Undeclared Candidate Fossella Gets Key GOP Endorsement

Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:19am

In an improbable development, scandal-plagued New York ex-Rep. Vito Fossella received the endorsement of his local Republican organization’s executive committee late Wednesday night to get his old job back.

The news stunned and angered the two Republicans who have been vying for the right to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon and threw the race in New York’s 13th district into further chaos.

According to several New York media outlets, the executive committee of the Staten Island Republican Party late Wednesday voted 23-4 to endorse Fossella for his old seat — even though Fossella is not currently a candidate. While there have been rumors that Fossella has been eyeing a political comeback, he has not said anything publicly about a possible candidacy and has kept a low profile since leaving Congress at the end of 2008.

“It is my firm belief that [Fossella] is the strongest candidate we can field,” Staten Island GOP Chairman John Friscia told the Staten Island Advance after the vote. “I have an obligation to pick the strongest candidate with the best chance of success.”

Fossella’s once-promising political career unraveled in 2008 when a drunken driving arrest led to revelations that the Congressman had fathered a child out of wedlock. Fossella, the lone Republican in the New York City Congressional election at the time, pleaded guilty, served a five-day jail sentence and was forced to abandon his re-election bid. McMahon, then a popular New York City councilman, jumped into the race and flipped the House seat into the Democratic column for the first time since 1980.

But the district, which takes in all of Staten Island and parts of south Brooklyn, is conservative, and national Republicans began the election cycle optimistic that McMahon’s Congressional career would be short-lived. But neither of their declared candidates — former FBI agent Michael Grimm and environmental analyst Michael Allegretti — have really taken off, and local GOP leaders are divided on the race, as is the small but powerful New York Conservative Party.

Whether Fossella uses the committee’s endorsement to jump into the race remains to be seen. The full Staten Island GOP committee is scheduled to meet to ratify the executive committee’s endorsement next week. Ex-Rep. Guy Molinari, a former Fossella mentor who has endorsed Grimm, fired a shot across Fossella’s bow late Wednesday.

“I welcome a primary with Fossella,” he told the Advance. “It’s going to be ugly, it’s going to be nasty, but he has to know that would come out in the course of a campaign. Everything he has done will be brought to light by me in this campaign.”

McMahon, in an interview with the newspaper, called the Republican fight “a three-ring circus” and said he would wait to see how the GOP sorts out its field.