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Fossella’s Decision Pleases Colleagues

Tuesday’s announcement by scandal-singed Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) that he will not seek re- election is a rare bit of good news for beleaguered House Republicans.

House GOP leaders were dreading the idea of sticking by a weakened nominee in the most expensive media market in the nation, and they worried that they were too broke to compete effectively in a special election if Fossella had resigned.

Despite damaging revelations in the past three weeks that he had been arrested on drunken-driving charges and had fathered a daughter out of wedlock, the 43-year-old Congressman seemed determined to run for a seventh term, attending an important political dinner and Memorial Day parade back home in recent days. But Fossella changed course Tuesday, telling constituents in a letter posted on his House Web site that he needed to step aside for the good of his family and his community.

“This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused to my wife and family,” he said.

Fossella’s decision to retire increases the likelihood that Republicans will hold his Staten Island-Brooklyn seat — the only one the GOP controls in all of New York City — in November.

Democrats have a 5-3 edge in voter enrollment and had been targeting the 13th district even before Fossella’s life started to unravel following his DWI arrest on May 1. But the district is conservative, and the seat has been held by Republicans since 1981.

“This Staten Island and Brooklyn district will vote true to its form in November and will send a Republican representative back to Congress who will fight for its needs,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said in a statement.

But Fossella’s departure guarantees that Democrats will redouble their efforts to win the seat.

“The fact that this is an open seat makes for an even greater opportunity for Democrats,” said Carrie James, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We’re confident that we’ll have a strong Democratic candidate whose values are in line with the district.”

But now that the political terrain in the district has shifted so suddenly, both parties face a period of confusing and potentially divisive jockeying, as they sort out who will be their strongest nominees. Both parties seem to have solid candidates waiting in the wings, but broader political considerations may determine who runs and who remains on the sidelines.

“The phones are burning up,” said former Rep. Guy Molinari (R-N.Y.), who held the seat Fossella now occupies in the 1980s, and remains a power in Staten Island politics.

The Staten Island GOP, which was planning to begin its endorsement process tonight, has postponed its candidate interviews until Monday.

For the Republicans, the list of possible replacement candidates for Fossella is headed by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. and state Sen. Andrew Lanza.

House GOP leaders have already reached out to Donovan, who issued a statement Tuesday saying he would decide what to do very soon.

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