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Grimm’s N.Y. District Stays in Republican Hands

Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan easily won Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 11th Congressional District to replace Michael G. Grimm, who resigned in January after pleading guilty to tax evasion.

Donovan defeated Democrat Vincent Gentile, a City Council member from Brooklyn. The district, which includes Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, has been in Republican hands for most of the past 35 years, with just one hiatus when Democrat Michael E. McMahon won it in the 2008 election. He lost to Grimm two years later.

It’s the only one of New York City’s congressional districts to be represented by a Republican. Donovan argued that with the GOP controlling the House, it made sense to keep a Republican representing the district.

On federal funding for mass transit, which is vital to his district’s commuters, Donovan will be part of a House Republican Conference that includes conservatives, such as Ken Buck of Colorado, who want Highway Trust Fund money used only for highways, not for subways and commuter trains.

All the more reason, Donovan argued, to send a Republican to Congress. “It doesn’t make sense to elect someone who is going to be the most junior member of the minority party because that person is not even going to be able to have a voice at that table to convince their colleagues that New York City deserves that money. I’m in a better position to do that,” he said.

The House GOP majority hinges in part on holding districts in the Northeast like Donovan’s, John Katko’s in Syracuse and Ryan A. Costello’s in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Donovan shows every indication of being in the mold of other Northeastern Republican House members.

For example, he’s fully in harmony with his party’s rhetorical attacks on President Obama’s Iran negotiations and his alleged cold shoulder to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The prime minister of Israel came to our nation’s capital and the president couldn’t find a half-hour to speak with him,” Donovan has said, “And yet the president was able to go to Panama and speak with Raúl Castro, a dictator who’s suppressing the human rights of his own people.”

He said that if former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had been elected president in 2008, rather than Obama, “other countries would be respecting us right now. Now, I don’t think America has much respect out in the world. If Rudy was the president, America would never have lost that respect.”

But Donovan seems willing to make some accommodations with Democrats on illegal immigration.

He said the first immigration change that should be enacted would be to make becoming a citizen easier for those who follow the normal immigration procedures. But for young people brought to the United States as infants by parents who immigrated illegally to the United States, Donovan said, “I’m not in favor of breaking up families,” adding that he supported finding “a pathway to some legalization for those people, with some fines or penalties.”

But such people, he said, shouldn’t be put ahead of applicants for citizenship who “have followed our rules and regulations.”

Donovan made a point of disagreeing with the 167 Republicans who voted in March against a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill because it allowed money for President Obama’s executive actions suspending the deportation of some illegal immigrants. Katko, Costello and most other Northeastern Republicans voted for the DHS bill.

“When the Republicans in the House wanted to hold up Homeland Security funding because they wanted to tie it to Obama’s immigration reform act, I wasn’t even in Congress and I said that Homeland Security funding is too important to this district. The 11th Congressional District lost over 300 people on that tragic day in lower Manhattan, so I didn’t think it was proper for us to use immigration reform as a political football and hold up Homeland Security funding.”

Donovan, who has been elected district attorney three times, gives well-practiced answers on the case of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died last July when a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold while arresting him.

Donovan’s office presented evidence to a grand jury that decided last December not to proceed with criminal charges against the police officer, a decision that sparked protests in New York. That decision came shortly after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“We present impartial evidence to 23 citizens, and they conclude what they conclude after deliberations,” he said, adding that no one from the DA’s office is present during the deliberations.

Asked whether Congress ought to examine excessive police force as a national problem, Donovan said, “Each of these cases should be looked upon individually. People have lumped them all together, but Ferguson was different than Staten Island; Staten Island is different than Baltimore. So I think people have to realize that each of these cases has to be judged on its own facts and circumstances, its own rules of evidence and its own rules of law.”

He added that local governments “are better situated” than is Congress to “determine how to police their communities.”

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