Disgraced former Rep. Vito Fossella has taken his hat out of the ring for his old Bay Ridge-Staten Island seat — an announcement that came one week after a GOP committee on Staten Island nominated the former lawmaker for the seat, despite his 2008 drunk-driving arrest that led to subsequent revelations that he had a secret family in Virginia.
“After considering all that’s involved and enjoying life in the private sector, I’m in a place where I need to be and most importantly where I want to be, so today I’ve indicated I will not be running,” Fossella told us outside his office in Manhattan, where he works at an investment bank.
“Many people have expressed support for me in the last few days,” he added. “I’m humbled by that and grateful for it, but I have no plans [to return to politics].”
The executive committee of the Staten Island GOP had nominated Fossella — the family-values politician who values families so much that he has two of them — to reclaim the seat instead of the two declared GOP candidates already in the race, Staten Islander Michael Grimm and Brooklynite Michael Allegretti, both of whom are vying to challenge the incumbent, Rep. Mike McMahon (D-Bay Ridge).
The Staten Island committee nomination of Fossella came just one day after the Kings County Republican Party threw its support behind native son Allegretti, whose family owns Bayside Fuel Oil, and who had previously been endorsed by state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge).
Grimm — a Gulf War veteran and former FBI agent — has the support of Staten Island Republican power broker Guy Molinari, former Mayor Giuliani, and the Kings County Conservative Party.
The Staten Island GOP move had thrown the race into turmoil — at least until Fossella’s disavowal.
Craig Eaton, the chairman of the Kings County Republican Party, said that his group’s nomination of Allegretti is firm.
“We have no intention of leaving him,” Eaton said. “He’s young, articulate and well-educated, and would make a good congressman.”
Molinari was less diplomatic.
“What took place [on Wednesday] was shameful for the Republican Party,” he said.
The move would not have helped GOP efforts to reclaim the seat, Molinari added.
“Republican candidates have to work harder to be elected,” he said. “What they did was the height of stupidity. You have two good candidates, and now you slap both of them in the face.”
Despite Fossella’s decision to decline the nomination, the move by the party committee itself indicates that some Republicans are unsure of the chances of either declared candidate, said Jonathan Judge, the president of the Brooklyn Young Republican Club.
“Many people will be disappointed Vito chose not to run, irrespective of his personal shortcomings,” said Judge. But he added that Grimm and Alligretti’s status as newcomers might actually work in their favor in today’s political climate. “Hopefully, with the current anti-incumbent sentiment, they’ll get extra momentum.”
But either GOP’er will need as much momentum as possible — after all, Democrats still outnumber Republicans three to two in the district, though the GOP did hold the seat for three decades before Fossella’s fall from grace.
Neither Allegretti nor Grimm were taken aback by the brief possibility of a Fossella comeback. “Nothing is different for me,” said Grimm. “I’m staying focused and I’m not going to be distracted by anything.”
And after Fossella bailed on the race, Allegretti praised the former lawmaker as someone whose “leadership served the residents of Staten Island and Brooklyn well.”
But the candidate chose to wrap himself in a different mantle from the disgraced Fossella.
“Voters now have a choice — a candidate who has the business experience to cut spending, create jobs, and get our economy moving again,” he said. “I am that choice.”
McMahon declined to comment on Fossella — but in a statement, he did “wish the Fossella family well.”