Brooklyn’s Claim to the Fossella Seat

The jockeying to run for Republican Vito Fossella’s suddenly winnable congressional seat has opened a bit of a rift between Brooklyn and Staten Island Democrats.

The seat is mostly in Staten Island, but for years, Democratic elected officials there have taken a pass at challenging Fossella since that would have meant giving up their own safe re-elections in order to run (and probably lose). The result was a string of unmemorable candidates who got slaughtered by Fossella and his Republican predecessor, Susan Molinari.

The Brooklyn side, at least, has produced some feisty challengers, namely Frank Barbaro and Steve Harrison. This year, in addition to Harrison, the Democratic field will include Councilman Domenic Recchia, who has even more campaign money at his disposal than Fossella. The Brooklyn Dems, in other words, would seem to have a pretty good chance of producing the nominee this year.

But now it’s gotten more complicated. There’s blood in the water, thanks to Fossella’s love child scandal (not to mention a pretty good Democratic trend nationwide), and Staten Island Democrats are looking for someone to get in on the action. This is particularly significant because if Fossella resigns, designating a Democratic challenger for the resulting special election will fall to the folks on Staten Island.

Will Brooklyn get edged out?

Here’s how Council member Vinny Gentile made their case: “It seems to me that to suggest that it’s a Staten Island seat, if you look at the last three Brooklynites who were the nominees, they did as well if not better than the State Islanders who were nominees.”

As evidence, he cited former City Councilman Sal Albanese’s race against Molinari, plus Barbaro and Harrison’s races against Fossella.

When asked about the Staten Island candidates, Gentile was stumped.

“Tyrone Butler, Arnie, um,” he said, forgetting the last name of the candidate. “They were not household names, to be honest. I think even Bob Gigante, surrogate on Staten Island and former Democratic County leader on Staten Island, didn’t do as well.”

“The media tends to presume–because 70 percent of the district is on Staten Island, they agree with the assumption that it’s a Staten Island seat. A Brooklynite can win that seat,” he said.

Gentile added, “You don’t get Brooklynites who recognize Staten Island officials. But you do get Staten Island residents who recognize Brooklyn officials.”