Bay Ridge is represented in Congress by a convict, now that Rep. Vito Fossella was found guilty last Friday of drunk driving, stemming from a May 1 arrest in Virginia as the seven-term congressman was on his way to a night-time rendezvous with his mistress.
The conviction came at the end of a day of testimony that revealed that Fossella had a .17 percent alcohol level in his blood, well above the .08 Virginia limit and the .15 percent reading that triggers a five-day jail sentence.
Fossella and his lawyer will be back in court on Dec. 8 — in the month before he leaves Congress — to argue that his blood alcohol level was far lower than police claimed. If he loses the next round, he can appeal to a higher court.
“The significant question now is how impaired was he,” said Barry Pollack, Fossella’s attorney. “There are a number of witnesses who were with him throughout the day and evening up to the point he was stopped who said he only had a couple glasses of wine. He wasn’t slurring his speech. He wasn’t stumbling.”
That contradicts Alexandria police testimony that portrayed Fossella as a stuttering, confused drunk who threatened to urinate inside a police station. The congressman, 43, could not recite the alphabet, apparently because of his intoxication, one cop testified.
Fossella did take the stand in his defense — an unexpected turn of events.
On the stand, he said his only intake of booze was three glasses of wine at dinner hours earlier. And he repeated his claim that he was in a rush to get to his mistress Laura Fay’s house because his daughter — the secret lovechild he shared with Fay — was ill.
The Daily News reported that the “family values” Republican was grim faced as Alexandria General District Court Judge Becky Moore read her guilty verdict.
He left court without talking to reporters, but put out a statement later: “As I have said before, I made a serious mistake and I want to again apologize for setting the wrong example.”
The “wrong example” was a reference to his drunk driving and secret life, which was later revealed to be an affair with former Air Force aide Fay and the existence of a daughter. Fossella has three other children with his wife Mary, who, the New York Post reported, was not in the courtroom to watch her husband’s fall from grace reach its judicial climax.
Even though he will no longer be in the limelight, Fossella could begin a lucrative career in D.C. or be a behind the scenes figure in local politics back in his native Staten Island.
“It’s more likely he’ll stay in Washington and make a lot of money as a lobbyist,” said Gerry O’Brien, a GOP consultant in Brooklyn. “But there are people in Staten Island who still feel fondly about him.”
Fossella’s biggest legislative accomplishment came in 1996 when, as a City Councilman, he co-sponsored the bill to shut the Fresh Kills Landfill, long the bane of his Staten Island constituents.
The conviction comes just two weeks before the election to pick Fossella’s replacement.
His arrest for driving under the influence set about a mad scramble to replace him. Though Bay Ridge laywer Steve Harrison was preparing for a rematch of his 2006 race against Fossella, the congressman’s announcement that he would not stand for re-election encouraged Councilman Mike McMahon (D–Staten Island) to jump in. McMahon easily defeated Harrison for the Democratic nomination.
On the GOP side, Staten Island party leaders initially chose Frank Powers, an MTA board member, as the official candidate. But Powers died shortly thereafter, setting off a new scramble. Former Assemblyman Robert Straniere, who is reviled by the party elders, easily won the primary against Jim Wyne, a party official.