Less than 36 hours after the surprise guilty plea to a single count of tax fraud by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-New York), talk was increasingly audible in his 11th District (Staten Island-Brooklyn) that the former FBI agent and Marine Corps veteran will most likely have to resign from office.
Several local political leaders, in fact, told Newsmax they have already begun to discuss a possible successor on the Republican and conservative ballot lines in a special election they feel certain will be called next year.
The most oft mentioned successor in the event of Grimm’s exodus is that of State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, 34, the daughter of Greek and Cuban parents and the lone Republican woman to hold elective office in New York City. Also mentioned are Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who oversaw the controversial Eric Garner case prosecution, and former six-term Rep. Vito Fossella, who still maintains a following within the district six years after leaving office.
All are considered strong conservatives. None were making any comments about possible candidacies.
Several Republican and conservative activists — notably Brooklyn Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kasser — were talking enthusiastically about a possible bid by Malliotakis. In addition, Newsmax learned on Thursday that one prominent New York Republican had sounded out Fossella about a possible comeback in the event the House seat is open.
Grimm, 44, handily won a third term in November despite a 20-count federal indictment. Asked by reporters upon leaving U.S. District Court on Tuesday whether he planned to resign, Grimm tersely replied: "Absolutely not."
"It appears that Rep. Grimm is not going to step down now," Michael Long, state chairman of the New York Conservative Party, told Newsmax on Wednesday. "But between the judge [Julia K. Chen, who will sentence Grimm on June 8] and Speaker [John] Boehner, I just don’t see him in Congress much longer."
Long noted that he lives in the Brooklyn portion of Grimm’s district and voted for the congressman in November. In his words, "he helped the people after [Hurricane] Sandy and his Democratic opponent [former New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia] was very much from the left of his party, just like [New York Mayor] Bill de Blasio."
But, he quickly added, "the situation has now changed."
Although Grimm’s attorneys are seeking probation following his guilty plea, Judge Chen could easily impose jail time on the embattled congressman. Under such circumstances, it is almost certain that Speaker Boehner and the House Republican leadership would insist Grimm resign his seat or face a vote on expulsion.
The last sitting House member to hold his seat while in jail was Democratic Rep. Thomas J. Lane of Massachusetts, who in 1956 served four months in Danbury (Connecticut) Prison for income tax evasion. His pay was docked during his incarceration and, upon release, Lane was re-elected and won two more terms.
But under Republican-revised House rules, Grimm, if convicted of a crime for which a prison sentence of two years or more is imposed, would not be able to participate in committees or vote in the full House until re-elected.
The 11th District has been in Republican hands for all but two years since 1980.
Tantamount to election, then, is the Republican nomination and that of the Conservative Party, which has the third ballot line in the Empire State. Should a vacancy in Congress occur, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo can declare a special election be held from 70 to 80 days following his proclamation of said vacancy.
Cuomo, however, has shown a distinct reluctance to call special elections, leaving 12 legislative seats vacant in 2014.
Republicans are likely to choose their nominee by a weighted vote of members of its county committees (Richmond County, which is Staten Island, and Kings County, which is the borough of Brooklyn). Because the 11th District crosses county lines, rules of the Conservative Party require designation of a candidate by its state committee.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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