Vito Fossella

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Vito Fossella
Vito Fossella, official 109th Congress photo.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 13th district
In office
November 4, 1997 – January 3, 2009
Preceded by Susan Molinari
Succeeded by Michael McMahon
Member of the New York City Council
from the 51st district
In office
April 1994 – November 1997
Preceded by Alfred Cerullo
Succeeded by Stephen J. Fiala
Personal details
Born (1965-03-09) March 9, 1965 (age 50)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Rowan
Alma mater Iona College
University of Pennsylvania
Fordham University
Religion Roman Catholicism

Vito John Fossella, Jr. (born March 9, 1965) is a U.S. Republican politician from the state of New York who formerly represented the state's 13th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives for six terms, from 1997 to 2009 serving as the lone Republican from New York City. Fossella, a Staten Island native, was born to a family that included several politicians. Fossella initially took office in 1997, after winning a special election held to replace the resigning Susan Molinari.

As a result of a DUI arrest in Alexandria, Virginia on May 1, 2008, followed by the public disclosure a week later that he had had an affair with Laura Fay, a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel, that had resulted in a three-year-old child while Fossella was married,[1] he announced on his official website on May 20 that he had chosen to serve out the remainder of his term, which ended on January 3, 2009, but decided not to run for re-election.[2][3]

Early life, education and family[edit]

Fossella was born on Staten Island into a Roman Catholic family of Irish and Italian descent. Fossella's great-grandfather, James A. O'Leary, represented Staten Island in Congress from 1935 to 1944. One of his uncles, Frank Fossella, was a prominent Staten Island Democrat who was a City Council member for four years, ending in 1985.[4] His father, Vito John Fossella, Sr., served in various appointed positions in the city administrations of Democratic Mayors Edward I. Koch and Abraham D. Beame, then became a successful construction engineer.[5]

Fossella, the fourth of seven children, was a basketball player at Monsignor Farrell High School, where he got his first political experience in the student council. He briefly played violin and percussion with the Christian pop band Sonseed. He attended Iona College in New Rochelle, then transferred to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in economics in 1987.[5] At Penn, he was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

After college, Fossella worked as a management consultant at the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu was the second largest campaign contributor to Fossella in the 2006 campaign cycle[6] and among the largest contributors in the 2008 campaign cycle.[7]

Fossella then attended law school.[5] He received a Juris Doctor from the Fordham University School of Law in 1993, and worked as an associate at a medical malpractice defense law firm Schiavetti Begos & Nicholson.

In 1990, Fossella married Mary Patricia Rowan. They have three children and live in the Great Kills neighborhood on Staten Island. Fossella also had a daughter out-of-wedlock in 2005 with retired Lt. Col. Laura Fay.[8]

New York City Council[edit]

Early political work; election[edit]

Fossella was a political protégé of Michael J. Petrides, a member of the city's School Board and a Staten Island political strategist. In 1990, Fossella changed his voter registration from the Democratic Party to become the family's first Republican. "I found myself voting more and more for Republicans," he said in 1997. "For the most part, my family reacted well. But still, I would love to have been a fly on the wall."[5] Under Petrides' guidance, he joined the 1992 re-election campaign of Staten Island Congresswoman Susan Molinari and, in 1993, the mayoral campaign of Rudy Giuliani.

Fossella's political career began in April 1994, when he won a special election to the New York City Council, representing Staten Island's South Shore and Mid-Island section. He replaced Councilman Alfred C. Cerullo 3d, who had left to become Commissioner of Consumer Affairs in the Rudy Giuliani administration. Fossella spent $92,000 in the election, in which he had five opponents.[9]

In November 1994, Fossella was reelected to the remaining three years of Cerullo's term, defeating Democrat Rosemarie Mangano. He served on the Council until November 1997.

