The death of would-be Republican congressman Frank Powers has split the Staten Island and Brooklyn wings of the so-called Grand Old Party.
Brooklyn’s Republican organization has rallied behind Paul Atanasio, a retired investment banker and registered Conservative, but county chairman Craig Eaton is livid that his Staten Island counterparts have not supported Atanasio — or anyone else — in the race to hold onto the party’s only congressional seat in New York City.
“The failure of the Staten Island GOP to put all their resources and effort behind Paul Atanasio is going to give the Democrats a significant edge,” Eaton said. “If we lose, it’s going to be their fault.”
The dean of Staten Island’s Republicans — former Congressman and Porough President Guy Molinari — has said that the current state of disarray on Staten Island, mixed with the weakness of the Republican field, will cost the GOP its only city seat.
“Based on the candidates that have surfaced so far, yes, we’re going to lose the seat,” Molinari said, according to the Web site Talking Points Memo.
The Republicans are under the gun to get a name — any name — on the ballot. To qualify, candidates must submit 1,250 valid signatures of registered voters by July 10. Typically, twice as many signatures are needed in order to survive the inevitable challenges.
In addition to Atanasio’s entrance into the race, former Staten Island Assemblyman Robert Straniere has said he will seek the seat. He began gathering signatures on Monday.
Straniere has name recognition in Staten Island, but he also has a strained relationship with Staten Island party elders, going back to their support for Vincent Ignizio, the challenger who defeated him in a primary four years ago despite Straniere’s 24 years of service in Albany.
Eaton said the Brooklyn Republicans would have considered supporting Straniere except that Staten Island leaders were emphatically against the former assemblyman when the initial search began to find a successor to Fossella, who announced that he would not stand for re-election after his May 1 drunk-driving arrest and the ensuing revelation that he had sired a child during an extended extramarital affair with an Air Force officer based in the Washington, D.C. area.
Straniere, however, is willing to publicly extend the olive branch.
“I have no bad feelings against anybody — that was a loss fair and square,” he said, referring to his defeat at the hands of Ignizio, who now serves in the City Council.
Another knock on Straniere is his current address: Manhattan. Members of Congress need only live in their districts on the day they take office, but some voters will hold it against Straniere that he currently resides so far from a district that encompasses Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and all of Staten Island.
Straniere, who was dogged by allegations that he spent more time in his Gaphattan apartment than Staten Island while he was in office, openly lives there now.
“I consider Staten Island my home and I’m looking forward to getting back,” he said.
Dr. Jamshad Wyne, the Staten Island Republican finance chairman, is also vying for the party’s nomination, but his professional history will work against him. He was placed on probation by the state for three years in 2003 after he had acted with “negligence on more than one occasion.”
The disharmony and chaos on the Republican side makes the party even more vulnerable to a Democratic takeover because national Democratic officials have made the district a priority and are already backing City Councilman Mike McMahon (D–Staten Island) for the seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged more than $2 million in advertising money to support McMahon in the general election, contingent upon him beating Steve Harrison, a Bay Ridge lawyer who lost to Fossella in 2006, in the September primary.
McMahon was planning a bold display of strength by filing more than 10,000 signatures by Thursday’s deadline, far more than is typically needed to ward off challenges from opponents.