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“People Make Mistakes About Sex And Stuff Happens”: Will Dirty Pol Vito Fossella Replace Dirty Pol Michael Grimm?

Anthony Weiner sexted with scores of women, only getting caught when a photo of his crotch went viral, and still ran for mayor two years later. Eliot Spitzer spent more than $15,000 on high-price prostitutes, and after resigning his governorship in disgrace, ran for New York City comptroller five years later. Rep. Charlie Rangel was censured by the House of Representatives and was urged by the president of the United States to step aside, and he still ran and won re-election—three more times.

And now to this list of New York pols who refuse to go away, it may be possible to add another name: Vito Fossella.

The former Staten Island congressman was one of New York City’s most prominent Republicans, regularly winning re-election by double digits. He was often talked about as a future New York mayor.

But all of that came to an end in 2008, when the 43-year-old Fossella got a little too sloshed at a White House reception honoring the New York Giants Super Bowl victory and was arrested for driving under the influence in northern Virginia. The scandal could have been the kind that amounts to a mere hiccup in the baroque New York political scene, but it became a bit more serious when it was revealed that Fossella, a married father of three, had been cruising around the D.C. suburbs because he was off to see his mistress, with whom he had fathered a child—a fact that was revealed when Fossella called the woman to pick him up from his overnight stay in jail.

But now that Rep. Michael Grimm is joining the crowded club of New York politicians who have resigned in disgrace, is Fossella ready to join the nearly equally crowded club of lawmakers who have mounted ill-fated comeback attempts?

“Vito’s name has come around a couple of times. He is very beloved in the Staten Island community,” said Leticia Remauro, a former Staten Island GOP chairwoman and a political consultant. “He served the community well, but he clearly has to make a decision based on why he left.”

John Catsimatidis, a supermarket magnate who lost a bid for the Republican nomination in the 2013 mayor’s race, won Staten Island, a victory many attribute to the introductions Fossella made on the island. Before Grimm announced he was stepping down, Catsimatidis used his Sunday morning AM radio show to urge the congressman to give up the seat and suggested that he support Fossella.

“Vito is the most experienced. If he wants it, it is his for the taking,” Catsimatidis told The Daily Beast by phone from the Bahamas. As for Fossella’s baggage, Catsimatidis, a major donor to Republican causes, said: “Who doesn’t have baggage? People make mistakes about sex and stuff happens.”

Catsimatidis appeared to step back a bit from his comments over the weekend, however, saying he would commission a poll to find out who was the most viable Republican—Fossella, district attorney Dan Donovan, or Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

Donovan, who has come under withering criticism for his inability to win an indictment against a New York City police officer in the strangulation death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man selling loose cigarettes, announced Tuesday morning that he was “seriously considering the race.” Although Donovan remains a popular figure on Staten Island even after the Garner grand jury decision, many island political analysts said they doubted he had many ambitions beyond the DA’s office.

Guy Molinari, a former Staten Island borough president, pushed back against that view. “It is his dream [to go to Congress] and he is going to be running,” Molinari said. “He is entitled to it. The reading I have right now is that all of the elected officials, with the exception of Malliotakis, are lining up behind Donovan.”

When Fossella was first elected to Congress in 1997 at age 32, Molinari was described as his political godfather. In the intervening years, the two had a falling out, and the tribal divisions of Staten Island’s Republican Party split between a Molinari camp and one loyal to Fossella. Molinari was an enthusiastic backer of Grimm, but when Fossella loyalists in Staten Island’s GOP leadership endorsed Fossella in 2008 even though he said he would not run in light of his scandal, Molinari attacked his protégé in unusually personal terms.

“It’s going to be ugly, it’s going to be nasty, but he has to know that would come out in the course of a campaign. Everything he has done will be brought to light by me in this campaign,” Molinari said at the time, pledging a primary battle. “I have a difficult time believing that Fossella would put his own personal ambitions above his family. His family has been through enough, and I couldn’t believe that he would be willing to put them through all of that once again.”

Fossella declined to run again, but in the years since he has mused aloud about challenging Grimm. Now that Grimm is gone, the question is whether Fossella was merely tweaking Molinari or was serious about seeking a return to Congress.

“I think he had a genuine interest in that seat,” said one Fossella ally, who said the former congressman was unlikely to challenge Donovan if the district attorney decided to run. “It’s a great gig to be the DA, and I think Danny likes doing it. The likelihood as I see it is that Donovan stays where he is.”

Fossella did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but in a television interview Tuesday night, he gave a tepid denial, saying he was “not really” interested in running again and that “my hope is that the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn go to the polls and just choose the best person for all of us.”

