What to Know
- A former Republican congressman from Staten Island won his bid to return to elected office more than a decade after a personal scandal derailed his political career
- Former U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella left Congress in 2009 amid allegations he had a second, secret family. But he's considered a favorite in Tuesday’s competitive election for the largely ceremonial public office of Staten Island Borough President
- It's unclear whether Fossella's past will blunt his chances, and he's running with the full-throated endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Staten Island is the most Republican-learning of New York City’s five boroughs
Former U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella, who left office in 2009 after a drunken driving arrest a year before led to revelations he had a secret, second family in Virginia, won his bid for Staten Island borough president Tuesday night, marking a comeback for the once-disgraced politician.
Fossella gave a victory speech at the Staten Island GOP headquarters and declared, “It’s good to be back!” His Democratic opponent, Mark S. Murphy, conceded the race.
“Fortunately, the good hard-working taxpayers ... those are the people who stood up today and said we’re not going to take it anymore, we’re mad as hell, and we’re going in a better direction,” Fossella said, according to a report in the Staten Island Advance.
Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Staten Island in the U.S. House of Representatives, offered her congratulations to Fossella after he was declared the winner.
"I look forward tot working with him to restore public safety and our quality of life, fight high unequitable property taxes and see the long overdue completion of the East Shore Seawall. Together we will fight for our citizens, stand up to City Hall and make Staten Island great again," Malliotakis said in a statement.
While Fossella — who had the full-throated endorsement of former President Donald Trump — was favored to win, the Republican's return to public service is nonetheless surprising following the scandal that derailed his political career.
The GOP has held the largely ceremonial public office of Staten Island borough president for four decades. The position as a representative who coordinates among city agencies and makes appointments to boards and commissions.
Still, it was not known if the bad headlines from a dozen years ago would have an impact in the race, even in a place where Trump's power is potent.
Fossella had a wife and three children living on Staten Island at the time of his 2008 arrest in Virginia. Fossella told officers he was going to see his sick daughter. The woman he had a secret relationship with, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who worked for a time as a liaison to Congress, bailed him out of jail.
At the time, he was the only GOP member in Congress from New York City and was a social conservative who represented a largely Catholic district. He was once seen as a potential candidate for New York City mayor, but his political career cratered after the revelations about his personal life emerged. Afterward, Fossella finished his term but opted not to seek another term.
Fossella has said he's worked to repair his personal relationships since he left office and that he felt compelled to mount a comeback after seeing rising crime, a shift in attitudes toward policing and the impact of the city’s pandemic policies on small businesses and restaurants.
“I saw this in the early '90s when we ran then, helped to turn the city around. And I see it happening again so I feel that the only way to really do it is to step back into the arena and try to make a positive difference for the people of Staten Island,” Fossella told The Associated Press in an interview.
The ex-congressman drew on the other parts of his reputation, such as his work as a city councilman to close Staten Island's Fresh Kills Landfill, the world's largest garbage dump, his work to get another bus depot on the island and his work with Democrats while in Congress as a prominent advocate for the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, including many Staten Island residents.
“I’d like to think people will see that record of achievement and say, ‘We want to hire this guy,'" Fossella said.
He also points to endorsements he's earned from the borough's only daily newspaper and from Rudy Giuliani, the former Trump lawyer and New York City Republican mayor.
And then there's the backing from Trump himself, which helped power Fossella through a primary this summer.
“Vito is the only true conservative Republican in the race who will stand up to the radical liberal mob. I have been a proud supporter of Vito Fossella because he is strong, tough, and loves the incredible people of Staten Island," Trump said in a statement before the election.
Fossella said he received a congratulatory phone call from Trump, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Trump's backing may have drawn more Republicans out to vote in Tuesday's municipal election, where Democrat Eric Adams cruised to victory in the New York City mayoral election.
Trump's presence is also a reminder that personal scandals, like the kind that blunted Fossella's political rise, may not be such a hindrance this time around. Twice-divorced Trump, despite his allegations of extramarital affairs, remains wildly popular in the GOP and popular on Staten Island.
Fossella faced a challenge from Murphy, a centrist Democrat businessman who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012, and Conservative Party candidate Leticia Remauro, who threatened to peel off some voters from Fossella on the right.
Murphy, the son of former U.S. Rep. John M. (Jack) Murphy, who represented Staten Island for 18 years before being caught in the Abscam corruption scandal in the late 1970s, did not raise the issue of Fossella's past on the campaign trail and declined to comment on it.