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Vito exit leaves GOPers scrambling - Maltese in the mix after party bosses put up Powers

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Democrats hoping to snag the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Vito Fossella may face a primary fight, but Republicans trying to hold the seat apparently can’t even decide whose candidacy to endorse.

Last week, the Staten Island GOP selected Frank Powers, a member of the MTA board who can self-finance a campaign to run in the 13th Congressional District. But, that decision had barely become public before word began to circulate that another congressional hopeful, Judge Joseph Maltese, might be back in the mix.

“The selection of Powers was baffling,” confessed one Brooklyn GOPer, who contended that the businessman had zero name recognition. “It came out of the blue. The only thing I was able to get a connection from is that he was Vito Fossella’s fundraiser, which indicates to me that maybe the outgoing congressman had a major say in who was tapped to run.”

“It looks like the Republicans are in total disaccord,” another GOP source said. “I’m still in shock that none of the elected officials stepped up.”

As this paper went to press, and the petitioning period kicked off, it was unknown whether the Staten Island GOP would back off their selection of Powers, whose weakness as a candidate has already been discussed.

As one GOP source put it, “It’s psychological. He’s a member of the MTA board. You talk about $10 to cross the Verrazano. He goes free, and we pay, and he’s the candidate?” Staten Island GOP Chair John Friscia did not return a call requesting comment by press time.

What is certain, however, is that the Brooklyn GOP has not lined up behind Powers. Craig Eaton, the party chair in the borough, said that he had, “learned Frank Powers was interested in the seat at about 4 p.m. on the day of the Staten Island convention and therefore I didn’t have the opportunity to meet with him or review his credentials.

“I did meet with him over the weekend, and think he’s a nice guy, but I also know that some other people are interested,” Eaton went on. “I think it’s incumbent on me, as the leader of the Brooklyn GOP, to look at any possible candidates, so I’m going to reserve our endorsement.” Among those the Brooklyn GOP will be interviewing is Maltese, Eaton said.

In the meantime, the wrangling continues among the Dems. While the Staten Island Democratic organization and Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez have given Staten Island City Councilmember Michael McMahon their support, Brooklynite Stephen Harrison — who ran against Fossella in 2006, and got a higher percentage of votes than any Democrat had previously in that race – refuses to go gently.

Rather, Harrison – who appeared with McMahon at the June meeting of Brooklyn Democrats for Change – pointed out that if Fossella’s troubles had begun on June 1st, instead of May 1st, “I’d be the candidate. There would have been no primary till about two weeks ago when Councilman McMahon decided to run.”

However, “Everyone agrees that I’m the best person to bring the seat into Democratic hands,” McMahon contended.

“We may have a primary on the Democratic side, but they have chaos on the Republican side,” quipped City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who stopped by the meeting, at the Knights of Columbus, 8122 Fifth Ave.

Nonetheless, sources say that there is disagreement over how to proceed. “[McMahon] got the support of Lopez, but not the whole party,” Assemblymember Peter Abbate said, explaining that his Stars and Stripes club won’t discuss who to support until later this week. “Right now I don’t know who the other clubs are supporting.”

Indeed, some insiders charged that Lopez gave his support without polling the leaders in the borough. “Vito call a meeting? That doesn’t happen,” said one political watchdog who admitted that Lopez probably wouldn’t call one because the election concerns only a small section of the borough.

Others said that Lopez “was willing to go to war” with Staten Island Dems to back City Councilmember Domenic Recchia in a three-way primary. Calls to Lopez for comment were not returned by press time.

Although Lopez and others knew his decision earlier, Recchia officially announced this week that he wasn’t going to run and would instead support McMahon.

“My main focus right now is to make sure that the Democrats win this seat,” Recchia told this paper. Recchia also said that he would support McMahon’s campaign both personally and financially.

Local elected officials confirmed that Recchia wasn’t forced to fall on his sword for the party. “Domenic made up his own mind on his own pace,” said Gentile. “A lot of people would have welcomed him if he signed on, but no one pushed him out.”

A campaign insider said that Recchia decided against running because if he won, he would have outraged Staten Island Democrats, who wouldn’t have lifted a finger to support him in the general election. “You can’t survive a hard fought primary just to go back into the meat grinder for the general election,” the insider said.

When it comes to club support, Harrison seems to be getting more traction than McMahon on this side of the bridge. He has secured the endorsement of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats as well as the American Heritage Club, which is led by one of his most ardent supporters, Democratic District Leader Ralph Perfetto.

While the Stars and Stripes and other clubs have yet to commit fully, and Democrats for Change voted no endorsement at its previous meeting, when the candidates were Harrison and Recchia, McMahon has reportedly been reaching out to political leaders in Brooklyn, asking for support.

Yet, one source said it amazed him how Brooklyn was being disregarded on both sides of the aisle. “They’re all brushing Brooklyn aside,” the pundit remarked, “yet the person who wins Brooklyn is going to win the race.”

One pundit opined that the situation favors the Democrats. “I think the Dems win another Congressional seat,” the insider remarked. “The Republicans messed up. Vito had a better chance of winning the election, even hurt, than a no-name.”

Yet, said a GOP source, all was not lost. “If Vito and the GOP in Staten Island pull out all the stops, then they have a shot,” the insider speculated.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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