Former Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.), who opted not to seek re-election in 2008 after a DWI arrest exposed the married father of three as having a second family in Virginia, is seriously considering entering the race for his old seat, POLITICO has learned.
According to sources familiar with his thinking, in recent weeks Fossella has been weighing a run for the seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Mike McMahon, with the kickoff for ballot petitions fast approaching and the political climate unsettled nationwide.
A Staten Island Republican executive committee candidate screening that was set to take place this week was pushed back supposedly because it conflicted with a Tea Party screening, the sources said, but several Richmond County sources believe it was done to buy Fossella time to make a decision.
Fossella could not be reached for comment.
Political insiders had a hard time imagining the former congressman ultimately pulling the trigger, given the attention it would bring on his family.
But if he does make a move, it would roil a GOP primary field in which former FBI agent and mob-buster Michael Grimm, a first-time pol who's backed by Rudy Giuliani and the former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, is facing off against local fuel-oil heir Michael Allegretti.
A Fossella bid would also complicate life for many major Republicans, including Giuliani, and one former Republican, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is hosting a fundraiser for McMahon next month.
One GOP supporter of Fossella noted that many people continue to urge him to run, and that he continues to get standing ovations at events he attends on Staten Island.
Fossella remains well-known and popular in the district, where McMahon is also facing anger from organized labor and liberal forces for his "no" vote on the health care overhaul bill. He's said to be fixing his relationship with his wife, Mary Pat, and if she stood with him publicly, it could be a powerful statement.
Yet he also left amid a damaging scandal that's he never discussed beyond bare-bones apologies—and an ethics investigation that was cut short when Fossella opted against re-election. It’s an open question as to whether House Democrats, who are fending off the prospects of major losses this fall, would push for an ethics investigation again on the old allegations.
The five-term congressman has toyed with the idea of making a play for his old seat before—the last time coming as Republicans were preparing to nominate former Assemblyman Robert Straniere to run against McMahon.
Back then, Fossella even commissioned a poll, according to multiple sources, to measure the weight of the scandal in the district. He ultimately didn't run, and while rumors have popped up repeatedly since then, he has always insisted he has no plans to reclaim his seat.
Nominating petitions start circulating next month, giving Fossella a narrow window to get himself on the ballot.