Author Archives: William Kline

To Healthcare and Happiness Pt. 3

Besides the giddy thrill that must come from beating your opponent’s signature achievement into a bloody pulp, freshman Rep. Michael Grimm’s assault on the healthcare bill carries implications for his reelection chances.

By virtue of his narrow victory and experience as an FBI agent, Grimm landed on the money magnet Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street.  By far, the Financial Service Committee’s largest source of campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs) and individual donations came from the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector of the workforce.

It just so happens that many of the behemoth banks and investment houses cried during the height of the debate that the healthcare bill would damage their ability to rake in record-breaking profits almost annually.

In most cases, the top industries in this sector favored Democrats in the 2010 election cycle, but most likely because they held majorities in both chambers of Congress and The White House.  With Republicans in control of the House–and according to some, The White House, just saying—that largess will likely shift to Republicans such as Grimm.

Grimm already has some traction with that sector.  Of the top five industries donating to Grimm’s campaign, three of them—real estate, insurance, and securities and investment—fell under the FIRE sector.  And it doesn’t hurt that Staten Island’s second largest segment of the workforce came from that sector.

Some may point out that Grimm’s opponent, Michael McMahon, received far more money from vocal opponents of the health care bill, such as Goldman Sachs.  In fact, Goldman represented McMahon’s largest contributor, but that largess likely served as enticement for McMahon to vote against the bill.  It’s reasonable that Goldman’s charity may shift to Grimm in the next election cycle.

For a first-year congressman such as Grimm, having Wall Street just a Ferry ride away can be a blessing.


To Healthcare and Happiness Pt. 2

Wikimedia Commons

In the lead up to the vote on the healthcare bill, former Rep. Michael McMahon faced a belligerent crowd of 800 in the auditorium of a Staten Island high school.

Compared to other lawmakers, the freshman democrat escaped the most vicious threats.  The Jerry Springer moment came when one indignant audience member with a microphone vowed to disrupt his reelection chances.  Uninterested in the torch-and-pitchfork vote, McMahon said he would not respond to threats.

McMahon eventually voted “no” on the bill.  He said it would hurt the hospital system on Staten Island and Medicare benefits for seniors, but he still lost—by three points.

McMahon’s eventual victor, Republican Michael Grimm, offered a counter argument during the campaign.  The bill would hurt the hospital system on Staten Island and Medicare benefits for seniors.  See what he did there?

All of this hints at a pretty simple calculus for winning the seat on Staten Island and part of working class Brooklyn in the last election.  Mention your Democratic opponent’s name in the same sentence as Nancy Pelosi with little regard to the context.  Because it appears that McMahon recognized the vital importance of the healthcare sector on Staten Island, which represents a third of its workforce, but it didn’t help him at the polls.

Sure, McMahon voted “no” on the heath care bill.  But he didn’t vote hard enough. He didn’t go that extra step of extorting lawmakers with compromising 8 x 10 glossies to vote “no.” Worst of all, Pelosi gave him a pass, according to the campaign storyline.

But what really separated Grimm from McMahon was Grimm’s willingness to repeal the bill.  In repealing the bill, Grimm would save us from the reprehensible character in Joker makeup threatening to destroy the hospitals on Staten Island.

Two of the three hospitals on Staten Island could lose federal funding.  Staten Island University Hospital may lose almost $23 million for a medical education program.  Richmond University Medical Center expects significant losses as a result of the bill.

McMahon would later justify voting “no” on these grounds during a congressional debate at Wagner College, but Grimm slammed him for admitting he would not vote to repeal the bill. Grimm would—and did.  With much of the district disgruntled with not just the healthcare bill, but what it symbolized, this put Grimm a neck’s length ahead of McMahon.

Meanwhile, the medical community didn’t seem too insistent on repeal in the first place. Health professionals seemed pleased enough with McMahon’s efforts, contributing $77,000 to his campaign.  Grimm received $31,500.  But the repeal effort continues, however fruitlessly.

Since the repeal effort now faces an unreceptive Democratic majority in the Senate, and a veto by President Obama, Grimm and other Republicans have called an audible.  Dissect and Dismember has overtaken Repeal and Replace as they attempt to dismantle the bill piecemeal style.


To Healthcare and Happiness

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

On the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, the Staten Island Democrats celebrated outside the New Dorp office of Rep. Michael Grimm.  But Grimm, a Republican, celebrated his vote to repeal the healthcare bill.

