Vincent Gentile on Why He Lost

Vicnent Gentile addressing the Bay Ridge Democrats in the backroom of the Bridgeview Diner
Vicnent Gentile addressing the Bay Ridge Democrats. Photo by Hey Ridge

Democratic Councilmember Vincent Gentile blamed his loss this month in a special election for congress on the unions and party that refused to fund him. He made the remarks last week at the monthly meeting of the Bay Ridge Democrats, a local political club, while speaking about the race against Dan Donovan for the 11th Congressional district, which Donovan won handily on May 5. The club also heard a presentation on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pro-business global-trade agreement presently in negotiations. President Obama is seeking fast-track approval in congress, but liberals vigorously oppose the treaty; Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a particularly hard stance, going toe-to-toe with the president in an escalating battle of rhetoric.

What’s the connection between our local congressional race and the TPP? More than you might think. Before Democratic City Councilmember Dominic Recchia lost against indicted Republican incumbent Michael Grimm for the same congressional seat last fall (Grimm later won, then pleaded guilty and resigned, necessitating the special election), he committed a number of verbal gaffes that led his campaign into a death spiral. In one particularly embarrassing episode, he was asked a question about the TPP outside a campaign event by a reporter from NY1. Recchia appeared to panic before hurriedly excusing himself without answering. This episode and a number of other gaffes became the subject of a savagely mocking piece on The Daily Show, bringing Recchia’s flawed performance as a candidate to a national audience.

This had consequences for the special election in May, Gentile said. The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which had largely bankrolled Recchia’s campaign, was so stung by the failure of its candidate and its own strategy that it refused to put up any more money for the seat when it was Gentile’s turn to run, Gentile said. Additionally, the labor unions that traditionally support Democratic candidates in local races are withholding all campaign contribution across the country because of their opposition to TPP, Gentile said. Nevertheless, Gentile raised $250,000 from campaign contribution in two months from small donors (compared to Donovan’s $600,000, which Gentile said came primarily from groups outside the district, such as the National Chamber of Commerce).

Gentile was buoyant despite the defeat, saying it’s important to have competition in a democracy. “Imagine the message it would send if we let the Republicans have this seat unopposed,” he said. The club agreed, responding with raucous applause.

The Bay Ridge Democrats meet on the second Thursday of every month, at 7:30pm, in the backroom of the Bridgeview Diner (9011 Third Avenue).

The author is on the group’s board.