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NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. House seat in deeply Democratic New York City will remain under Republican control.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan — who empaneled the grand jury that declined to indict a white police officer who placed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in a fatal chokehold — on Tuesday captured a vacant congressional seat that spans Staten Island and a small part of Brooklyn.
Donovan was shadowed by the Garner case throughout the campaign, but he won easily, much like his indicted predecessor Michael Grimm did last November. The seat became empty when Grimm resigned in January after pleading guilty to tax fraud.
The district, which is considerably more conservative than others in the city, is mostly drawn from Republican-heavy Staten Island. After investing heavily in the Grimm race, national Democrats largely declined to help City Councilman Vincent Gentile's campaign. Local powerbrokers including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo did little more than offer perfunctory endorsements.
Donovan becomes the lone Republican to represent the city in Congress. His victory 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.
Donovan, 58, joked during his victory speech that it was the second most important night of his life, trailing only the birth of his first child, due to arrive in two weeks.
"We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, we wanted a surprise," he said. "But we know it's a Republican."
Donovan came to national attention last year after a cellphone video showed Garner being placed in a chokehold during a street confrontation with police. The December grand jury decision led to protests among those who say blacks are systematically mistreated by police.
It was a perpetual presence as Donovan campaigned, even as he took pains to avoid the subject. At a debate between Donovan and Gentile, a former state senator, 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 night. 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 white people.
Democratic officials have suggested they will 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, because 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 Crown Heights and East Flatbush neighborhoods.
Diana Richardson, who was on the Working Families line, beat 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 the executive director of Cuomo's Office of Faith-Based Community Development.
Associated Press writer Eileen AJ Connelly contributed to this report.