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A four-way primary – including two candidates from outside the party – could be in the offing for Republicans in Brooklyn and Staten Island as they scramble to find a candidate to run in the 13th Congressional District.
The seat is being vacated by Representative Vito Fossella, who announced his retirement in May, in the wake of a DUI arrest and the news that he had a second family in Staten Island. When none of the local Republican elected officials indicated an interest in running, the party chose Frank Powers, a retired businessman and MTA board member as their candidate.
However, Powers succumbed to a heart attack late last month, leaving a party already in disarray floundering to find a replacement in the midst of petitioning, which began on June 3rd and ends today.
Into the void have jumped four potential candidates– former Assemblymember Robert Straniere; Dr. Jamshad Wyne, the financial chair of the Staten Island Republicans who had begun collecting petition signatures before Powers’ untimely death; Carmine Morano, the Independence Party candidate for the seat; and Paul Atanasio, the Brooklyn Conservative Party pick.
“It’s absolutely essential for the city to have a Republican congressman,” contended Straniere, who served in the Assembly for 24 years before losing a primary in 2004 to Vincent Ignizio, who was backed by GOP power broker Guy Molinari.
Straniere said he had decided to make the run because, “I thought there was a significant void in what will be a very important races.” He also said he believed that, despite the circumstances, a Republican could be victorious in November.
While City Councilmember Michael McMahon – who is vying against Brooklyn attorney Stephen Harrison for the Democratic nod – is “formidable,” said Straniere, he contended that John McCain’s presidential bid would be a plus for the GOP’s congressional candidate in the district.
And, he added, “Most people clearly believe I’m the strongest Republican candidate to make the race. I have every confidence if I’m the candidate, I will win.”
Wyne expressed similar optimism. Noting that he had already collected more than 3,000 signatures, he said, “I’m in this till the end.” Referring to Straniere, Wyne added, “If he can lose one primary, he can lose a second time as well.”
Name recognition, while important, is not the only criteria, Wyne contended. “There’s new blood coming in and I have a lot of support from different ethnic groups. If I thought I couldn’t win, I wouldn’t waste my time or anyone else’s.”
Morano pointed to familiarity among voters with him and his family, as well as his background in health care finance issues, as prime strengths. In addition, he recalled that he had been born and brought up in Brooklyn before moving across the Narrows, making him a candidate with ties to both boroughs.
“Brooklyn is the place where my roots are,” he emphasized. “I can always come back. I have friends there, and will make a pretty concentrated effort there.”
One onlooker said that from his perspective, Straniere had the edge in a four-way primary. Brooklyn Republican Stephen Maresca, said that Straniere’s years of public service translated into key name recognition. “He was pretty popular till he ran afoul of the Molinaris,” Maresca recalled.
Maresca also said he believed that Straniere would be the most formidable candidate against McMahon, who is both well-known and well-financed, “Presuming everyone unites behind him.”
That, however, remains to be seen, given the distinct aversion to Straniere’s candidacy on the part of the Staten Island GOP that has been reported in the island daily, the Staten Island Advance.
“It’s going to be interesting to see the way this plays out,” Maresca mused.
Like Straniere’s relationship with the Staten Island GOP power base, little in the race is straightforward. For one thing, for Morano and Atanasio to run for the Republican nod, they would need special dispensation, called a Wilson-Pakula, from the Republican Party. This authorization gives non-party members permission to run in the party’s primary.
Whether or not the Republicans decide to grant Wilson-Pakulas to non-party members is just one of the wild cards yet to be played in this rapidly morphing race.
“I’m guessing that if one candidate gets a Wilson-Pakula, all would be allowed,” noted Morano. “It would be illogical to allow one but not the other.”
Another wild card is whether the Staten Island GOP will insert an additional candidate into the mix. With 1,250 petition signatures necessary to claim a place on the ballot, and approximately 1,500 petition signatures for Powers collected before his decease, the party could conceivably use those signatures and fill the vacancy created by Powers’ demise to slot in their own candidate, if they have someone, though no one has yet suggested that that is a likely scenario.
Brooklyn Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar said that, in his view, they would, “probably authorize one of the candidates who already has collected petitions.”
While one source opined that there was “massive confusion” on the GOP side of the aisle, Craig Eaton, the Brooklyn GOP chair, offered what he called “good news” regarding the race.
He said that Brooklyn Republicans – who had been petitioning for Atanasio — were “now in conversation with the Staten Island GOP. We are hopefully going to schedule a meeting, once all the petitions are filed, to see if there is some common ground between us and Staten Island. We are looking to work together and unify behind one candidate.”
Nonetheless, one Democratic insider said that, in his view, the advantage lies with McMahon. “It looks like it’s McMahon’s seat to lose,” the pundit maintained.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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