This debate was a storm of allegations.
Indicted Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) and his challenger, former Coney Island Councilman Domenic Recchia, blasted one another over their responses to Hurricane Sandy at their first debate on Wednesday at the Bay Ridge Council on Aging.
“We had to wait 80 days for relief from the federal government,” Recchia said. “It was delayed because Michael Grimm and [House Speaker] John Boehner came to an agreement that he would support Boehner as speaker. The people of this district were held hostage until [Grimm] made a deal.”
The 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act stalled in the House in late 2012 as budget hawks tried to enact cuts to fund the $60 billion relief package.
But Grimm said politics only delayed the bill a week, and the real bottleneck was the time it took city and state officials to determine the scope of damage.
“I spoke to Gov. Cuomo and I spoke daily with [then-Mayor] Bloomberg, and they said, ‘Don’t do anything until we give you a number,’ ” Grimm said. “Unlike [Hurricane] Katrina, the damage here was very difficult to assess. We had to wait a week or more just to get into the subways to assess the damage. We didn’t get a number until December.”
The governor’s office did not return a request for comment by press time, but a 2013 joint statement from Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie indicates they were both eager for a disaster-relief appropriation long before the House acted.
“It has now been 66 days since Hurricane Sandy hit and 27 days since President Obama put forth a responsible aid proposal that passed with a bipartisan vote in the Senate while the House has failed to even bring it to the floor,” the governors wrote on Jan. 2.
Congress finally approved the appropriation on Jan. 15, 2013.
Grimm countered by reiterating his criticism that Recchia was largely absent in the weeks after the record-setting hurricane, and also pointed to the oft-maligned Build It Back recovery program as a failure under a Council as part of which Recchia served one of the hardest-hit districts.
“It’s almost two years later and the money still hasn’t gotten to people,” Grimm said.
But Recchia contended his work was done behind the scenes.
“I worked with the mayor as finance chairman to make sure we moved money around to save this city,” he said.
Grimm later characterized Recchia’s attacks as demagoguery.
“That’s what irks me,” Grimm told reporters after the debate. “The audacity of bringing up Sandy.”
Grimm has pleaded not guilty to a 20-count indictment alleging tax, mail, and immigration fraud related to a health-food restaurant he owned before assuming office.
Election Day is Nov. 4, less than a week after the second anniversary of the superstorm.