The race to succeed Michael Grimm moved ahead Tuesday evening as three candidates met for a sharp, sometimes raucous debate. Democratic Party candidate Vincent Gentile, Green Party candidate James Lane and Republican/Conservative/Independence parties candidate Dan Donovan faced off in Bay Ridge in front of a crowd of more than 100 people.
The evening began with opening statements and then moved entirely to questions asked by the audience. Many were solid, meaningful questions even if they often made clear the questioner’s view on the answer.
Here are a few observations on the candidates and the race, with video of the complete debate at the bottom of this post.
Green Party candidate James Lane has no realistic chance to win but does have a realistic chance to affect the race. His comments Tuesday evening evinced a solidly left worldview and campaign platform, including calling for increased taxing of the “1%” and a universal single payer healthcare system. Lane says he was moved to run in the aftermath of the Eric Garner case, viewing Donovan’s actions as deeply flawed. With Democrat Vincent Gentile seemingly accepting of the Garner grand jury outcome and not seeking to make it a campaign issue, Lane may force greater attention on that case and Donovan’s role. If Lane succeeds in energizing voters disappointed in the Garner outcome, he may harm Donovan. Those voters could likely have supported a Democrat, however, so any success in Lane’s efforts may ultimately harm Gentile.
Lane ran for Public Advocate in 2013, receiving about 17,000 votes.
A veteran politician, Gentile is an experienced campaigner. Although the district has more registered Democratic voters than Republican voters, and although Democrats Andrew Cuomo and Barack Obama won the district in their respective 2014 and 2012 reelection campaigns, Gentile faces a difficult path to victory. Gentile has a plausible chance of victory, but the scope of his challenge is evident in the 2014 victory of Republican Michael Grimm who was reelected while under federal indictment.
Gentile had two distinct lines of attack against Donovan, largely ignoring Lane. His broad attack was essentially tying Donovan to the House Republicans and their Tea Party-driven efforts. He also attacked Donovan’s record as Staten Island District Attorney, mostly around domestic violence convictions.
A large challenge for Gentile is offering any reason for voters to send a Democrat, any Democrat, to Congress. With the House overwhelmingly controlled by a Tea Party-driven Republican caucus, the near-term offers little prospect of accomplishment for any Democrat.
Donovan is primarily a career prosecutor, although he was also Staten Island deputy borough president. With 11 years as DA and 7 years as an assistant DA in the Manhattan DA’s office he’s deeply experienced and speaks effectively on the work of his office and criminal justice. When rebutting Gentile’s attacks on his domestic violence prosecutions, Donovan both challenged Gentile’s statistics as misleading and spoke effectively of the many challenges involved in domestic violence prosecutions. He at least dampened, if not extinguished, the heat of Gentile’s attack. He also reacted calmly to a couple of disrespectful questioners.
When he moves beyond criminal justice, however, Donovan often appears to have given only modest consideration to a variety of political issues. He also tries to separate himself from the House Republicans, decrying partisanship and seeking a softer policy approach. Saying “there are good parts of Obamacare, there are bad parts of Obamacare”, for example, is hardly typical of the current House Republicans. He argues that the district is better off with a Republican member who is part of the governing majority, even if he does not share many of the views of that governing majority.
Video of Gentile and Donovan’s post-debate Q&A with the press is here.
Here is the full debate: