WASHINGTON, D.C. - The race for New York’s 11th Congressional District should have been a no brainer for Democrats.
In April, the incumbent, Rep. Michael Grimm was indicted on 20 federal charges, including fraud, perjury and employing undocumented immigrants. Grimm vaulted to national fame in January when he threatened to throw a reporter from a local TV station off the balcony of the Capitol rotunda - while the camera was still rolling.
On top of all that, his own party shut off support for the guy, even though he was the lone Republican congressman in New York City.
Easy target, right?
And yet on election night, Grimm charged to a 55-42 victory over his opponent, Brooklyn Democrat Domenic Recchia. The federal indictment became a badge of honor, rather than a scarlet letter.
“It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done,” he declared during his victory speech at the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn.
We are a forgiving electorate – sort of. On the one hand, congressional approval is at an all time low and, for the first time, a majority of people say they don’t like their own representative. But, like the energizer bunny, incumbents still keep on winning. What gives?
Here are three possible factors:
- Super safe congressional districts - tough for challengers
- Good fund-raising networks - incumbents start with more money
- Voter ignorance – according to the Pew Research Center less than half the public knows the party of its representative.
So while the American electorate in 2014 is cranky and unhappy with everything about Washington, there remains a great capacity to compartmentalize who’s a bum and who isn’t.
The watchdog group CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, releases an annual list of the “Most Corrupt” members of Congress. And it turns out, that all but one on the 2013 list just got re-elected.
But there was something special going on for indicted lawmakers in New York this midterm. In addition to re-electing Michael Grimm, voters there re-elected three members to the state legislature who are under federal criminal indictments.
- Democratic Assemblyman William Scarborough ran uncontested even though last month he had been arrested and charged with filing bogus travel expenses and stealing campaign funds for personal use. He pled not guilty.
- State Sen. John Sampson cruised to re-election even while facing federal embezzlement charges for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI. He pled not guilty.
- And Republican state Sen. Thomas Libous won big in his upstate district. He faces trial next year on a federal charge of lying in a statement to the FBI, which he denies.
They may be bums, but they’re our bums.