Time ticks down on groggy GOP

The Brooklyn Paper

With just days to go before the end of the petitioning period, local Republicans still haven’t settled again on a candidate to run for the congressional seat being vacated by Representative Vito Fossella.

The GOP is trying to regroup after the death of candidate Frank Powers, 67, a retired businessman who had been tapped to make the run and who died in the middle of the petitioning period, which runs from June 3rd through July 10th.

Fossella had declared his intention of retiring after a DUI arrest on May 1st, that led to the revelation that he had a second family in Virginia. Powers was selected after it was clear that no GOP elected officials from Staten Island – which, with the southwestern part of Brooklyn, makes up the 13th Congressional District – was interested.

Since Powers’ death, Republicans have flirted unsuccessfully with several possible candidacies. “We’re in a holding pattern right now,” reported Anthony Xanthakis, vice chair of the Staten Island GOP. “The question is, who wants to do it? Signatures can be gotten, but we can’t wait too long.”

At this point, the only official candidate for the nomination is Dr. Jamshad Wyne, finance chair of the Staten Island Republicans, who started collecting petition signatures with the goal of challenging Powers, the party pick, in a primary, and who expressed hope that the island GOP might eventually endorse him.

“I think I’m the most qualified candidate,” Wyne told this paper. “I think I can win the general election. It’s about time they picked me up. I’ve always been there for the party. I’ve always supported all the candidates. I think everyone should get behind me.”

In the meantime, one Republican said that rumors had begun that former Assemblymember Robert Straniere had decided to circulate petitions. “Since the party doesn’t have a candidate yet, he may feel he might as well give it a shot,” noted the insider.

In addition, at least two third party candidates are looking at the Republican line. For one, Independence Party candidate Carmine Morano is said to be interested in running as a Republican, as well.

Then, there’s Paul Atanasio, a Conservative Party member who is the pick of Brooklyn Conservative Party members, and who is poised to gain the backing of Brooklyn Republicans.

“We’re waiting for Staten Island,” said Craig Eaton, Brooklyn GOP chair. “We haven’t heard anything. Our position is that something needs to be done immediately. We’ve given Staten Island time to find a candidate, but time is running out. At this point, we’re looking to put our support behind Paul Atanasio and hoping the Staten Island GOP will come on board.

“You can’t run a race with different candidates on both sides of the bridge,” Eaton stressed. “I think at this point it’s incumbent on all the leaders and elected officials of the Republican and Conservative Parties to sit in a room and not leave till there’s consensus. If we don’t agree on a candidate soon, that’s almost going to ensure the loss of that seat, the only Republican congressional seat in the city of New York.”

One bright spot for the GOP is that they may not need to get new petitions. If enough signatures had been gathered to ensure Powers a spot on the ballot before his death, existing petitions could be filed, and a committee on vacancies declare a substitute candidate. However, if that is not the case, the party has to start all over again and gather 1,250 good signatures for a new candidate. “We have enough signatures,” Xanthakis said.

Even the Conservative Party has hardly been monolithic in its approach. Staten Island members want to back one of the two Democrats running for the seat, City Councilmember Michael McMahon.

But that is unlikely to come to pass, said Brooklyn Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar, because – while endorsements are decide by a committee made up of chairs of all the local organizations – in the case of such a conflict between two local organizations, the decision would fall to New York Conservative Party Chair Mike Long, who is likely to come down in favor of Atanasio. “Mike made it clear he is not planning to authorize McMahon,” Kassar added.

In the meantime, Kassar said, Brooklyn Conservatives are moving ahead with Atanasio’s candidacy. “I’m not going to sit back and say the petitions for Frank Powers are sufficient,” Kassar told this paper. I’m going to get new petitions. I’m fortunate that, in the case of Paul Atanasio, I’m trying to get my job done for a candidate who has enthusiasm for the race.”

The point of petitioning, Kassar added, is not simply to get signatures. “You still want to ring doorbells with the candidate’s name on the petitions. That’s a good, healthy way to campaign. The petition process is designed to involved the rank and file membership of the party, not only to comply with the letter of the law.”

The Conservative endorsement is hardly do-or-die for McMahon. With the backing of the Staten Island Democratic Party and Brooklyn Democratic Leader Vito Lopez, he is favored to win the Democratic line over Brooklynite Stephen Harrison, who ran against Fossella in 2006.

As things stand, McMahon stands a good shot at snagging the coveted seat, opined State Senator Kevin Parker. “Even if the Republicans find a candidate today, it’s impossible for them to mount a successful congressional campaign, given all the problems they’ve had, unless McMahon runs the worst campaign in the history of politics, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he commented.


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