Election '18

GOP Congresswoman Faces Outrage For Memo Saying Her Italian American Opponent's 'Thuggish' Family Is Tied to the Mob

She insists her campaign did nothing wrong because she is also Italian American.

Earlier this week, the New York Post obtained a copy of a memo issued in late July by a consultant for the re-election campaign of Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), warning staffers to stay safe because the family of the Democratic challenger, assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, is "thuggish" and full of criminals.

The memo instructed Tenney's staffers to "not go out at night alone" and "beware of strange cars," because "Brindisi’s family has used their political connections to get away with violence, intimidation and thuggish behavior for years. As the Brindisi family watches Anthony's political career end, they may return to what they know—violence and intimidation." The memo also noted that Brindisi's father, a former attorney who pleaded guilty to a drug charge, has represented organized crime figures.

Given that Brindisi is of Italian descent, the memo is seen by many as a dog whistle. "Claudia Tenney's false attack on Anthony's family and heritage is sadly no surprise to us," said Brindisi campaign manager Ellen Foster.

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Some of Tenney's constituents also reacted angrily, according to CNY Central. "No one should bring in families and involve them. Even though it is politics it still isn’t right," said Rome resident Nadine Russel.

For her part, Tenney refuses to apologize, noting that, "As an Italian American, I find Brindisi's attempts to drag the Italian community into this to distract from his family's well documented criminal past shameful." She claimed to the Post that she has a "good relationship" with Brindisi, but doubled down on the memo, adding "Look at what the father has been charged with and somehow has been able to get out of … I've never even had a speeding ticket."

Tenney, who represents New York's 22nd Congressional District, is a reliable ally of President Donald Trump, and has a track record of bizarre beliefs. In March, she suggested that the office furniture scandal surrounding Housing Secretary Ben Carson was orchestrated by the "Deep State." In February, she promoted an internet hoax that most mass shooters "end up being Democrats," and when reporters pressed her to clarify the matter at her campaign kickoff, she screamed, "Fake news!"

Brindisi, a moderate Democrat, is running on a platform of protecting public education, health care, and Social Security. This race is considered one of the most competitive in New York State.

According to FiveThirtyEight, every poll since October has found Brindisi leading, but many show a narrow margin. The most recent poll, by Siena College, finds Brindisi leading 46 to 44.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.