A former Gulf War Marine and an FBI undercover agent on Wall Street, Michael Grimm is fighting once again, this time to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican is challenging Rep. Michael McMahon, a one-term Democratic incumbent in New York’s 13th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and parts of Southwest Brooklyn. It’s the only House race that’s not considered a shoe-in for Democrats in New York City, according to The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight forecasts.
According to Politico, the National Republican Congressional Committee plans to pump $90,000, the maximum in coordinated funds, to help Grimm’s campaign in the final leg of the race. The candidate, a favorite among Tea Party supporters in the district, campaigns heavily on strengthening national security and reducing taxes.
The Daily Caller caught up with Grimm Wednesday while out on the campaign trail in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn:
TheDC: You’ve had a diverse background thus far in your career, with experience in the military, the FBI and in the private sector as a small business owner. What led you to politics, and when did you decide to run?
Michael Grimm (MG): Really what led me to politics was frustration and a little bit of anger with the way the direction of this country is headed. I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines and just complain. I’ve never been a complainer. I’ve always been a doer. If I see something that needs to be fixed, I just go and I fix it. That’s a big part of the reason why I joined the Marines. It’s one of the reasons I joined the FBI, because I like to be part of something I believe in, where I can make a difference and I can be effective.
What made me decide to run for Congress is seeing something I don’t believe in. I don’t believe that we should be spending money that we don’t have. I don’t believe that we should be indebting ourselves to China. And I don’t believe we should be demonizing the private sector. I think the engine of this country, the backbone of our economy, is the private sector, the free market system, the entrepreneurial sprit and the small businesses. If we don’t encourage them and incentivize them, then our economy will never recover. So that’s really why I’m running. I feel that I need to stand up and fight for those beliefs and those values that make our country great.
TheDC: You have the support of the Staten Island Tea Party.
MG: Overwhelmingly, yes. A lot of my volunteers have come from the Staten Island Tea Party. It’s an honor to have them. Some of the media wants to demonize them as fringe right-wing maniacs, and I have not seen that on Staten Island or in Brooklyn. I have seen good hardworking people that are frustrated and angry with the direction of the country and they’re standing up to voice their opinion and get involved.
I think it’s a very unique time in our history that we’re seeing a rejuvinization of democracy from the grassroots level. To see people that have never been involved in politics before, like myself, getting involved in the process is healthy, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. That’s a great thing for America.
TheDC: Do you consider yourself a Tea Party follower?
MG: I will say this: If I wasn’t a candidate, I would be a member of the Tea Party. I don’t consider myself a Tea Part candidate, so to speak, because I think my campaign has become a movement that is much broader than just the Tea Party. But I am honored to have their support.
TheDC: Last week, the Obama administration announced it was appealing a federal court’s ruling that says the current “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy is unconstitutional. As a veteran, what is your stance on the issue, and how would you vote if it were to come before you in Congress?
MG: This is a very difficult subject matter, obviously. It’s sensitive. Here’s my opinion as a combat veteran and a former Marine: We’re in two wars. The stress levels of our troops are at the all-time high. Suicide rates are going up. I wouldn’t change anything right now that could affect the morale. I agreed with the Joint Chiefs when they said that they were going to look at the issue and study it and see what effects there would be on the military. The last thing I want to do is stop anyone from serving this great country. I know what an honor it is to serve, and I don’t want to prevent anyone from doing that.
But at the same time, I want to make sure that we’re not going to do something that disrupts the morale at a time when stress levels are so high. I think we should evaluate this for a while, and at peacetime, then make the appropriate decision. If we’re going to integrate and change policies, it should be done during peacetime and not when stress levels are so high.
TheDC: You’ve been outspoken against the proximity of the Islamic Center near Ground Zero. In a letter you wrote to Mayor Bloomberg on August 17, you said you would continue “to speak out and do everything in your power to ensure this project does not go forward.” Has your position changed at all since you wrote that letter?
MG: Not at all.
TheDC: What is involved in you doing “everything in your power” to prevent the project from going forward?
MG: Right now I’m a candidate. Obviously I don’t have the power of the Congressional office behind me. So the most I could do is be an outspoken advocate like every other citizen, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I do go to rallies. I speak to the press. And I speak to my constituents every day. Again, I think I have a unique opportunity to be a good voice in protest of this particular mosque, because it’s very easy to say that when someone doesn’t want this mosque, they are anti-Muslim. The fact that I’ve put my life on the line, not once, not twice, but three times during the war to protect Saudi Arabia and to liberate Kuwait, two Muslim nations, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am anything but anti-Muslim, that I would give me life for Arabs and Muslims to have the same liberties and freedoms that I have.
This is not about the First Amendment. There’s no question that under the First Amendment, you can build a mosque. The real question here is right and wrong. I’m a 9/11 first responder. I saw the anguish and the suffering that has gone on since then. It is just wrong to disrespect those who have suffered so much. If we want to build bridges between the Muslim community and those non-Muslim Americans, then the way to do that is through understanding and mutual respect for those that suffered so much already.
TheDC: You’ve rolled in some pretty big-name endorsements this year, including Sen. John McCain, former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, former President George H. W. Bush, and Congressman Mike Rogers. You’ve often campaigned against this idea of “career politicians.” So why would you accept endorsements by some of these politicians, many of whom have held office for much of their careers?
MG: I think that an endorsement by someone who has done the job before and says that Michael Grimm has the right ideas, because we’ve been there and we see what needs to be done, doesn’t take anything away from the fact that I’m not a politician. That I haven’t been corrupted by the system…
I represent that new blood that says, “Wait a minute. It’s time that we keep our word to the people. What we say on the campaign trail, we have to honor.” And as someone that has never been in politics before, I know that I will go in with a clean slate. I don’t owe anyone any favors. I don’t owe any party anything.
TheDC: You say on your website that the country should start implementing a promise that President Obama made during his presidential campaign, which was to eliminate earmarks. How would you distinguish between money that is good for your district and pork barrel spending?
MG: There are two things there. Number One: Good money for the district is money that is paid for. It’s coming from a budget where we’re taking funds that were allocated by taking away from failed programs and from waste, which we have tons of. We know of failed programs that we’ve been funding for years and years and years. We stop funding them, and we allocate those monies and those resources to projects that we need in the district, like infrastructure, transportation upgrades and so on. Bad money is when we just continue to borrow from China and borrow from countries that don’t even like us and indebt our future generations.
As far as earmarks are concerned, why can’t we just have a bill for each spending item and let it go through appropriations as necessary? If we need to build a new bridge, like the Bayonne Bridge, there should be a bill that allocates money for that and we should know where it’s coming from and how it’s being paid for. Why do we have to sneak that in a massive whatever-type-of-bill, whether it be health care or something else, where people can’t actually see it and understand it? It’s a lack of transparency, and that’s what’s leading to no accountability. If we have bills that are clear and succinct and readable and put on the website for everyone to see, then we can hold our elected officials accountable.