Three weeks after Representative Vito Fossella’s double life began to unravel, the sole Republican in the city’s Congressional delegation has announced that he will not seek re-election.
Fossella, who has been battling the fallout from a DUI arrest and the subsequent revelation that he had a second family in Virginia, announced the news in a May 20 letter to constituents on his Congressional website.
Fossella, who represents all of Staten Island and portions of southwestern Brooklyn included in the 13th Congressional District, said he would serve out his term.
“After a great deal of consideration, I have made the decision not to seek re-election to the United States House of Representatives this November,” Fossella wrote. “This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused to my wife and family.”
On May 1, Fossella was busted in Virginia for driving drunk. He reportedly had a blood alcohol level of .17, twice the legal limit in that state. He phoned retired Air Force Col. Laura Fay, with whom he has a 3-year-old daughter, to bail him out, and in so doing let the cat out of the bag.
Fossella’s decision, sources say, is good news for GOPers anxious to hang onto the seat, who now can choose between a bevy of candidates – Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, City Councilmember James Oddo, State Senators Andrew Lanza and Marty Golden and Brooklyn GOP Chair Craig Eaton – who do not come encumbered.
The district, said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairperson Tom Cole in a statement, “will vote true to its form in November and will send a Republican representative back to Congress who will fight for its needs.”
“I’m not going to say he couldn’t have won re-election,” remarked Jerry Kassar, the Brooklyn Conservative Party chair. “I think he did the right thing for himself and his family.”
The seat, Kassar added, is “strongly Conservative-Republican. There hasn’t been a close election in the district in years. I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with the availability of good candidates. The question is going to be coming up with an agreed-upon choice.”
“We are filled with enthusiasm at the number of qualified persons that have expressed interest in becoming part of the Republican team this November,” agreed John Friscia, Richmond Republican Committee chair.
Eaton, for his part, said that the seat was a key one for GOPers to retain “since it’s the only one in the city of New York, and it’s important that the GOP have a voice in Congress from the city. I am confident we can keep the seat. I think we are going to have a lot of interest from a lot of people. We have to find the best candidate.”
In the meantime, Democrats have also been jockeying for position. Announced candidate Stephen Harrison is definitely still in, and urged in a statement that the focus of the race revert, “to the issues facing the people of the district and America, like Iraq, healthcare, energy, the environment and, of course, the economy.
“I have not been running against Vito Fossella,” Harrison added. “I have been running for Congress and I will continue to do so.”
However, according to insiders, City Councilmember Domenic Recchia is rethinking his intention of running, perhaps bowing to Staten Island Democrats – specifically City Councilmember Michael McMahon, State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Michael Cusick – who now may run.
Recchia, however, would not confirm that. Instead, he released a statement saying, “I’m currently in talks with other Democrats to come up with a solution that will serve the best interest of the party, which is turning this seat from red to blue.”
“It leaves everything open,” remarked Democratic District Leader Ralph Perfetto, a Harrison supporter. “I hope Staten Island and Brooklyn get behind Steve. All he wants to do is go in there and serve.”
“I think Harrison is the guy to beat,” added Democratic District Leader Joe Bova, who had supported Recchia. “He has about $90,000 cash on hand.
“People in Staten Island trace their roots to Brooklyn,” Bova went on. “He may not live there, but he has family and friends there, and, in 2006, on a shoestring budget, he got 43 percent of the vote.”
Bova said that the seat could be taken by a Dem, even though the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, John McCain, is expected to do well in the district. “It’s the same campaign as it was against Vito before Vito’s trouble,” said Bova. “Are you going to support the oil companies that [George W.] Bush and McCain seem to do, or are you going to be supporting working class families? It’s the economy that’s really got people concerned.”
Buoying the Dems’ chances, added Bova, is the likelihood that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will help fund the race. “They were planning on doing it before,” he said. “Now that it’s an open seat, I think it goes to the top of the list.”
On both sides of the aisle, sources said, Brooklynites are combating an attitude that the seat somehow belongs to Staten Island. “The argument is that this is their seat,” said one Republican. “Our argument is that it’s their seat to lose, and they lost it, and it’s Brooklyn’s time now.”
— Gary Buiso contributed reporting for this article.