Harrison to challenge Vito again

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The campaign may only be a few hours old, but the gloves are already off.

Two years after Democrat Steve Harrison lost to Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge), the Bay Ridge lawyer is looking for another shot at the conservative law maker. He said this week that he would again be a candidate for the seat representing Bay Ridge and Staten Island.

He and Fossella have already begun to set the tone for the debate, and it looks like it is going to be war — literally.

Harrison plans on using the war in Iraq as his rallying cry to counter the hawkish Fossella.

“I am running because I believe we have to build a majority of Democrats in Congress to stop this ill-conceived war,” said Harrison. “I absolutely believe the war in Iraq was wrong, and I would prefer to not even use the term war on terror.”

In 2006, the city’s lone Republican congressman held onto his seat with 57 percent of the vote, beating the under-funded Harrison.

Harrison made the announcement that he was again taking on Fossella at a press conference at Staten Island’s Arthur Von Briesen Park on Thursday. The announcement came two weeks after Harrison formed the Staten Island–Brooklyn Civic Association, a group dedicated to bridging the divide between Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The divide Harrison will now have to bridge is 14, as in the number of percentage points that separated the two candidates in 2006

Like Harrison, Fossella also plans to center his campaign on his opponent’s stance on the war, and his camp already isn’t pulling any punches.

“‘Surrender Steve’ may be the only person left in America who doesn’t believe that we’re fighting a war on terrorism,” said Fossella political director Georgea Kay. “Harrison’s denial that terrorists are trying to murder us explains why he opposes the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program’ and other key tools that are keeping Americans safe.”

But Harrison bristles at the notion that Iraq had anything to do with terrorism, and wants to know why his opponent supports a policy he believes was doomed from the start.

“What are we doing in Iraq?” Harrison asked. “Saddam is dead, we found no weapons of mass destruction, and we know that Iraq didn’t attack us — we need to get out.”

Kay believes that Harrison’s position, and problems with the term “war on terror,” would fit in better at a Grateful Dead concert then in a seat partly responsible for national security.

“I can guarantee you that Brooklyn residents don’t share Harrison’s tie-dyed view of the world,” said Kay. “If Harrison doesn’t believe that we’re fighting a war on terrorism, Brooklynites can’t trust him to keep us safe.”

The issue of war may be driving this campaign, but there are also some practical matters that need to be taken care of — namely, money.

Harrison said the last election taught him a valuable lesson on economics. In that contest, he began his fund raising months behind his opposition. Harrison ended up raising a mere $109,000, while Fossella’s war chest overflowed with more than $1.3 million.

“In 2006 I learned how essential money is to a campaign, especially for the last month,” said Harrison. “This allowed Fossella to wage a campaign of distortions, and we had no way of responding.”

Fossella’s camp had its own take on campaign ethics.

“It’s taken Harrison less than four seconds to begin his campaign with negative attacks and smears and nothing positive about the future of our community and nation.”

In the last election Fossella ran ads on cable television and radio, while Harrison couldn’t afford mass mailings. Harrison’s pleas to the Democratic National Campaign Committee, which underwrites many congressional races, went unheeded, as did his appeals to the local party.

“I think I was viewed as a sacrificial lamb last election,” said Harrison. “That won’t be the case this time.”

Earlier this year, The Brooklyn Paper reported that the DNC would be putting a bull’s-eye on “ethically challenged” representatives — naming Fossella as one such target — by infusing cash into his Democratic challenger’s campaign.

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