Humiliated Rep. Vito Fossella ended the speculation around his own political career by revealing that he would not seek re-election this fall — an announcement that set off intense jockeying on both sides of the political aisle.
Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) quietly exited the stage by posting a letter on his congressional Web site on Tuesday that told his scandal-tired constituents that he would give up the fight to retain his Bay Ridge–Staten Island seat.
“The choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused my wife and family,” he wrote, referring to his wife Mary Pat, the mother of three of Fossella’s four known children.
Fossella’s letter did not mention the congressman’s secret family in Alexandria, Virginia — his mistress Paula Fay and the 3-year-old daughter they share.
Hours later, Mary Pat Fossella put her own spin on the crisis that wrecked her marriage, breaking her silence in an e-mail to the New York Post.
“I am very saddened by how the world I was living unraveled before my eyes and everyone else’s,” she wrote. “My focus will continue to be on [my] three children, as it has been, as I have always maintained a very private life.”
Fossella’s decision to retire capped a stunning three weeks of controversy that began with his May 1 arrest for drunk driving and a subsequent admission that he had sired a daughter with Fay. Despite weeks of salacious reports about his and Fay’s taxpayer-funded junkets to Europe, Fossella had offered signs of late that he intended to seek re-election.
Indeed, he unexpectedly politicked his way around the banquet room at Staten Island’s Conservative Party dinner last week and marched in a Memorial Day parade in his district on Sunday.
But he abandoned the race because he gradually began to see that he could not win, insiders said, because national party officials would not waste valuable resources and political capital to protect a scandal-tarred congressman.
“Basically, incumbents are responsible for their own elections, so the national party can focus on challenger races so they can win seats back from the Democrats,” said Brooklyn Republican consultant Gerry O’Brien.
Until Fossella’s drunk-driving arrest, the 2008 election was shaping up to be a rematch of the 2006 campaign between six-term incumbent Fossella and Democratic challenger Steve Harrison.
Harrison, a Bay Ridge lawyer and former community board chairman, won 43 percent of the vote against Fossella, despite paltry fundraising and no support from national Democratic officials.
But Fossella’s retirement has thrust the election into turmoil, sending elders in both parties back to the smoke-filled room to pick worthy candidates for the rare open seat.
No one has officially taken the plunge for the GOP — though candidates need to begin gathering signatures on nominating petitions by early June.
The smoke should clear, at least on the GOP side, after Staten Island’s Republican county convention next week. Several leading contenders — such as Staten Island state Sen. Andrew Lanza or his Bay Ridge counterpart Marty Golden — are unlikely to run because they are vital to the party’s effort to retain a majority in Albany.
That appeared to set it up for Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan. But Donovan said Thursday afternoon that he would not run. Had Donovan run and won, Gov. Paterson, a Democrat, would have picked his replacement as district attorney.
Other names being floated include Richmond County Clerk Stephen Fiala, a former councilman, and Councilman James Oddo (R-Staten Island), who will be forced out of office next year because of term limits.
On the Democratic side, Harrison remains in the hunt, though his lone challenger for the nomination, Councilman Domenic Recchia, has been sending signals that he won’t continue in the fight.
“Domenic is out of the race. He’s no longer a candidate for personal and family reasons,” Brooklyn Democratic party boss Vito Lopez told the New York Times, though Recchia later denied that claim.
Also mentioned on the Democratic side is Councilman Michael McMahon (D–Staten Island), who said that Harrison, despite his head start and performance two years ago, is the outsider.
“I credit his tenacity, but it’s Political Science 101 that to win a competitive seat like this you’re going to need a proven elected official with Election Day success in the past,” McMahon told The Brooklyn Paper.
Other names bandied about include state Sen. Diane Savino (D–Staten Island), Assemblymember Michael Cusick (D–Staten Island) Assemblymember Peter Abbate (D–Dyker Heights).
The domination of Staten Island names is by no means coincidental; the island comprises roughly two thirds of the district.
But Harrison fights on, even as his once clear path to the nomination gets murkier.
|NAME, JOB, PARTY||ODDS||EXPERTS’ COMMENTS|
|Steve Harrison, Bay Ridge lawyer, Dem||8–1||The front-runner before everyone else got interested, he lacks support from the party bosses.|
|Michael McMahon, Councilman, Staten Island, Dem||2–1||How hungry is he? Even though he hasn’t announced, he came out swinging against Harrison this week.|
|Peter Abbate, Assemblyman, Dyker Heights, Dem||40–1||None of his Assembly district is in Staten Island, making him virtually unknown to two-thirds of voters. But union families love him.|
|Diane Savino, State Senator, Coney Island, Dem||10–1||She’s well known on both sides of the Verrazano, but with state Democrats poised to controls the state Senate for the first time in years, she may want to stick around and reap the benefits.|
|Michael Cusick, Assemblyman, Staten Island, Dem||40-1||Ethnically challenged in the Italo-centric district. Plus, he’s virtually unknown.|
|Domenic Recchia, Councilman, Coney Island, Dem||8–1||He’s banked $380,000 for the race, but his commitment is unclear. The Kings County boss already said he’s out.|
|Vince Gentile, Councilman, Bay Ridge, Dem||8–1||Nobody’s talking about this legislator with Staten Island experience from his state Senate days — but they should be.|
|Dan Donovan, Staten Island District Attorney, GOP||2–1||The cleanest GOP pol on the Island — and national party leaders have already reached out.|
|Stephen Fiala, Richmond County Clerk, GOP||80–1||He’s the county clerk, fer Pete’s sake.|
|Andrew Lanza, State Senator, Staten Island, GOP||12–1||Popular with voters, but the GOP can’t afford to lose his Senate seat.|
|James Oddo, Councilman, Staten Island, GOP||4–1||Needs new job because of term limits — plus, he showed true grit when he stood up to Scandinavian TV pranksters in that legendary YouTube moment.|
|Dan Donovan and Diane Savino announced late Thursday that they will not seek Fossella’s seat.|