Vito Fossella: When Sex Overcomes Politics

Vito Fossella Scarlet Letter
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Despite a drunk-driving arrest that led to revelations of a long-running affair that led to revelations of a secret love child, Staten Island congressman Vito Fossella has apparently been telling friends he plans to run again, according to the New York Post. Once upon a time, that might have been unthinkable, but in the wake of Eliot Spitzer's indiscretions and David Paterson's revelations (and Clinton and McGreevey and Craig and Foley before them), there is a certain plausible logic to the idea. As we become inured to politicians' scandals, perhaps we become more accepting: David Paterson, whose marital shenanigans seemed relatively innocent next to those of Spitzer, is living, governing proof of that. And even Spitzer, as Michael Wolff argued recently in Vanity Fair, could have tried to brazen it out by blaming "the Bush Justice Department, the Patriot Act, the entire culture of investigation" that unearthed his high-end prostitute habit. You know, turn your enemies against one another. Remember that bag of tricks? You might know it better by its other name, "The Bill Clinton Strategy." So why shouldn't Fossella be able to get away with it, after an appropriate period of apology and family healing?

After all, he's just a mere U.S congressman, who's never stuck his neck out before and who has been quietly playing by the rules (for the most part) over the past decade. Unfortunately for Vito, that's exactly the problem. New York State has 29 congressional seats, 14 of which are from the city. That's a lot for voters to keep track of, assuming they're even paying attention. Without having distinguished himself magnificently in the Legislature, the number-one fact most people know about Vito Fossella (and, for many, the only fact they know) is that he's a drunk, adulterous liar. Perhaps his constituents know a little more about him — that he's run as a lone Republican, traditional values politician in a city full of Democratic representatives. Except, oops, the whole "traditional values" thing is out the window, huh?

When David Paterson rose to power, he immediately came clean with his murky sexual past. It was one of the first things many of us ever learned about him. Now, as we watch him write his own public history until his reelection challenge in 2010, that is just one of the twists in his tale. He has a long time in which to bury a mildly sordid past. When Vito Fossella's constituents go to the ballots in November, however, they will see his name and think about only one thing: sex. Oh, and maybe "drunk driving." Sure, Fossella helped close the Fresh Kills landfill, and yeah, he tried to help sick 9/11 rescue workers. But that's got nothing on sex. And though sex sells papers, it doesn't sell politicians.