, President Barack Obama, This is our country. And we want it back."

Anger was a central issue in the race, with both candidates talking about the emotion in several debates. Grimm often said he got into the race because he was angry with the direction the country was heading, while McMahon would say anger was not a viable solution for the country's problems.

But Amy Lavelle, president of Young Democrats of Richmond County, said Grimm eventually won by riding a wave of "anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat, anti-Obama rhetoric" that seemed to define many races nationwide.

"All I ever heard from Grimm or his supporters was anger and negativity with little to no solutions," said Lavelle. "McMahon campaigned well, and I don't think there was anything more that he could have done to win. I really think people voted on their anger and frustration with the state of the country without considering the result."

Grimm supporters, who stayed late into the night Tuesday to celebrate with the campaign, expressed feelings of relief and hope.

"I think that things will change for the better now that we have Michael Grimm as our new Congressman," said Carol Montagnino, unemployed. "I'm very excited."

Patricia Cericola, a Grimm supporter from Staten Island, said she enjoyed being part of the campaign's grassroots efforts and says she's been with the tea party movement from day one.

"People that never got involved before, like myself, got involved," Cericola said. "There's something about him that just brought everyone out. They couldn't help it. They just wanted to work for this man."

And as for Grimm, he already knew his next item of business.

"I want to get a full night's sleep," he said. "But first, I want to go to the Staten Island Ferry tomorrow, and I'm going to go to a few senior centers, and I'm going to thank everyone for their vote."