Working his way down the St. Patrick’s Dayparade route on Staten Island last Sunday, Representative Michael G. Grimm stopped to talk to nearly every reveler. An aide in an Irish fisherman’s sweater proffered Mr. Grimm’s tiny Yorkie, Sebastian, for people to pet. Mr. Grimm stopped regularly to exchange brotherly greetings with fellow Marine veterans.
Michael Appleton for The New York Times
Mr. Grimm seemed to give each passer-by total attention, showing off the charm that helped rocket him from obscurity to Congress in 2010.
Mr. Grimm, 42, an embattled Republican, has had to draw heavily in recent weeks on his political gifts as he tries to shake off allegations of improper or even illegal campaign fund-raising.
“We fight the uphill battle that others won’t fight,” he declared at a meeting that the Staten Island Republican Partyheld last month to rally support for him. “It’s not just fighting the fight when it’s easy.”
Mr. Grimm has been a rising star in the Republican Party, with a record of public service that party leaders considered political gold. After serving in the Persian Gulf war, he worked 11 years as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, going under cover on Wall Street to put white-collar criminals behind bars.
An avid weight lifter nicknamed Mikey Suits for his sartorial style, Mr. Grimm is a Capitol Hill rarity: a flamboyant New Yorker who has won the trust of red-state Republicans. Several said they liked his conservative social positions and relied on his Wall Street experience to clarify complex financial legislation.
“He’s made the flashy New Yorker popular among Congressional Republicans,” said Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Long Island. “Definitely a landmark achievement.”
Yet Mr. Grimm, representing a swing district covering Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, is not easily pigeonholed. He also has one of the most centrist voting records in Congress, according to an annual indexin National Journal. Breaking with Republicans for pro-union votes won him several recent union endorsements.
That in turn brought criticism from Tea Party conservatives who said they felt betrayed after fueling his victories over a party-endorsed primary opponent and a Democratic incumbent.
The Republican Party is supporting Mr. Grimm’s re-election bid, but Democrats see him as vulnerable. One candidate, Mark Murphy, shadowed him along the parade route on Sunday, and Michael E. McMahon, whom Mr. Grimm ousted in 2010, is expected to weigh a run.
When criticized, Mr. Grimm often brandishes his military and F.B.I. record.
Last year, a constituent told Mr. Grimm that his stance on Medicarewould “kill Grandma.” He retorted that he had spent years “putting my life on the line to protect Grandma.”
And when his Republican primary opponent in 2010, Michael Allegretti, accused him of wearing Army combat ribbons he did not earn, Mr. Grimm flashed a steely look.
“You sleep under a blanket of freedom that I helped provide. You should just say, ‘Thank you,’ ” he said in a televised debate. “What I’ve done in my life, you see in the movies.”
Indeed, the first statement echoed, nearly word for word, lines that Jack Nicholson utters in “A Few Good Men,” when his character, a Marine commander, is caught breaking rules. (Mr. Grimm later said that he had received the Army ribbons because of an “administrative error.”)
Mr. Grimm declined to be interviewed for this article.
His grew up on a working-class block in Glendale, Queens, where he often says he absorbed traditional values. His father, a roofer, would come home with his hands so stiff that the family took off his boots for him.
Mr. Grimm often speaks of his Sicilian mother, allowing Italian-American groups to introduce him as Michael Castronova Grimm. Castronova is the maiden name of his mother, Petrina, who said in an interview that her parents had Sicilian roots but were born in New York.
Mrs. Grimm said her son was intense about hockey and karate and “liked to dress” from an early age, wearing cufflinks like her father’s. He was a golden boy on the block, said her neighbor, Dorothy Lombardi, 81, who added, “I had twin daughters, but unfortunately, Michael wasn’t interested.”
He graduated in 1988 from Archbishop Molloy High School and joined the Marine Corps. In the 1991 gulf war, he was known as a hard worker, digging bunkers and operating communications equipment.
He earned a battlefield promotion after a mine blew up under his Humvee as he traveled a hastily cleared path through a minefield, said Conor Buckley, a police officer from Staten Island who served alongside him. (Mr. Grimm was unhurt.)
Mr. Grimm earned an accounting degree at Baruch College, spent about two years in support roles at the F.B.I., then worked on Wall Street for a year and a half. He rejoined the bureau as an agent in 1995, finished law school and worked under cover on Operation Wooden Nickel, which trolled for corrupt financiers and convicted many of them.
Jack Garcia, a respected retired agent known for infiltrating the Gambino crime family, said Mr. Grimm helped him establish cover as a strip club operator. He said Mr. Grimm, playing a corrupt stockbroker, came to the club with crowds of brokers willing to associate with mobsters and operate in the “gray areas” of the law.
“He played the part perfectly,” Mr. Garcia said. “You could trust him with your life.”
He said Mr. Grimm later helped him snare corrupt police officers in Florida and politicians in New Jersey. Mr. Grimm, he recalled, was a stickler for documentation and handled large amounts of cash without causing his supervisors to have concerns.
Mr. Grimm left the F.B.I. in 2006 and started several business ventures, none of which seemed to flourish. He worked with a friend from the F.B.I., Carlos Luquis, before and after Mr. Luquis served 18 months in prison for embezzling money from Texas electricity customers. (Mr. Grimm has said he worked with him out of loyalty.) He also started a Manhattan restaurant called Healthalicious.
In early 2010, Mr. Grimm asked to meet with former Representative Guy V. Molinari, a Republican political kingmaker on Staten Island. Mr. Molinari said Mr. Grimm’s personal story so captivated him that he not only served as chairman of the Grimm campaign, but also “kind of adopted him as a son.”
Mr. Grimm, a Roman Catholic, found his largest pool of campaign donors in an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Manhattan. Much of the political fund-raising in the congregation was done by a man named Ofer Biton, an aide to its rabbi.
The F.B.I. is now investigating whether Mr. Biton embezzled millions of dollars from the congregation. In addition, followers of the rabbi told The New York Times that Mr. Biton and Mr. Grimm had told them the campaign would accept illegal donations that were over the limit or from foreigners.
After winning his upset victory in 2010, Mr. Grimm gave Mr. Molinari a Rolex watch engraved with the Marine Corps slogan, Semper Fi.
He went on to work on an idiosyncratic mix of legislation, championing ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, therapy dogs for veterans and tanning salons. (After he introduced a bill to reduce taxes on the salons, The Staten Island Advance lamented that he was “reinforcing every ‘Jersey Shore’ stereotype” about Staten Island.)
Perhaps his most debated bill is the Whistleblower Improvement Act, favored by the financial industry. It would remove some protections for whistle-blowers, forcing them in most cases to report suspected misconduct to their bosses before going to the authorities.Critics have called it an odd position for someone who investigated white-collar crime.
Mr. Grimm said he proved that crime could be stopped without “industry-killing regulations.”
Since the fund-raising allegations surfaced in January, Mr. Grimm has gone on a constituent-services offensive. He helped a Roman Catholic nun resolve tax issues. Hepersuaded the owners of One World Trade Center to light the building red in honor of the newly elevated Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. He told the Republican rally on Staten Island that he had worked diplomatic channels to help a Brooklyn woman leave Yemen to escape an abusive husband.
“I may be a U.S. congressman, but I’m also a Marine,” he said. “And I don’t leave American citizens behind.”
The New York Times
The New York Times