A Bayonne Bridge to Nowhere?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Freshman Congressman Michael Grimm clinched the seat representing Staten Island and part of Brooklyn on the same anti-big government wave that put the gavel in the hands of John Bohener.  He trumpeted the perils of government debt and equated spending on local projects with breaking the law.

“This ‘pork barrel spending’ coming out of Congress is tantamount to criminal acts and must be stopped,” he declared on his campaign’s web-site.

Just ten days into his first term, Grimm put himself in a proverbial legal jeopardy when he insisted that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey include a light-rail link in its plans to raise the Bayonne Bridge.  In a letter to Christopher Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority, he called the project a “top priority.”

As Grimm noted, U.S. Census Data in December 2010 indicated that Staten Islanders face the longest commute time in the nation, so any effort to alleviate the average commute time of an hour and a half will likely receive a warm reception from his constituents.  But the project pits the Tea Party-backed representative against the mantra of fiscal restraint and offers a glimpse at how the congressman may balance the demands of the party and the people.

Even as Grimm skirts the party line and risks irking his friends, he keeps his enemies closer.  While labor unions will likely never man the phone banks for Grimm, the jobs generated by potential infrastructure projects may weaken the union support for future Democratic opponents.  On the night of Grimm’s debate with his predecessor at Wagner College, one union leader told me that they supported McMahon because of the number of jobs he generated.

Bayonne Bridge (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Grimm can pacify union leaders by creating jobs, but he can simultaneously create a voting base of rank-and-file union workers by doing so.  John Gulino, chairman of Democratic Committee of Richmond County estimated that 70,000 households on Staten Island have at least one member in a union.  If Grimm is perceived to help those households avoid foreclosure, he may safely call Staten Island his home for multiple terms. That may be enough to help Grimm deflect the wrath of the Republican establishment.

Meanwhile, Grimm has backed his words with action.  He met with the executive director of the Port Authority last Monday in what the Staten Island Advance described as a testy exchange.  The week before, he met with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee according to the Advance.

So Grimm may avoid the party penitentiary after all, as long as he doesn’t become arrested by the agenda.

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