On the steps of a Staten Island post office in July, Democrat Mark Murphy thanked the Local 10 of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) for its support of his run for Congress to represent New York’s newly redrawn 11th district. “Mark Murphy Honest Leadership” read the posters that two women and one man held up behind him.
In a stern voice, his brows furled and punctuating his choppy speech by pointing his index finger, the 41-year-old former real estate developer and actor told his audience, “Rain or shine, or sleet or snow, no matter where in this country, the Postal Service delivers to us. We cannot allow them to be jeopardized or be turned into a private organization and that is what our Congress is looking to do right now. We need to protect the middle class, we need to protect the members of this union and all unions.”
Yet a month earlier, several other postal unions had endorsed Murphy’s opponent, the 42-year-old incumbent U.S. Representative, Republican, Michael Grimm. In his speech — which also included the unofficial letter-carrier’s motto “Neither snow nor rain…” — Grimm accepted the support of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) Local 300, whose members are in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, along with the New York State Association of Letter Carriers (NYSALC), the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 99 and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association (NRLCA).
The split between the postal unions in this Congressional race has its origin in a 1979 directive by the Postal Service’s management dividing workplace responsibilities between two groups: clerks and mail handlers. The APWU represents clerks, maintenance employees and motor vehicle service workers. The NALC, NPMHU, NYSALC and NRLCA represent the men and women loading and unloading trucks, preparing, sorting, and getting the mail ready for distribution and delivery, as well as moving mail within a facility.
The political endorsements of these Postal Service unions in the 11th District race are being given at a critical time in the United States Postal Service’s history. On May 15, 2012, a moratorium on the closing of postal offices and mail processing plants expired. Staten Island’s Manor Road facility is one of two New York mail- processing plants set to shift the majority of its work to another location.
The 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012, a bill passed by the Senate in April 2012 that will overhaul the financially fledgling Postal Service, now sits in the House of Representatives awaiting a vote. In April, the separate union locals representing mail carriers and clerks included in the 11th District united to urge politicians to support amendments to the bill. However, they now disagree on which House candidate to support. Local 300, the mail-handlers’ largest with 5,500 members, decided to back the incumbent Grimm, based on his actions in office thus far. Local 10, the American Postal Workers’ largest with 5,669 members, is putting its faith in the promises of first-timer Murphy, disillusioned with Grimm’s actions.
Murphy grew up in Staten Island. The son of former U.S. Representative John (Jack) Murphy, the younger Murphy attended Catholic University, where he earned a B.A. He later moved to California, where he lived for 18 years.
While on the West Coast, the fourth-generation Staten Islander worked in finance and real estate. During that time, he also tried his hand at acting. He had several bit parts in cable TV movies and TV series like Pacific Blue. He was a vice president at Irvine Company, a private real-estate developer.
He decided to return to Staten Island in 2009. In 2011, he and his wife of 12 years, actress Kristy Narmont, divorced. He moved in with his father, the ex-Congressman, while his two daughters live with his ex-wife. The younger Murphy left his job as an aide to New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in January of 2012 to pursue the seat in the House. It is the same seat, then in the 13th District, which his father held from 1963-1981.
Jack Murphy’s 18-year run in the House ended when he did not win a bid for reelection in 1981 due to the Abscam scandal. Abscam — also known as the Abdul scam, for a fictitious sheikh by the name of Kambir Abdul Rahman — was a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting, in which officers masqueraded as Middle Eastern businessmen and offered various targets, senators and congressmen bribes. Murphy served 20 months of a three-year sentence in a Danbury, Connecticut prison for conspiring to accept a payoff.
Fiscal responsibility is a major issue of focus for the younger Murphy’s broad platform aimed at strengthening the middle class. His concern with transparency and tax reform, as well as jobs and the economy has attracted support from the APWU’s Local 10, as well as top Democratic Party officials.
Over the last few months, in his quest for the seat in the 11th District – which encompasses Staten Island and Brooklyn’s neighborhoods of Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights, Bay Ridge and a portion of Sheepshead Bay — Murphy has received monetary support from the Congressional Campaign Committee of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He raised more than $100,000 in the month of June and on August 8, 2012, he was included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to-Blue program, which offers a group of select Democratic candidates in Republican-held districts extra financial, communications and strategic campaign support.
On those post office steps, Local 10’s president Jonathan Smith made the first political endorsement of his new administration. It is an administration that, according to Smith, needs to take a more aggressive approach to how it does business. “With the Postal Service being in dire shape, this battle comes outside of the Postal Service as well as inside the Postal Service and we have to be more aware of our political allies,” said Smith. He was referring to the union local’s decision to endorse Murphy instead of Grimm. “Grimm was a pretty good talker,” Smith said, “but when it came down to his vote, he voted totally different.”
Smith pointed specifically to a House vote in May, in which Grimm joined 217 Republicans to pass the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act. A bill proposed by GOP vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, it increased the contributions made by federal employees — including postal workers — to pensions by five percent.
Smith acknowledged that Grimm “was out there fighting against the closing in Staten Island of the post office.” But he went on, “Well, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat and there was a major facility in your district about to close, would you not be out there? The problem that we had, though, when it came for him to vote, he went and voted for us to pay an additional five percent toward our pension.”
Murphy, never having held an office, has no voting record. “We are not sure exactly of everything we are going to get with the promises he made to support the postal worker,” Smith said, “but we have evidence of what Grimm will do, and we can’t support that.”
Smith expressed concerns with recent probes into Grimm’s campaign fundraising practices as well.
While Grimm has raised $1,780,715 for his 2011-2012 campaign, Murphy has raised just $372,701. Murphy’s money has come from a variety of contributors, including doctors, people that work in television and media, real estate professionals and attorneys.
However, it is Grimm’s fundraising tactics for his 2009-2010 campaign that are currently under investigation by the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office, as reported by the New York Daily News. According to the paper’s reports, the office’s corruption unit is investigating allegations that Grimm accepted illegal donations and coerced people to contribute to his campaign.
On August 17, 2012, the F.B.I. arrested Ofer Biton for falsifying immigration documents. Biton, a former aide to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, served as a fundraising liaison between Pinto’s congregation and the Grimm campaign. A separate probe into the allegations against Grimm by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent organization, which makes recommendations to the House of Ethics Committee, was conducted and then closed in July.
Local 300, which represents around 350 mail-handlers in the Staten Island and Brooklyn area, endorsed Grimm. “Rep. Grimm has had the back of postal employees since he was first elected,” said Local 300’s vice president Robert Blum. “Not only has he attended rallies in support of postal workers and the saving of the Manor Road processing facility, he has organized them.” The local did not support Grimm in his first run for office, but has backed him ever since.
The November elections will decide which union-backed candidate wins: Local 300’s Grimm, who has rallied in the streets with postal workers to save Staten Island’s Manor Road facility, yet voted to increase workers’ pension contributions in the House; or Murphy, a first-time candidate whom Local 10 is expecting to deliver on promises he has made during his campaign. Until then, both groups simply have to have faith in the promises of their favored politician. APWU’s Smith is OK with that: “I’d rather take a chance on a person that I’ve talked to personally that has promised me that he is going to support middle-class values.”