New York: GOP Grudgingly Taps Toxic Figure for S.I. Seat

Posted July 16, 2008 at 6:27pm

There’s more bad news for Republicans struggling to hold on to the seat of scandal-tinged Rep. Vito Fossella (R).

Staten Island Republicans, stymied in their attempts to find a top-tier contender for the race to replace Fossella, endorsed a former state Assemblyman this week whom party leaders rejected for re-election four years earlier.

Former Assemblyman Robert Straniere is expected to become the official designee of the Staten Island GOP, though he faces a primary on Sept. 9 with physician Jamshad Wyne, the treasurer of the county Republican organization.

Straniere was a 24-year incumbent in the Legislature when GOP leaders turned their back on him in 2004 after criticizing his business dealings and following rumors that he actually lived in Manhattan. Straniere was defeated in the Republican primary that year.

According to Tuesday’s Staten Island Advance, some Staten Island Republicans were highly critical of the move.

“They couldn’t have made a worse mistake,” said former Rep. Guy Molinari (R), who held the seat Fossella now holds from 1981 to 1989. “The party was already in desperate shape. They’ve all but buried it.”

But members of the GOP committee who tapped Straniere told the Advance that he simply had the highest name recognition and most political experience of any of the candidates available.

Republicans were favored to hold the lone seat they control in New York City until Fossella became embroiled in several personal scandals at the beginning of May. After several high-profile local officials declined to run for the seat, the GOP turned to former Wall Street investment banker Frank Powers, but he died suddenly last month.

With the latest turn of events, New York City Councilman Michael McMahon is the frontrunner to replace Fossella, though he must get through a Democratic primary with attorney Stephen Harrison, the 2006 nominee.