Prosecutor in Garner Case Seeks Grimm's Former House Seat

Dan Donovan oversaw the grand jury that decided not to indict a white police officer accused of killing a unarmed black man.

U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), speaks to the media outside US District Court on December 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Michael Graae/Getty Images

The New York prosecutor who did not obtain an indictment in the Eric Garner chokehold case says he wants to be the Republican nominee for former Representative Michael Grimm's congressional seat.

"Please consider this my formal announcement that I will be seeking the endorsements of the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties in the upcoming special election," said Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, in a statement Friday.

He said he would comment no further until after the nominating process of the local parties take place.

Meanwhile a state Assemblywoman who also wants the nomination said in an interview that a closed Republican Party selection process is hurting her chances. In fact, Donovan and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis are to both be interviewed Saturday by the Staten Island Republican Executive Committee.

Malliotakis said in an interview that she anticipates attracting little support from the nearly 30 members of the panel, although on Friday she did get the endorsement of former Gov. George Pataki, for whom she once worked.

"It’s an informal, non-binding vote, but what I'm expecting is no more than two votes from the executive committee," said Malliotakis.

Donovan could not be reached Friday. In his statement last week, Donovan said he’s been “deeply flattered by the enthusiastic expressions of support” he’s received to run since Grimm announced he would resign. The district traditionally has leaned Republican, though President Barack Obama carried it in 2012.

A candidacy by Donovan could become highly charged because he was the prosecutor who handled the case of a white New York City police officer accused of killing Garner, an unarmed black man, with a chokehold on July 17. A grand jury on Staten Island decided on Dec. 3 not to indict the officer. That decision came a week after a grand jury in Missouri cleared a white officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, said in an interview he expected the choice of the Staten Island Republicans after Saturday's interviews will be Donovan. He downplayed any significant worry within the party over blowback from Donavan's failure to indict in the Garner chokehold death.

Malliotakis did not dispute that Donovan holds a clear advantage with the 28-member Staten Island Republican Executive Committee. That is based, she said, on the personal endorsement already of the Richmond County Republican Chairman John Antoniello, and other prominent Republican officials there.

She also predicted there is little chance that Antoniello and the executive committee will open up the nominating procedure to allow all 370 local party committee members to vote on a nominee, which she believes would improve her chances. "I'd rather it be a more open and transparent process," she said, acknowledging her chances are hurt by the likelihood that won't happen.

Grimm resigned from Congress on Monday, following his Dec. 23 guilty plea to a federal tax charge. His former district includes all of Staten Island, and a few Brooklyn neighborhoods.

In Brooklyn, Kings County Republican Chairman Craig Eaton would not comment beyond a statement he released this week praising Malliotakis for having served the people of Brooklyn "with distinction for the past four years."

In the same statement, he said that a majority of leaders of the Brooklyn Republican Party "expressed support" for Malliotakis "to be our nominee for the seat that is now vacant."

But he said his committee has decided to wait until Gov. Andrew Cuomo sets a date for a special election. At that time, he said he will call "a convention of the county committee members of the 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn, and invite all interested candidates to attend and speak to those attending."

"I will then bind myself to their vote," he said.

The rub is the vote by the chairmen in this bi-county district is weighted in Staten Island's favor, based on the entire number of committee members and Republicans contained within the district at the time of the last general election.

Antoniello, the Staten Island party chief who has already endorsed Donovan, confirmed in an interview that both Donovan and Malliotakis will be appearing before the local executive committee on Saturday. He would not say whether there will be an announcement after that.

Staten Island Democratic Chairman John Gulino said in an interview that there are a "a lot of people coming forward" from within his party for Grimm's seat, naming specifically Assemblyman Michael Cusick and former one-term U.S. Representatives Michael McMahon, who lost to Grimm in 2010.

Like Eaton, Gulino said his committee will wait until the governor announces a special election before making its choice. He said the race will cover a lot of issues—transportation, infrastructure, tolls. Asked whether the controversy over the Garner case could also emerge as an issue if Donovan is the Republican nominee, Gulino said that is "an ancillary issue."

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