Council initiatives[edit]

Fossella's council initiatives included:

  • Authoring the legislation that led to the agreement to permanently close the Fresh Kills Landfill
  • Conceiving the idea of the South Richmond Rezoning Study, a comprehensive rezoning initiative on Staten Island
  • Securing funding for the construction of P.S. 56 and P.S. 6, the first new schools to be built on Staten Island in over a decade.

United States Congress[edit]

Initial election[edit]

In June 1997, Fossella was selected by executive committee of the Staten Island Republican Party as its candidate to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Representative Susan Molinari.[4] Fossella won the special election in November 1997, defeating Democratic Assemblyman Eric Vitaliano with 61 percent of the vote. ([3])


In November 1998, Fossella won a full term with 68 percent of the vote. He was re-elected in 2000, winning 65 percent of the vote against Democrat Katina M. Johnstone even as Al Gore carried the district. In 2002, he was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Arne M. Mattsson.

In 2004, Fossella faced his first close contest against former state assemblyman and judge Frank Barbaro. Barbaro actually won the Brooklyn portion of the district by seven points, the first time Fossella had not won that area; Barbaro had represented much of this area in Albany for 23 years. However, Barbaro performed poorly on Staten Island, and Fossella won there by 26 points—enough for him to win a fourth full term with 59% of the vote districtwide. Some have speculated that he was helped by George W. Bush's 13-point win on Staten Island.

Fossella was considered a possible challenger to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the 2005 election,[10] but he chose not to make the race.

In 2006, incumbent Fossella defeated Democrat Steve Harrison, a relatively unknown Brooklyn attorney, by a margin of 56.7%-43.3%. Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer carried the 13th by overwhelming margins.

2008 election[edit]

Before Fossella announced that he would not run in 2008, he was included in the National Republican Congressional Committee's list of Republican candidates who qualified for fundraising help because they were thought to be particularly vulnerable.[11]

Steve Harrison hoped to run against Fossella again in the 2008 election, but New York City Council member Domenic Recchia also began seeking the Democratic nomination.[12]

For several days after his DWI arrest and his admission of an adulterous affair and fathering an out-of-wedlock child, Fossella gave indications that he might run for re-election despite these problems.[13] On May 20, however, he dropped out of the race.[3]

On May 28, the Staten Island Democratic Party endorsed City Councilman Michael E. McMahon for the Democratic nomination, although Harrison said he would remain a candidate in the Democratic primary.[14] On the Republican side, several prominent elected officials considered running but decided against it. On May 29, the Staten Island Republican Party endorsed Frank Powers, a member of the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority who had never held elective office but who promised to spend $500,000 of his own money on the race.[15] However, Powers died on June 22.[16] Powers's son (Frank M. Powers) was also in the race, running as a Libertarian;[17] however, the Libertarian Party did not endorse him. Robert Straniere was on the ballot for the Republican Party, and Susan Overeem was the Libertarian Party candidate.

McMahon won the election on November 4, 2008, and replaced Fossella in Congress on January 3, 2009.

Committee assignments[edit]

  • Committee on Energy and Commerce
    • Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection
    • Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials
    • Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet

Political positions[edit]

Fossella's voting record was very conservative by New York standards. In contrast, most Republicans from New York City (such as Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and Fossella's two predecessors, Guy and Susan Molinari) tend to be fairly moderate. Although Democrats have a 17-point advantage in registered voters, the Democrats in this district tend to be fairly conservative on social issues.

Fossella had a lifetime rating of 83 from the American Conservative Union. In ratings measuring 17 key legislative votes of the 2005-2006 term of the 109th Congress, issued by Public Citizen, he was the only congressional representative from NY (Senate or House), out of 31 total and 9 Republicans, to score a perfect 0.[18] However, after years of getting ratings in the 90s from the ACU, some of Fossella's voting record shifted more toward the center. He got a 75 in 2006, a 70 in 2007 and a 74 in 2008.