These days the former congressman appears to have reconciled with his Staten Island family and has rebuilt his life working as a lobbyist for a firm owned by former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato. He appears frequently on television as a political commentator. If he were to run, he would have to overcome deep skepticism from Washington Republicans, who are not likely to want to replace one scandal-scarred Staten Island Republican with another scandal-scarred Staten Island Republican. The district, which also includes parts of Brooklyn, is by far the most Republican in New York City—Bill de Blasio failed to carry it even as he romped to victory in the 2013 mayor’s race—and should be a relatively easy Republican win in a special election, which conservative base voters are more likely to turn out for. But if Democrats lose this year, they think they can win the seat in 2016 riding Hillary Clinton’s coattails—something Republicans also sound keenly aware of, even if they have their own motives for discouraging a Fossella campaign.

“Under the circumstances, with the problems he has had, and in this atmosphere with the issues that are out there,” said Molinari, “I just don’t think Fossella runs.”


By:  David Freedlander, The Daily Beast, December 31, 2014

January 1, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Republicans, Staten Island NY | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Everybody Just Loves Danny”: Meet Dan Donovan, The Prosecutor Who Let Eric Garner’s Killer Walk

New York City has one mayor, two other citywide elected officials, 10 borough-wide elected officials, 51 City Council members, several dozen state lawmakers, and a dozen members of Congress representing its 8 million people.

And nearly all have been mugging for the cameras in the hours after a grand jury declined to indict New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the strangulation of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who attracted police attention for selling single cigarettes.

All that is, except for Dan Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney who failed to win the indictment, and failed too to use the opportunity to get his face before the television cameras. Donovan, a four-term DA, is in many ways the anti-Bob McCulloch, the Ferguson, Missouri, district attorney, who used a similar moment to launch a prime-time diatribe against the media, social or otherwise.

Even those who have been leading protests against the verdict have praised Donovan.

“Personally, Dan Donovan and I are friends. I try to separate the job that he has done and our friendship,” said Debi Rose, a liberal city council member from Staten Island’s urban north shore. “In this particular instance, I find that because of the DA’s relationship with the police department, that outcome wasn’t surprising.”

To understand Donovan, and to understand how the Garner grand jury could reach the verdict, it is first necessary to understand something about Staten Island. Officially a borough of New York City, although it wants to deny it, Staten Island voted Republican in the 2013 mayor’s race, though Democrat Bill de Blasio won citywide by nearly 50 points. It is a place where its lone congressional representative, Michael Grimm, faces a 20-count indictment, threatened to throw a television reporter off a balcony, and still won re-election by ever larger numbers.

Donovan’s father was a longshoreman who struggled with alcoholism, and Donovan came up under the protection of the Island’s Republican machine. A one-time close friend of the now-disgraced former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, he was hired by longtime Island powerbroker and Borough President Guy Molinari to serve as his chief of staff, and when Molinari retired, handing the reins of the Island to protégé Jim Molinaro, Donovan stayed on, using the post to run for district attorney.

He had never prosecuted a case, and was not, he liked to say, a legal scholar, but Donovan has proved to be a natural politician in the mold of the backslapping Irish pols of yore, easily winning re-election on Staten Island. The most controversy he has gotten into his tenure came when he recused himself from a case involving Molinaro’s grandson, a teenager who violated his probation. Molinaro was furious, taking out a full-page ad in the Staten Island Advance accusing Donovan of abdicating his responsibility and of a “miscarriage of justice.” Most Islanders, however, saw it as a prosecutor refusing to bow to political winds.

In New York, district attorneys have a tendency to grow moss-bound in their roles. Robert Morgenthau, after all, retired at age 90. Donovan has shown some further ambition, running for attorney general in 2010 on a platform that in part promised to reverse the office’s focus on Wall Street that Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer brought to it.

“My goal is not to destroy people’s lives and disrupt entire industries because there are a few people in there that are corrupt.”

Donovan however proved to be a lackluster debater and an unenthusiastic campaigner, and an even more reticent fundraiser, relying heavily on the largesse of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the support of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. At his concession speech, he told his staff to get ready to go work the next day.

Donovan had been privately concerned that running statewide would hurt his standing back home. Instead, the next year he won by 40 points.

And there are few people on Staten Island who see his presence diminishing in the wake of the Garner decision.

“He could have killed the guy himself and still would get re-elected,” said one Island Democrat. “Everybody just loves Danny. To them, the guy can do no wrong.”

There has been much talk in Island political circles that Donovan would run for Congress one day if Grimm is in fact forced to step down due to his legal troubles. Most politicos there, though, think that the way he handled the grand jury could only help him in a district with a substantial number of active or retired police officers.

“When the dust settles, I just don’t see it hurting him,” said Rich Flanagan, a professor of political science at the College of Staten Island. “This is no place for unreconstructed New York liberals.”

Molinari, the Island power-broker who launched Donovan’s career, agreed.