“What Obamacare does is expand the federal government’s authority, add to the national debt, and limit the freedom of Americans to choose and keep the plan they want,” Grimm said in a statement. “Obamacare must be overturned and that is why I voted to repeal it.”

Ever since Grimm burst onto the Republican political establishment in Staten Island and Brooklyn, the healthcare reform package has served as his main piñata.  And while the S.I. Dems offered ten reasons why Grimm should stop battering the bill, he has three reasons for busting it open.  The first: senior citizens.

Grimm’s second largest source of individual campaign contributions came from retired individuals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  And Grimm has returned the favor heartily, citing the potential backlash on seniors in much of his anti-ACA rhetoric.

“The most hurtful part of this law is the heartless cuts to Medicare,” said Grimm on his campaign website, “which impact both the seniors of Brooklyn and Staten Island and the hospitals which serve them.”

And many seniors seem to believe that as well.  A poll conducted by Extend Health revealed that 61 percent of seniors thought the healthcare reform bill weakened Medicare.  That number is likely higher in Grimm’s district.  Grimm’s predecessor, Michael McMahon, estimated that the same percentage of letters, calls and e-mails his office received during the debate were similarly negative about the bill.

In addition to weakening Medicare, Grimm says the healthcare bill will deny retirees their prescription drug coverage.  But an analysis conducted by Democrats on the Energy and Commerce committee found that repealing the bill would increase prescription drug costs for 9,600 seniors, deny new preventive care benefits to 102,000 seniors, and increase the costs of early retiree coverage for up to 10,700 early retirees.  And the 18,000 of Grimm’s constituents who are currently uninsured would remain so.

Still, Grimm claims to have an audience as large as it is disgruntled.  He cites the southwest portion of Brooklyn, which includes areas in his district, as the area with the most senior citizens in the country.  Individuals older than 55 years old represent nearly a quarter of his constituents, according to the American Community Survey.

So next time Grimm swings by the V.F.W. Hall or the Rotarian club, it may pay to demonize “Obamacare.”  Literally.

This is the first article in a series.


Community Curses Cuts to Block Grant

A crowd of around 100 people gathered last week in St. Philip’s Baptist Church on Staten Island to rally against proposed cuts to a federal grant that aids the poor, seniors, immigrants and youth.

The Community Services Block Grant reaches about 800 people on Staten Island through eight community based organizations.  Some Republican proposals in the House suggested fully eliminating the grant, but even President Obama, a former community organizer himself, called for cutting the $700 million grant by half.

City officials from the Department of Youth and Community Development, the agency that distributes the federal grant money, described how the cuts could potentially deprive the Island of $600,000, but the crowd wanted to hear from the man who would vote on them—Rep. Michael Grimm. Local resident Sharon Peake grew frustrated with city officials, and called for Grimm’s representative, who sat in the front row, to step up.

“He shouldn’t be here just to listen,” said Peake.  “He should be here to answer the questions that you all can’t answer.”

A reluctant William Smith, Grimm’s communications director, stepped before the crowd, but offered little by way of answers, except that he heard a lot of negative feedback.

“Congressman Grimm has not made a decision yet,” said Smith.  “We don’t have a position.

Grimm will now have more time to make that decision, thanks to a temporary spending measure passed by Congress last week that will keep the government operating until April.   But if the crowd at St. Philip’s serves as an indicator, residents of the Island’s North Shore are growing impatient.  Organizers encouraged members of the audience to join in the letter-writing campaign Grimm, along with Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

“CSBG creates programs that offer people a hand up in life,” the letter states,  “not a hand out.  Without your support of this program, many people in need in our community would be at risk.”


Run Right, Lead Left

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It sounds like that old bit from Sesame Street.  One of these things just doesn’t belong.

On Friday, Michael Grimm joined Queens democrats Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks in endorsing of the “Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act,” which would allow State and local governments to grant discounts to local residents who use bridges, tunnels and other forms of transportation.  Grimm hopes to protect the discount enjoyed by Staten Islanders who use the Verrazano Bridge, the only bridge connecting the Island to the other four boroughs.

“The simple truth is that Staten Islanders pay exorbitant tolls to subsidize mass transit for other parts of our region,” said Grimm in a statement. “We face the longest commutes in the nation and we receive little transit assistance for carrying that toll burden.”

Non-residents pay $13 in cash to enter Staten Island, while residents pay $7.72.  Commuters using EZ-Pass pay $9.60 compared to $5.76 for residents.  Several cases appearing in federal court have contemplated the constitutionality of these discounts.

