Vito’s Foley linked to Mark

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Rep. Vito Fossella has donated $1,000 he received from disgraced ex-Rep. Mark Foley to a Staten Island charity for abused children, and now, Fossella’s Democratic rival for Congress is demanding that he return the $7,000 he’s gotten over the years from embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

“You don’t want to show support for someone who has not been diligent in his duties as Speaker of the House,” said Stephen Harrison, the Bay Ridge attorney running against Fossella, New York’s only Republican congressman, for the seat that covers Staten Island and Bay Ridge.

Hastert has been engulfed in accusations that he knew about Foley’s sexual harassment of male pages, but took no action against Foley, who resigned abruptly two weeks ago after ABC news aired his raunchy instant-messages to House pages.

Fossella has received $7,000 from Hastert’s Keep our Majority PAC since 1997 — but a $5,000 contribution came in June 2005, after the Clerk of the House says he told Hastert’s chief of staff about Foley’s behavior.

“Hastert was aware there were problems for months,” said Harrison. “He should have investigated and done something about it.”

But Fossella is standing firm.

“He is not returning Hastert’s money,” said campaign manager Matthew Mika.

Harrison paints Fossella’s refusal to return Hastert’s donation as a sign of his blind obedience to the Republican party and to President Bush.

“What we have is a congressman who says he is an independent, but will always rally around the Republicans, rather than do the right thing,” Harrison said.

The harsh tone of Harrison’s rhetoric echoes the tone of the first two of his debates with Fossella.

At a forum this week at St. Philip’s Church hosted by the Dyker Heights Civic Association, Harrison dispensed with the usual introductory speech to talk instead about what he termed a “deception,” pointing to a piece of Fossella campaign literature in which Harrison’s photo is placed next to Osama bin Laden’s.

“When he puts a picture of Osama bin Laden next to mine and say I support him, that’s despicable and over the line.”

While making his pointed remarks, Harrison often spoke directly at Fossella, who avoided making eye contact.

Harrison continued the tactic when referring back to the bin Laden pamphlet: “This is the equivalent of putting a photo of Adolf Hitler next to you.”

Fossella countered: “As far as we know, Osama bin Laden is still on the prowl [and] my opponent has a much weaker position when it comes to questioning terrorists, listening to terrorists and the Patriot Act.”

The rhetoric may have been over the top, but so was the crowd, which behaved in a manner more appropriate to a football game. Despite the energy of the standing-room-only crowd, many voters are still ignoring the race.

Scott Shapiro, a Brooklyn Democratic activist, announced the creation of a new group, Capture Congress, that will help Brooklyn Democrats target their money to “races where the experts say the Republicans are most vulnerable.”

Harrison is not a featured candidate.

But Shapiro denied that the group was abandoning its hometown boy for Democrats in North Carolina and Illinois

“Because the races are so dynamic, and because the trends [for Democrats] are so strong, we’re taking a look at our list on a weekly basis, to see if some candidates should be swapped out and others swapped in,” said Shapiro.

Harrison said he’s never heard of the group and would not comment.

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