In August 2002, appearing on CNN's Crossfire, Fossella argued for partly privatizing Social Security and allow some of the funds be placed on Wall Street investments. He said "I happen to think the President is on the right side of history here. And I think the more you empower American people, the more you give them the opportunity to invest on their own and being in control of their own destiny and their own retirement, the better off we'll be."[19] In a standardized constituent letter in February 2005, Fossella said "We need to examine the viability of voluntary personal savings accounts in which young people would have the opportunity to invest a small portion of their savings."[20]

In June 2003, Fossella wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times, in which he said "The claims that progress is too slow, the situation unstable and the United States lacks the expertise to get the job done does not reflect reality on the ground in Baghdad, Kirkuk and beyond. Indeed, the critics who complain that the seeds of democracy will not take root in the sands of a desert where tyranny ruled are as wrong today as the pessimists were in 1945." The final sentence of the column was "The United States will fulfill its commitment to Iraq, and then we will depart, having liberated a nation, freed a people and established a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people."[21] In August 2006, Fossella said that leaving Iraq now would "do a disservice to the noble sacrifice that the troops have made on behalf of our national security."[22]

Fossella voted for the Marriage Protection Act in 2004, and for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, all of which would nationally define marriage as one-man-one-woman. In 2007 Fossella voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act a bill nationally prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation .[23]

In 2005, Fossella spoke out against the Bush Administration's handling of appropriating Homeland Security funds.[24]

After the 2007 State of the Union Address, Fossella crossed the aisle to join with Senator Hillary Clinton in 2007 to raise awareness of health issues suffered those who at worked at the World Trade Center site on and after 9/11. Fossella is quoted as saying "We have made progress over the last year to begin getting the resources necessary to help our 9/11 heroes. However, we now need a significant investment by the federal government into health monitoring and treatment for those who are sick or injured. In addition, the federal government must develop a comprehensive plan to address the health impacts of 9/11. We continue urging the White House to provide adequate funding in the 2008 budget to help all those who are sick or injured as a result of the terror attacks."[25]

Legislative initiatives[edit]

Fossella's legislative initiatives include the following:

  • Return over $700 million to individual investors by eliminating fees by the SEC with the Investor and Capital Markets Fee Relief Act. ([4]) The Act was signed into law by President Bush on January 16, 2002.[26]
  • Help repair the 86th Street subway station in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn. This station serves as a transfer point where passengers connect to bus service to Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge.[27]


Top aides with their own consulting business[edit]

Fossella chief of staff Thomas Quaadman and spokesman Craig Donner run a firm called Danton Communications Group, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Between its inception in 2002, and mid-2006, the firm had revenues from local candidates of at least $150,000, including about $40,000 from Fossella.[28]

In August 2006, the Staten Island Advance reported that the two had ignored guidelines from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which "strongly" recommend that all House employees maintain "careful records" of political work they do, paid or otherwise. The rules state that "Maintaining such records helps to ensure that no campaign work is done on 'official' time, i.e., time for which the individual is compensated with House funds." Donner said that "There is no requirement to do it," and that the two would consider keeping a formal record of the hours they spend doing political work in the future. Donner added that "We follow the rules rigorously," and "Everything I do is after hours, when I'm home."[28]

Donner's wife separately billed the Fossella campaigns for more than $20,000 of services and supplies between 2004 and mid-2006.[28]

Use of campaign funds[edit]

In March 2005, the New York Post reported that Fossella had spent more than $20,000 of campaign funds to pay for restaurant meals during his 2004 re-election campaign. The funds paid for more than 100 meals at restaurants in Washington D.C., New York, and elsewhere. Members of Congress are allowed to bill their campaigns for meals if the dinners are for fund-raising or strategy sessions. Fossella spokesman Craig Donner said the purpose of the dinners complied with those guidelines.[29]

In June 2006, the New York Daily News reported that since 2000, Fossella had spent $53,000 in campaign funds on trips to luxury resorts in Las Vegas, Colorado and Florida, often accompanied by his wife and children. Campaign funds also paid for attending a Jets playoff game in Pittsburgh, playing 18 holes of golf in Key Biscayne, and ski school for his wife and children.[30]