Residents of Grand Island, NY may lose a discount on bridge tolls if a federal judge in New York’s Second District deems the $0.66 discount unconstitutional.  And a federal judge in Rhode Island could rule in a similar case as early as next week.  The legal offensive against toll discounts has prompted Grimm, along with Weiner and Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) to introduce legislation this week in the House.  Senator Charles Schumer introduced matching legislation in the Senate.

The idea of Grimm co-sponsoring a piece of legislation with one of the most liberal members of Congress may unsettle some, but Grimm laughed in an interview with the Staten Island Advance when he cited his alliance with Weiner as a sign of his independence.  And just as transportation has become a central issue for Grimm, the VZ Bridge has become a central irritant for Staten Islanders.

The opening of the bridge in 1964 was a pivotal moment in the cultivation of Staten Island’s identity as a suburb.  It allowed for many residents to live in the suburbs while commuting to the city.

“The Verrazano Bridge changed everything,” said Patricia Salmon, the curator of the Staten Island Museum.

It stood as world’s largest suspension bridge until 1981, until the Humber Bridge in the bloody United Kingdom surpassed it.  Yet in recent years, Islanders have complained about the backups leaving the Island, and the tolls they pay entering it.

Staten Islanders, who have the longest commute time in the nation, have increasingly found work within the borough, but still, 29 percent of Islanders commute to Manhattan for work while only 8 percent use mass transit, according to a recently published study by the Center for an Future.

So while Grimm entered office as a rebuke to the Democratic policies, his effort to preserve the toll discount drives directly at the daily routine of a significant number of Staten Islanders.  Some relief for drivers at the toll-booth may translate into relief at the voting booth for Grimm, even if he has to build bridges with the opposition.

Michael Grimm is so busy these days, with Congress and what not, that the eligible elected official spent Valentine’s Day alone.

Grimm, an Aquarius, described to the Staten Island Advance how his 14 to 15 hour workday forced him to break a  promise he made to himself during the campaign–that he would keep his daily work out after the election.

His still unfurnished district office in the New Dorp neighborhood of Staten Island still contains two books: one about the U.S. Marines and one about Reagan. A former marine himself, and a former FBI agent, the freshman said that the “rigorous” schedule surprised him. But he left no doubt that he would seek another term, the Advance reported.

Grimm said he ignored the rumors of possible opponents, including the man he defeated to get the job, Michael McMahon.  McMahon has raised little money since he lost in November, according to his filings with the Federal Elections Commission, but the Advance reported that McMahon has made four appearances at local democratic political clubs, where prospective politicians often build support for their campaign.

McMahon’s $27,000 cash on hand brings him close to Grimm’s $29,000, but that only represents the last quarter of 2010.  A clearer picture will emerge when the FEC releases its first quarter filings next month.

That filing will cover the period from when Grimm took office and conceivably gained a fundraising advantage.  Nevertheless, Grimm will likely have to sacrifice courting a mate for courting voters when the race intensifies.

As the congressman turns into a candidate, the fundraisers, endorsement ceremonies and meet-and-greets at the Staten Island Ferry will stymie any chance of dating.

With that in mind, the NYC Political Delegation would like to submit a personal ad for the busy Grimm. (Tip: avoid craigslist). If it fails to attract a date, it also works as a good stump speech.

A single, swing-district Republican seeks multiple term relationship.  I’m just what you need: a nice Catholic altar boy with Italian, Irish and German heritage.  You need a marine and former FBI agent who served his country before graduating from Baruch.  You need someone who will work everyday to fulfill your needs.  We’re smart enough to know what we want, and we don’t need the government to tell us. So, if you’re looking for a grand old party, join me.  Together, we can make a better future for our children, for New York and for our country

Grimm Lands in the Tea Party’s Hot Water

Illustration by Bill Kline - Photos by Wikimedia Commons

Michael Grimm spent this past Saturday in his Brooklyn district office  fielding constituent calls during his open office hours.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the Verrazano Bridge, the Staten Island Tea Party held a Town Hall meeting at The Renaissance, an upscale catering hall.

Earlier in the week, the two forces finally clashed publicly.

Grimm, a Republican, earned Tea Party support in his three-point victory over his democratic opponent, Michael McMahon, as a solution to insolvency. Yet in his first seven weeks as a congressman, Grimm has publicly opposed spending cuts on a few occasions. And that has the Tea Party on Staten Island boiling.

