Fossella leaves rocked Republicans in primary pickle - Staten Island doc makes bid for GOP nomination

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Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any more convoluted, the race to succeed Representative Vito Fossella has taken another unexpected turn.

Now, the Republicans – who on the eve of petitioning gave their support to retired exec Frank Powers, an MTA board member – are facing the possibility of a primary, as a Staten Island physician, Dr. Jamshad Wyne, has been out and about collecting signatures to try to claim the GOP nomination.

Wyne, who has never run for office before, is finance chair of the Staten Island Republican Party. Before the party convention anointed Powers on May 29th, Wyne had expressed interest in running for the house seat, which is coveted by both parties as the only one within the five boroughs that is currently in GOP hands.

“I’m going to win the primary and win the general election and go to Washington,” contended Wyne, who said he expected to collect in the neighborhood of 10,000 signatures. “I have a lot of volunteers’ support,” he added. “I think people are supporting what I’ve been doing for the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn for the past two years.”

Wyne rejected the idea that his candidacy was a negative for the GOP. “I think it’s good that people have more choices,” he told this paper.

Powers, for his part, said he felt “very confident” about securing the Republican nomination and subsequently winning the election. Asked about Wyne’s run, he noted, “This is a free country. You can’t stop anyone from doing a primary, but I expect to prevail. I intend to be out there campaigning very hard. I am going to do whatever it takes to win this election.”

But, said insiders, difficulties remain for the GOP in its efforts to retain the seat after the debacle caused by the revelation that Fossella, who was stopped in Virginia for DUI in May, had a second family, leaving the party scrambling to find a candidate.

Brooklyn Republican Stephen Maresca said that, in his view, Wyne’s candidacy would be “a drop in the ocean” if he doesn’t make the ballot.

But, “If he does make it onto the ballot and runs a meaningful campaign against Powers, it highlights the fact that the party kind of didn’t handle this as well as it could have,” Maresca offered, questioning why the candidate chosen to succeed Fossella wasn’t someone with strong name recognition such as Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, City Councilmember James Oddo, County Clerk Stephen Fiala, Assemblymembers Vincent Ignizio and Lou Tobacco or State Senator Andrew Lanza.

“The candidate being someone not widely known from a county that has what I consider to be a strong crop of good, talented, smart Republicans in office, says that the choice was surprising and maybe not one that everyone would have expected and maybe not the strongest possible candidate,” Maresca added.

“It’s not starting off in the best way,” he concluded, “But what counts is what happens in November. I think everything is shaped by the presidential race and that has a long way to go.”

In this season of surprises, the Democrats are already in primary mode. Many of the powers-that-be – including the Staten Island Democratic Party and the Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez — have lined up behind City Councilmember Michael McMahon, who they believe has an edge because of name recognition on Staten Island, which is approximately two-thirds of the district.

Indeed, Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen – chair of the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – endorsed McMahon on the steps of City Hall just a few days ago, emphasizing both the support McMahon is getting from the national party and the party’s belief that it has a real shot at grabbing the seat.

Nonetheless, Stephen Harrison, who ran against Fossella two years ago and did better than any previous challenger, has refused to back out. As he has pointed out, had Fossella not suddenly been politically felled by fallout from his personal life, Harrison would have been the Democratic nominee, in large part because no one else wanted to go up against Fossella and his ample war chest.

Brooklyn Democratic District Leader Joe Bova said that, in his view, the Democrats not only had a good chance of picking up the seat, but clearly perceive it. “The fact that the DCCC came here and endorsed McMahon means they see an opportunity to win the seat,” Bova noted. “I think they see an opportunity for this to be at best a blowout and at least a fair fight.”

Nevertheless, said Bova, while McMahon appears to have the edge in the Democratic primary, “I wouldn’t count Steve Harrison out. If you look, you see that everyone in the world is supporting McMahon, but he ran for the seat before, and it’s hard to give that up and walk away, and I think he’s developed some pockets of strength. Is he the underdog? Certainly. Could he win? Unlikely, but the possibility does exist.”

Besides the two major parties, two smaller parties are also fielding candidates. The Independence Party nominated Carmine Morano, father of party member Frank Morano, to make the run. In addition, the Libertarian Party has nominated Susan Overeem, who beat out Powers’ son, Francis “Fran” Powers, for the nod. As of press time, the Conservative Party had not yet made an endorsement.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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