NEW YORK (AP) — A district attorney connected to the case of an unarmed black man who died after a white police officer’s chokehold was elected Tuesday to fill a congressional seat left vacant when the incumbent pleaded guilty to tax fraud.
The election of Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who empaneled the grand jury that declined to indict the officer who placed Eric Garner in the fatal chokehold, will keep the seat in Republican hands. He defeated Democratic City Councilman Vincent Gentile in a low-turnout special election to succeed Michael Grimm.
The race occurred in the shadow of the Garner decision, which helped fuel the national debate on the relationship between police and minority communities.
With all votes counted in unofficial results, Donovan led Gentile 59 percent to 40 percent.
Donovan becomes the lone Republican to represent the city in Congress. His victory also will put an end to the tally on the front page of the Staten Island Advance newspaper, which noted the number of days the area was without congressional representation — more than 100.
At a victory rally, Donovan said “hardworking men and women of the middle class spoke loud and clear” and sent a message to President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Bill de Blasio that their policies are “wrong for our nation, they’re wrong for our city and they’re wrong for the community of the 11th Congressional District.”
Donovan came to national attention last year after a cellphone video showed Garner being placed in a chokehold during a street confrontation. The December grand jury decision led to protests, and Garner’s name was cited on social media by a gunman who killed two police officers weeks later.
It also was a perpetual presence as Donovan campaigned, even as he took pains to avoid it. At a debate between Donovan and Gentile, someone in the audience yelled, “I can’t breathe!” a reference to Garner’s last words.
In an interview, Donovan said he had people ask him how the grand jury’s decision could have happened. He said it was a misconception that he could have determined the outcome.
“I always try to correct people when they say, ‘You failed to get an indictment,'” he said. “That means that our goal should have been to get one. And our goal is to present fair and impartial evidence to 23 members of our community.”
Donovan didn’t mention Garner in his victory remarks Tuesday. But the specter of the grand jury decision didn’t hurt Donovan on Staten Island, home to a significant number of police officers, firefighters and working-class whites, and the outcome of the race was never truly in doubt.
The 11th Congressional District is considerably more conservative than other districts in the city as it includes Republican-heavy Staten Island and a small part of southern Brooklyn.
Grimm had won re-election last November even under federal indictment, handily defeating City Councilman Domenic Recchia, the beneficiary of a significant investment by the national Democratic Party.
This time, national Democrats largely stayed away, and local powerbrokers including de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo did little more than offer perfunctory endorsements.
Democratic officials have suggested they’ll mount a fiercer challenge in 2016, when a presidential election could bolster turnout. Grimm will be sentenced next month and could face more than two years in prison.
Also on the ballot Tuesday was a quirky race for the 43rd state Assembly District seat.
The district, in heavily Democratic Brooklyn, didn’t feature a candidate on the Democratic line since the candidate chosen by the local party didn’t file the required paperwork on time. Instead, three Democrats ran on other party lines in an effort to represent the Crown Heights and East Flatbush neighborhoods.
With all votes in unofficial results, Diana Richardson on the Working Families line had 51 percent of the vote, ahead of Shirley Patterson on the Independence Party line, Republican Menachem Raitport and Geoffrey Davis on the Love Yourself party line.
Democratic state Assemblyman Karim Camara left the position after he became executive director of Cuomo’s Office of Faith-Based Community Development.
Associated Press writer Eileen AJ Connelly contributed to the report.
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