The four-way race to replace Rep. Vito Fossella – with three of the candidates ranged along the right flank – appears to give the advantage to the Democratic candidate, City Councilmember Michael McMahon.
McMahon, the general wisdom contends, is poised to win the seat in the 13th Congressional District – which encompasses all of Staten Island and a swath of Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Gravesend – in part because voters know his name and his achievements, and in part because opposition to his candidacy is fractured.
However, one Republican insider suggests that the late entry of Bay Ridge resident Timothy Cochrane into the race as the Conservative Party candidate was intended to draw votes from McMahon, particularly in Brooklyn. The other candidates in the race are the Republican former Assemblymember Robert Straniere and the Independence Party’s Carmine Morano.
Noted the source, “The Conservative Party really wants Straniere to win but, for a variety of reasons, they can’t back him.” Among the reasons cited by the source were the endorsement of McMahon by Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, a Conservative, and the opposition to Straniere of Staten Island Republican power broker Guy Molinari, who recently endorsed Cochrane.
“They’ll never tell you this,” the insider went on. But, the source stressed, “What do you do to hurt McMahon? Put an Irish guy from Brooklyn on the ticket on the Conservative line where McMahon has run before. It was done to divert Brooklyn voters from McMahon to Cochrane, especially in Bay Ridge. It’s a clever way to tip a little balance to Straniere and, to some degree, I think it’s working.”
“Absolutely not,” rejoined Jerry Kassar, the chair of the Brooklyn Conservative Party, when asked if the party had put Cochrane up as a way of helping Straniere. “We had no support whatsoever in our committee for Bob Straniere. If we wanted to help Straniere we would have endorsed Straniere.
“The ethnic thing is very cynical,” Kassar went on. “That’s not the way politics has gone on the Brooklyn side for a number of years. We’re running a guy who’s very conservative on the issues. Who do they think we are hurting? The people saying that are trying to make excuses. We are really looking forward to seeing Straniere lose.”
Indeed, stressed Kassar, there is currently tremendous friction between the Conservative Party and Staten Island Republicans. “We don’t have a relationship now with the Republican Party in Staten Island,” Kassar emphasized. “This race is an example of that.
“They insulted us when they wouldn’t give the Wilson-Pakula authorization to Paul Atanasio,” Kassar went on, referring back to the chaotic period after the original Republican candidate for the seat, Frank Powers, unexpectedly died.
At that time, Brooklyn Republicans got behind Atanasio, a Conservative Party member, and had petitioned for him, but Republicans on Staten Island – whom Kassar accused of “ineptness” — refused to give him or Morano the authorization necessary for non-party members to run in the Republican primary in September.
“The Brooklyn Republicans worked with us,” Kassar stressed. “This is not their doing.
“I’m as straight a shooter as they come,” Kassar added, “and I don’t run a candidate, working hour after hour, spending money, to help Bob Straniere. We are directing our efforts right at Republican voters to give them a choice from Bob Straniere, so that theory is deflated.”
Since Cochrane accepted the nomination, after Atanasio dropped out, the Conservative party had done four mailings, reached around 90,000 residents through robocalls, and “postered and lawn-signed the district to death,” said Kassar. “That’s all coming off Straniere’s hide, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s perfectly okay.
“They are about to get their heads handed to them and Cochrane is about to get a significant vote,” Kassar predicted.
That, however, is not the way Craig Eaton, the chair of the Brooklyn GOP, sees it. “I think Straniere has a good shot,” he told this paper. “He has a record of 24 years in the state Assembly, and contrary to what everybody says, you can’t get elected 12 times if you’re not liked by your constituents.”
The seat has been held by the GOP for three decades, most recently by Fossella, who announced in May that he was stepping down after it was revealed, in the wake of a traffic stop for DUI, that he had a second family in Virginia.
Prior to that, the seat was held by Susan Molinari, Guy Molinari’s daughter, who won the seat after her father stepped down to become Staten Island borough president. In the aftermath of the Fossella scandal, however, the seat has been rated by the non-partisan Congressional Quarterly as “Democrat favored.”