Last week, Grimm co-signed a letter with Rep. Peter King of Long Island, asking House Speaker John Bohener to restore $750 million in federal aid for security and transportation grants to a Republican proposal that would fund the government for the rest of 2011.

“[W]e absolutely believe that deep budget cuts are required,” the letter said. “We have concluded, however, that the totality of the cuts proposed by the Republican Conference will impose a disproportionate impact on our region.”

Later that night, Frank Santarpia, a lead organizer for the Staten Island Tea Party, posted a letter that he sent to Grimm on the organization’s blog.

“You ran and were elected to cut spending,” Santarpia wrote. “As one who lives in the affected area, I am ready to take the hit for the greater good of our nation. You should be, too.”

In particular, Santarpia said he respected Grimm’s rights to restore funding, but took issue with his alleged failure to propose alternative cuts.

Not so, said Grimm. In response to an inquiry from the Staten Island Advance, Grimm said he did offer matching cuts (but he did not specify) and resented that Santarpia, who frequently calls and writes, did not reach out before posting the letter.

“If Frank had some concerns, why didn’t he call me?” he told the Advance.

The $750 million in cuts were part of a package unveiled earlier this month by the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), which included $100 billion in spending cuts. But the package, which must pass a Democratic majority in the Senate, failed the smell test of both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

Congress must pass another spending bill by March 4th in order to avert a government shutdown. (For a dramatic re-enactment of that scenario, check out The West Wing, Season 5, Episode 8, entitled: “Shutdown.”)

And the Tea Party has literally sent Grimm a message that when it comes to the budget, they will not budge.

Ten days after the dates of the letters, Grimm appeared on Fox News, once again calling for cuts.

“We are addicted to spending in this country,” said Grimm. “We have to cut.”

No I in Tea

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Michael Grimm wants to prove that the pen is mightier than the Whip count–the number of Congressmen expected to vote on any given bill.

The freshman congressman representing Staten Island and Brooklyn declared in a letter to the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, that he would vote “no” on a resolution to fund government operations for the next seven months if it reduced military aid to Israel.

“The most important use of federal resources is to ensure the safety and security of our great nation,” Grimm said in a statement.  “A key to that safety is the security assistance the United States provides our most important ally in the Middle East, Israel.”

The bill released by the House Appropriations Committee on Friday cuts $40 billion in domestic spending and foreign aid.  The Paul plan would eliminate the annual $3 billion aid package to Israel, which receives the second largest share of U.S. foreign aid.  Grimm’s stance puts him at odds with the Tea Party heavyweight, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who wants to eliminate foreign aid altogether.  The fissure between Paul, and Grimm, a lower profile Tea Party candidate, reveals a greater ambiguity in the attitudes of Tea Party-elected candidates towards foreign policy, and in particular, Israel.

Republicans and Democrats alike have rallied against the cuts in aid to Israel.  And Grimm isn’t the only Tea Party-pol opposing the cuts.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told a political blog in Florida that military aid was vital to our partnership with Israel[5]. Despite the difference in their tone towards Israel, Grimm, Rubio and Paul face a similar brutal reality—fulfilling promises of deficit reduction and confronting fundamental, but complex questions like Israel.

The New York Times called the Tea Party-backed members of Congress “something of a mystery.” Even Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who delivered the Tea Party’s rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address, remains inconsistent when diverging paths cross.  She said the United States would be cursed if it did not support Israel, but agreed with a radio talk show host who suggested cutting foreign aid.

Certainly, resistance to foreign aid exists in the American public as pointed out by a spokesman for Paul, even though it only comprises one percent of the federal budget.  A recent Gallup poll found that 59 percent of Americans favored cutting the amount the government spends in foreign aid.  But more specifically, a 2002 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of respondents wanted the amount of aid to Israel kept the same, while  26 percent wanted it decreased.

If the Tea Party’s stance on aid to Israel isn’t clear, one thing is.  Pro-Israel groups expect at least some modicum of support from the Tea Part, despite any lingering reservations.  While Paul clashed with AIPAC over the very issue of foreign aid, Grimm has retained much stronger support from the Jewish community in his district and pro-Israel groups.

And while Tea Partiers like Grimm remain steadfast in their support of Israel, the comments of those like Paul serve as a link between the movement and lax support for Israel.  It’s a link built mostly on perception, but as the saying goes:

“In politics, perception is reality.”

Correction: The article previously misidentified the position of Rep. Eric Cantor. He is the House Majority Leader, not the majority whip.

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.