The Daily News investigation also found that Fossella often failed to identify the nature of the expenses and several times did not disclose who was paying for his trips; as is required by law. For example, he failed to disclose who paid for a February 25–28, 2001, trip with his wife and children to a conference outside Palm Springs that cost $2,082. Donner stated the trip was paid for by the U.S. Telecom Association, and that omitting the name was "an oversight". In another example the paying organization was not disclosed on another trip, this time in early 2003 to La Hague, on the coast of France.[31]

Fossella insisted that all expenses were for legitimate campaign events or fact-finding missions that are part of his duties in Congress. Donner would not provide the names of donors or what he termed "potential donors" that Fossella met with that justified the campaign expenses.[30]

After the Daily News submitted written questions to Fossella about his financial reporting, he amended 18 disclosure forms that he had previously filed with the Federal Election Commission, dating back to 2000.[30] Fossella also said he fired the accountant who was responsible for reporting his campaign contributions and expenses.[32]


In April 2006, Donner said Fossella would likely raise a record $2 million for the current two-year election cycle, which ends on December 31, 2006. Fossella raised $184,000 in the first quarter of 2006[33] and had raised $1,025,000 through the first five quarters of the cycle. In the second quarter of 2006, Fossella raised $157,000, bringing his total for the cycle to $1,172,000. As of June 30, 2006, he had $520,000 cash on hand.[34] As of October, Fossella's total raised was $1.3 million, compared to the original $2 million prediction, but Harrison had only raised about $100,000.[35]


In a letter dated July 27, Steve Harrison challenged Fossella to debate him. Harrison listed eight dates for Fossella to choose from in the letter. The Congressman's camp initially denied receiving the letter, accusing Harrison of only sending it to the media. (Staten Island Advance 7/28/06)

In mid-August, Harrison invited the media to accompany him to Fossella's campaign office to deliver the letter to Fossella again. Fossella campaign manager Matt Mika, seeing his opponent's entourage and the reporters from the Staten Island Advance and two of the Brooklyn weeklies, quickly typed a response to the letter and faxed it over to Harrison's Brooklyn office at 2:08 pm, eight minutes after Harrison began briefing the press. Mika's response indicated that Fossella would be in Washington during all of the proposed dates and that they would try to come up with alternatives (Staten Island Advance 8/21/06).

In September, Fossella agreed to four debates, more than Susan Molinari and Fossella had been in during all their previous election campaigns combined.[citation needed] In early October, the number was increased to five.[36]

Issues with constituent mailing[edit]

On June 29, 2006, the New York Daily News reported that Fossella's campaign had violated House rules by using at least three photos in campaign flyers and in free mailings to constituents that were also on the campaign website.

One of the photos was a shot of Fossella with Muppet characters Elmo and Rosita. The News noted that Fossella would need to claim that the two Muppets were people in order to avoid violating another Congressional rule. That rule says that members of Congress can use only one photo of themselves alone in any single constituent mailing — but the mailing also showed Fossella standing by himself by the Verrazano Bridge.

A third problem raised by the Daily News was whether a member of Fossella's Congressional staff took the pictures, a House violation because taxpayer dollars cannot be spent on campaigns.[37]

After the story appeared, Harrison filed a complaint with the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, arguing that the four Fossella mailings, which he estimated cost $161,000, contained 14 violations. Donner, said the mistake was "inadvertent," the photos had been taken from the internet, and the flyer with one of the photos, of firefighters, would no longer be distributed.[38]

In August, in his response to the investigation by the commission, Donner said, in an affidavit, that the two shots were different photos in sequence from his personal digital Sony DSC-P100 camera. Fossella said in his response to the commission that although Donner, his press secretary, had taken the firefighter photos, "no official funds were used to shoot the photos or to cause their reproduction." Donner did not respond to written questions from the Daily News about how he was able to take campaign and congressional photos within seconds of each other without violating the rule barring staffers from doing campaign work.[39]

