GOP outsider is in; But they keep pushing him back out

Former Assemblyman — and would-be GOP congressman — Bob Straniere poses at his Manhattan hot dog restaurant. Straniere jumped into the race to succeed scandal-tarnished Rep. Vito Fossella after no other GOP candidate would take the job.
The Brooklyn Paper / Alex Alvarez

A former Republican Assemblyman who was driven out of power by his GOP rivals four years ago has been ushered back into the fold as the party’s official choice to represent Bay Ridge and Staten Island in Congress.

But former Assemblyman Robert Straniere’s emergence to succeed scandal-tarred Rep. Vito Fossella threatens to throw the party into deeper disarray, a state it has been in since Fossella resigned amid a drunk-driving and lovechild scandal and then his hand-picked successor, retired Wall Streeter Frank Powers, died.

On Monday, Powers’s committee on vacancies — a group that exists only to select a new candidate should the original person be unable to run — chose Straniere, thereby giving him the party’s imprimatur.

Straniere told The Brooklyn Paper that the quasi-endorsement will give his campaign a boost in the primary against Dr. Jamshad Wyne, the Staten Island party’s finance chairman and, potentially, against the Democratic opponent — either Staten Island Councilman Mike McMahon or Bay Ridge lawyer Steve Harrison — in November.

“It gives us a tremendous amount of credibility to our campaign and makes it easier to raise the funds we need,” he said.

Unlike Democrats, such as Sen. Charles Schumer, who have mobilized behind McMahon, local Republicans are riven by old grudges against Straniere, who was a divisive figure during his 24 years in Albany before losing his seat in a 2004 primary.

Several prominent Republicans on the Rock, including former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, told the Staten Island Advance they would not support Straniere, who currently lives in Manhattan, but has said he would move back to Staten Island.

Though the backing of elected leaders in the party could help Straniere tap into various bases of support around the district, which includes Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights, some analysts say candidates can win even if the party is split.

“The party support really comes into play during the process we go through — the screening and petitioning,” said Gerry O’Brien, a Republican consultant.

But “the party doesn’t come up with what [a candidate’s] message should be or an advertising campaign — that’s what wins elections these days.”

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