“[Garner] is saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ but how do you interpret that? They were trying to arrest him, he was resisting, and he is a big guy, so it took quite a few cops to do that, and a tragedy occurred. It can happen any place.”


By: David Freedlander, The Daily Beast, December 4, 2014

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Dan Donovan, Eric Garner, NYPD | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fighting Back With Common Sense”: No More Liberal Apologies As Elizabeth Warren Takes The offensive

Elizabeth Warren is cast as many things: a populist, a left-winger, the paladin against the bankers and the rich, the Democrats’ alternative to Hillary Clinton, the policy wonk with a heart.

The senior senator from Massachusetts is certainly a populist and her heart is with those foreclosed upon and exploited by shady financial practices. But she is not nearly as left-wing as many say — she can offer a strong defense of capitalism that’s usually overlooked. And here’s betting that she won’t run against Clinton.

What all the descriptions miss is Warren’s most important contribution to the progressive cause. She is, above all, a lawyer who knows how to make arguments. From the time she first came to public attention, Warren has been challenging conservative presumptions embedded so deeply in our discourse that we barely notice them. Where others equivocate, she fights back with common sense.

Since the Reagan era, Democrats have been so determined to show how pro-market and pro-business they are that they’ve shied away from pointing out that markets could not exist without government, that the well-off depend on the state to keep their wealth secure and that participants in the economy rely on government to keep the marketplace on the level and to temper the business cycle’s gyrations.

Warren doesn’t back away from any of these facts. In her new book, “A Fighting Chance,” she recalls the answer she gave to a voter during a living-room gathering in Andover, Mass., that quickly went viral. She was in the early days of her Senate campaign, in the fall of 2011, and had been asked about the deficit. Characteristically, she pushed the boundaries beyond a narrow fiscal discussion to explain how government helped create wealth.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” It was all part of “the underlying social contract,” she said, a phrase politicians don’t typically use.

Warren’s book tells her personal story in a folksy way and documents her major public battles, including her successful effort to establish a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But the book is most striking for the way in which her confident tone parallels Ronald Reagan’s upbeat proclamations on behalf of his own creed. Conservatives loved the Gipper for using straightforward and understandable arguments to make the case for less government. Warren turns the master’s method against the ideology he rhapsodized. Even former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who tangled with Warren, acknowledges in his new book “Stress Test” that she has “a gift for explanation.”

Warren tells of meeting with Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a former FBI agent, to talk about the consumer agency. “After a bit,” she reports, “he cut me off so he could make one thing clear: He didn’t believe in government.”

That seemed strange coming from the graduate of a public university and a veteran of both the military and a government agency, though Warren didn’t press him then. “But someday I hoped to get a chance to ask him: Would you rather fly an airplane without the Federal Aviation Administration checking air traffic control? Would you rather swallow a pill without the Food and Drug Administration testing drug safety? Would you rather defend our nation without a military and fight our fires without our firefighters?”

How often are our anti-government warriors asked such basic questions?

But doesn’t being pro-government mean you’re anti-business? Well, no, Warren says, quite the opposite. “There’s nothing pro-business about crumbling roads and bridges or a power grid that can’t keep up,” she writes. “There’s nothing pro-business about cutting back on scientific research at a time when our businesses need innovation more than ever. There’s nothing pro-business about chopping education opportunities when workers need better training.”

Oh yes, and it really bugs her when people assert that “corporate” and “labor” are “somehow two sides of the same coin.” She asks: “Does anyone think that for every billionaire executive who can afford to write a check for $10 million to get his candidate elected to office, there is a union guy who can do the same? Give me a break.”

At the end of a long liberal era, Reagan electrified conservatives by telling them they didn’t have to apologize anymore for what they believed. Now, Warren insists, it’s the era of liberal apologies that’s over.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 18, 2014

May 21, 2014 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All Right, There Are Two Republican Parties”: From The Comically Rote To The Grimm Series

Republican pundits have been arguing recently that immigration reform could splinter the party ahead of the 2014 elections. They shouldn’t be worrying about immigration. The Republicans’ response to President Obama’s State of the Union showed that the G.O.P. is actually two parties, or perhaps even more.

There were three organized responses — one official, one Tea Party, one libertarian — and one impromptu response involving the buffoonish behavior of a Congressman from Staten Island. (More about that in a minute.)

The Stepford Response: The official rebuttal, delivered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, was comically rote and devoid of real content.

Ms. Rodgers started with the obligatory summation of her humble beginnings — a “nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s Drive Thru to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.” These tired stories — which Mr. Obama also tossed into his speech — are nearly as old as the republic.

She then went on to say: “The most important moments right now aren’t happening here. They’re not in the Oval Office or in the House chamber. They’re in your homes. Kissing your kids goodnight. Figuring out how to pay bills. Getting ready for tomorrow’s doctor visit. Waiting to hear from those you love serving in Afghanistan, or searching for that big job interview.”

