GOP Wins Staten Island Congressional Seat
City councilman wins seat vacated by Susan Molinari
By R. Morris Barrett/AllPolitics
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (Nov. 4) -- Ensuring that New York City has at least one Republican voice in Congress, City Councilman Vito J. Fossella today defeated Democratic State Rep. Eric N. Vitaliano in the race for New York's 13th congressional district.
Had Vitaliano won, it would have been the first time a Democrat had held the seat since 1980.
Fossella, 32, had the backing of the island's mini-political dynasty, headed by Guy V. Molinari who held the seat before handing it off to his daughter, Susan Molinari. Earlier this year, she quit Congress to become a CBS-TV anchorwoman.
Despite Staten Island's Republican proclivities, the race was closely watched as a possible harbinger of the 1998 congressional midterm elections. Democrats hoped the centrist Vitaliano, a seasoned legislator, could pick off the less-experienced Fossella and buttress the argument that GOP themes aren't selling as well as in 1994.
In recent weeks, Bob Dole and George Bush campaigned for Fossella, while President Bill Clinton showed up to stump for Vitaliano. The Republican National Committee poured about $800,000 into issue ads against the Democrat.
Vitaliano tried to portray Fossella as a political neophyte, while touting his own credentials on issues of great importance to Staten Islanders: transportation and garbage collection.
Easing the commute from the borough's outer reaches to Manhattan is of great concern to voters, and, at campaign events, Vitaliano liked to flaunt his familiarity with Congress' transportation bill, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA.
Vitaliano also portrayed himself as independent and willing to take on members of his own party on issues like abortion (he opposes it, in most cases) and the death penalty (he supports it).
But Fossella, youthful and exuberant, played up his relationship with the highly popular Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, expected to cruise to easy victory in his race against Democrat Ruth Messinger.
Giuliani's popularity may have further worked against Vitaliano, since some Democrats, demoralized by their mayoral candidate's chances, were expected to stay home from the polls.
Fossella tried to use Vitaliano's more liberal record on education and labor issues to brand him a "tax-and-spend liberal," a message stressed in issue ads paid for by the Republican National Committee.
Ultimately, the two candidates were not that far apart politically, and Fossella's tireless and gifted retail politics may have carried the day.
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Tuesday Nov. 4, 1997
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