In an early swipe at an opponent in the race to succeed scandal-ridden Rep. Vito Fossella, former Republican Assemblyman Robert Straniere assailed Councilman Mike McMahon as a tax-and-spend Democrat, one of the oldest curses in an old political book.
“Mike McMahon will vote for programs that the people of Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge and Dyker [Heights] don’t want,” Straniere told members of the Fiorello LaGuardia Republican Club at a pizza luncheon on Tuesday afternoon.
Straniere, who currently lives in Manhattan, served Staten Island in Albany for 12 terms until losing a 2004 primary, and only got into the race to replace Fossella after the GOP’s hand-picked candidate, Frank Powers, died abruptly in June.
On Tuesday, Straniere showed that he had fully joined the campaign, blasting McMahon, who represents Staten Island’s North Shore, for supporting congestion pricing — Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to charge drivers for entering parts of Manhattan — and his vote to increase property taxes in 2002.
McMahon stood by his votes, saying that congestion pricing was a win-win for Staten Island because his constituents already pay whenever they drive off the island, and they would enjoy less traffic if congestion pricing worked as promised.
And on the property tax vote, he said the hike came during a dire financial period following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
He added that it’s easy for Straniere to be critical because he didn’t have to cast a ballot on those controversial issues.
“As a Manhattan resident, it’s a bit far fetched for Bob Straniere to claim that he knows what Brooklyn or Staten Island residents want,” said Anthony Hogrebe, a McMahon spokesman. “It’s shameful, but not particularly surprising, that Straniere hasn’t learned his lesson after voters threw him out of office four years ago. Instead of continuing his unique brand of divisive, negative politics, he should try to run a positive, issue-oriented campaign.”
Aside from going on the offensive against McMahon, Straniere, a divisive figure among Republicans, dusted off another tactic straight out of the election playbook: the no new taxes pledge.
“I will never raise taxes on my constituents,” he said, repeating that oath the next day in Washington.
He also pledged to not take the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights portion of the mostly Staten Island district for granted, pledging that any day he is on Staten Island, he will also spend part of the same day in Brooklyn.
Straniere’s so-called “Verrazano Promise” paid dividends with some voters at Il Colosseo pizzeria on 18th Avenue.
“I vote for my pocket,” said Joe Leibowitz, explaining why he would vote for Straniere.
Outside of Staten Island, Straniere is relatively unknown, and GOP leaders on his former turf are hostile to his candidacy. The party fractured during Straniere’s losing 2001 campaign for borough president and he has never regained the support of all the local pols.
“They couldn’t have made a worse mistake,” said former borough president Guy Molinari, still an island power broker, after Straniere was selected to replace Powers on the ballot. “There’s no way I can support him.”
To win the nomination, Straniere will have to beat Jamshad Wyne, a doctor and finance chairman of the Staten Island GOP.
The Democrats are also riven, though not nearly as badly.
Steve Harrison, a Bay Ridge lawyer, is vying with McMahon. Harrison ran against Fossella in 2006, getting 43 percent of the vote — but when Fossella was arrested for drunk driving on May 1 and later admitted to siring a child with a woman not his wife, McMahon jumped into the race.
He subsequently earned an endorsement from the national Democratic party and has been raising money extremely well.