Everyone with a heart values those moments. They happen to be exactly the same kind of moments that Mr. Obama evoked in his State of the Union. The difference is that the president offered a series of proposals about how to improve the lives of Americans and address the fundamental inequality in the country. Ms. Rodger offered none, just the usual misty-eyed evocations of the “real America” that are meant to imply that the rest of us do not belong.

The Storm the Castle Response: Representative Mike Lee of Utah delivered a spirited Tea Party rebuttal. He launched an attack on “ever-growing government” and celebrated the way that the original Boston patriots, who held the Original Tea Party, did not just stop there.

“It took them 14 long years to get from Boston to Philadelphia, where they created, with our Constitution, the kind of government they did want,” Mr. Lee said, glossing over what happened during those years — a full-blown, bloody revolution. I guess he’s not preaching that for now.

Mr. Lee talked a lot about inequality, which he blamed entirely on Washington, and mostly on Democrats, as if the kind of de-regulation that he presumably favors did not produce an out-of-control financial industry whose irresponsibility and excesses almost destroyed the economy.

The Non-Threatening Insurgent: Senator Rand Paul, the self-appointed leader of libertarians, delivered an extremely amiable speech.

He started, of course, with what seems to be his all-time favorite quote, Ronald Reagan saying that “government is not the answer to the problem, government is the problem.” And he salted his speech with folksy sayings. We should not “reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said, although I wasn’t entirely sure what he was talking about. Listening to Mr. Paul is entertaining. “It’s not that government is inherently stupid,” he said, “although it’s a debatable point.”

But he has an odd sense of cause and effect. He said the recession, mass unemployment and the stock crash of 2008 were “caused by the Federal Reserve,” because it encouraged banks to give money to people who could not pay it back.  But he left out the fact that it was the lifting of financial regulations on the banks that actually spurred them to do dangerous things, like offer risky loans. So when Mr. Paul talked about nixing other “burdensome, job killing regulations,” I got worried.

The most interesting thing about his comments was how much milder they were than last year, when he said that the true bipartisanship of Washington was the failure of both of the main political parties in pretty much every area. Is he running for president?

The Class Clown Response: Although not an official or even unofficial rebuttal, Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island’s comments after the State of the Union seem to say…something…about the Republican Party.

In a post-address interview, Michael Scotto of NY1 dared to stray from the topic at hand, asking Mr. Grimm about a federal investigation into his campaign fund-raising.

Mr. Grimm grew so irritated that he threatened to throw Mr. Scott off the balcony, or alternatively to “break you in half. Like a boy.” He tossed in at least one profanity and informed Mr. Scotto that “you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough.” It’s not clear what for.

Mr. Grimm at first tried to explain his behavior by saying that it wasn’t fair to add questions about the criminal case to an interview on the State of the Union. After several hours of everyone pointing out how ridiculous that was, NY1 said Mr. Grimm finally apologized.


By: Andrew Rosenthal, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, January 29, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Padding The Coffers”: When Crass Fundraising Takes A Grimm Turn

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) announced just days ago that he would support President Obama’s call for military intervention in Syria. “We have to keep our word; this is about our credibility,” the New York Republican said last weekend. “We can’t permit a precedent where there is a use of chemical weapons and there is no response.”

Four days later, Grimm changed his mind, and announced yesterday he opposes the policy he’d previously endorsed.

I’ll leave it to others to speculate as to why, exactly, the congressman reversed course so quickly and completely, but Grimm appears to have tipped his hand a bit.

Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican, is sending out fundraising emails based on his decision to switch from supporting President Obama’s Syria plan to opposing it.

Grimm’s campaign list sent out the fundraising call on Thursday with the subject line “Oppose Military Action in Syria.”

The fundraising appeal, sent within a few hours of Grimm’s newly announced position, asks donors, “Will you stand with me in opposing President Obama’s plan with a donation of $25 or more right now?” It adds, “Stand with me today with a donation of $25 or more to strongly oppose military action in Syria.”

Terri Lynn Land, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan, yesterday tried to pull the same fundraising stunt.

To be sure, there are no laws or ethics rules prohibiting this sort of crass fundraising, and for all I know, there may well be prospective sucker donors out there who respond to these appeals.

But I like to think reasonable, fair-minded observers can agree that this is just cheap and ugly. In Grimm’s case, we have an elected member of the U.S. Congress telling constituents and supporters (1) Syria used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians; (2) the U.S. is weighing a military response; (3) Grimm flip-flopped over the course of a few days; so (4) send Grimm some cash because … Obama is bad. Or something.

Pro tip: don’t try to exploit a national security crisis involving a chemical-weapons attack to pad your campaign coffers. Just. Don’t. Do. It.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 6, 2013

September 7, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Syria | , , , , | Leave a comment


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