Shore Parkway seawall and bike path[edit]

In August 2006, the local Courier-Life reported that Harrison, then chair of CB10, and then-District Manager Denise Virga visited Fossella's chief of staff, Tom Quaadman, in 2001 to discuss board priorities, including its number one priority, the repair of the seawall. Harrison said that they "were told it wasn't a federal matter. We received no assistance, not even any interest, from the congressman."[40]

In December 2003, Fossella wrote CB10 that he had "requested $16 million in the Transportation Equity Act currently being developed to be allocated for this specific project."[40] In July 2005, Fossella issued a press release that he had obtained a $5 million federal authorization for the project.[41] In April 2006 another press release mentioned the authorization, adding "An authorization represents the first step in securing funding for a project, but does not represent an allocation of money."[42]

Actual funding for the project has only come from city and state sources. Matt Mika, campaign spokesperson for Fossella, acknowledged in August 2006 that no federal money had yet been forthcoming for the project, but said that Fossella had, indeed, been instrumental in getting the repairs done. Mika said that "the seawall crumbled during Steve's tenure as Community Board chair. It was Vito Fossella and Craig Eaton (the board's current chair) who worked together to secure the agreement to get the seawall and bike path repaired." Eaton, who is also the chair of the Brooklyn Republican Party, credited the site inspection by the Army Corps of Engineers, which he said Fossella had arranged, as the catalyst for the repairs. Eaton also stated that "Fossella and the community board made the case to the comptroller's office and officials at City Hall that the deteriorating conditions posed a serious threat and that repairs needed to be made immediately."[40]


  1. ^ Staten Island's Fossella admits child from affair, May 08, 2008
  2. ^ Staten Island's Fossella will not seek re-election, 2008-05-19, retrieved 2008-05-20.
  3. ^ a b Barrett, Devlin, NY Congressman Fossella says he won't seek re-election[dead link], 2008-05-20, retrieved 2005-05-20.
  4. ^ a b Jonathan P. Hicks, "Republican Is Chosen To Seek Molinari Seat", The New York Times, June 3, 1997.
  5. ^ a b c d Jonathan P. Hicks, "Man in The News — Vito John Fossella Jr.; City Hall To Capitol", New York Times, November 6, 1997.
  6. ^ Vito Fossella: Campaign Finance/Money - Top Donors - Congressman 2006. Center for Responsive Politics.
  7. ^ Vito Fossella: Campaign Finance/Money - Top Donors - Congressman 2008. Center for Responsive Politics.
  8. ^ Defrank, Thomas M.; Schapiro, Rich; Jaccarino, Mike (May 4, 2008). "Vito Fossella's mystery woman: Va. lady who sprung him from jail lives nearby". Daily News (New York). 
  9. ^ Jonathan P. Hicks, "Question Haunts a Candidate: 'Didn't You Just Run?'", New York Times, November 8, 1994.
  10. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (December 24, 2003), "He May Run. Or So They Tell Him.; G.O.P. Congressman Seen as Possible Bloomberg Challenger", The New York Times 
  11. ^ Giroux, Greg (April 8, 2008), "Ten More Republicans Gain Extra Aid for Tough House Races" (– Scholar search), CQ Politics (Yahoo! News) [dead link]
  12. ^ Paybarah, Azi (April 15, 2008), "Democratic Clubs Stage Anti-Fossella Convention", The New York Observer (New York Observer) 
  13. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (May 19, 2008), "Signs Fossella May Run Again Unnerve G.O.P.", The New York Times (The New York Times) 
  14. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (May 29, 2008), "Staten Island Democrats Choose a Councilman as Their Candidate for Fossella’s Seat", The New York Times (The New York Times) 
  15. ^ Wrobleski, Tom (May 30, 2008), "GOP endorses Frank Powers", Staten Island Advance 
  16. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P.; Sullivan, John (June 22, 2008). "Staten Island G.O.P. Candidate Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  17. ^ Powers vs. Powers in New York, NPR 6-6-08
  18. ^ Public Citizen Vote Chart – 109th Congress
  19. ^ "Social Security" (PDF). Cato Institute. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  20. ^ "Dear Friend" letter from Fossella's Congressional office, February 18, 2005, discussing his position on the Social Security system
  21. ^ "Progress in Iraq", opinion column by Fossella, Washington Times, June 4, 2003.
  22. ^ Tom Wrobleski, "Congressional hopeful calls on Bush to begin withdrawal from Iraq: Democratic candidate Harrison says country is less secure from terrorism because of the war", Staten Island Advance, August 23, 2006.
  23. ^ "Vito Fossella on Civil Rights". On The Issues. Retrieved 2012-05-27. 
  24. ^ Press Release, [1], July 13, 2005.
  25. ^ Press Release, Senator Clinton
  26. ^ "President Signs Investor & Capital Markets Fee Relief Act". 16 January 2002. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  27. ^ "86th Street rehab back on track" by Matthew Lysiak, The Brooklyn Paper, February 3, 2007 [2]
  28. ^ a b c Tom Wrobleski, "Firm run by Fossella aides raises issue over ethics: Political PR company may have skirted rules and violated law in Va.", Staten Island Advance, July 3, 2006.
  29. ^ Ian Bishop, "Donors Paid Vito's 20G Tab", New York Post, March 14, 2005.
  30. ^ a b c Greg. B. Smith, "Jet-set Vito flyin' on campaign cash: Donors & lobbyists fund fact-finding in fun places", New York Daily News, June 25, 2006.
  31. ^ Greg. B. Smith, "S.I. pol's tab picked up in Colo.& Florida", New York Daily News, June 24, 2006.
  32. ^ Greg. B. Smith, fesses to 'mistakes': But campaign spending lawful, he sez", New York Daily News, June 27, 2006.
  33. ^ Terence J. Kivlan, "Fossella war chest bulging with cash, report shows: Spokesman for incumbent GOP congressman says he likely will raise record $2M for current election cycle", Staten Island Advance, April 14, 2006.
  34. ^ FEC filing, July 15, 2006, Committee to Re-elect Vito Fossella (large pdf)
  35. ^ Dana Rubinstein, "Critics see Fossella damaged by Bush link", The Brooklyn Papers, November 4, 2006.
  36. ^ tom Wrobleski, "AARP chapter to host forum by House candidates", Staten Island Advance, October 8, 2006.
  37. ^ Greg B. Smith, "It's funny business in Muppet mailings: Vito broke rules with pix usage", New York Daily News, June 29, 2006.
  38. ^ , Kathleen Lucadamo, "Vito's Muppets mess cost 160G, says Dem rival", New York Daily News, June 30, 2006.
  39. ^ Greg B. Smith, "Vito's double trouble: Fossella sez Elmo pix are really legit", New York Daily News, August 13, 2006.
  40. ^ a b c Helen Klein, Fossella Failed On Shore Road Bike Path, Harrison Charges, Courier-Life Publications, August 10, 2006.
  41. ^ "Rep. Fossella & NYC Parks Celebrate Groundbreaking for Repairs to Badly-Damaged Shore Parkway Walkway & Seawall; Fossella Announces $5 Million Federal Authorization for the Restoration Project; Repair Work Includes Complete Restoration of Seawall and Walkway", press release, July 26, 2005.
  42. ^ "Rep. Fossella & CB 10 Chair Eaton Update Community on Progress of Shore Parkway Walkway & Seawall Reconstruction: Restoration Reaches Midway Point With Remaining Work Expected to be Completed This Summer", press release, April 5, 2006.

External links[edit]

Civic offices
Preceded by
Alfred Cerullo
Member of the New York City Council
from the 51st district

Succeeded by
Stephen Fiala
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Susan Molinari
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 13th congressional district

Succeeded by
Michael McMahon