Early in the morning on May 1, 2008, Representative Vito Fossella was pulled over in Alexandria, Virginia, after attending a White House party honoring the New York Giants’ win in the Super Bowl and a post-celebration dinner in Georgetown. After driving through a light with a blood-alcohol content of 0.17 percent, he told a police officer that he was going to visit his sick daughter. Reporters looked into the DUI case involving the congressman from Staten Island — and the fact that he was released from jail to a woman named Colonel Laura Fay, whom aides called only a “close friend.” A week after his arrest, the Republican who championed “family values” was forced to admit that he had a second family in D.C., including a 3-year-old child. According to the New York Daily News, he also lied to Fay, saying that he was separated from his wife, Mary Pat. Fossella announced he would not seek reelection and slinked quietly out of office.
Thirteen years later, he’s coming back.
On Tuesday, Fossella was elected as the next borough president of Staten Island after a simple campaign of keeping a low profile and netting Donald Trump’s pivotal endorsement — and a congratulatory call from the chaotic party leader at his victory party.
“I think for the most part, Staten Islanders aren’t interested in your personal life, they’re interested in making sure you’re going to fight tooth and nail to protect them from the far-left government that has taken over City Hall and is hurting their pocket book and is driving them and their neighbors out of the state,” Representative Nicole Malliotakis, who represents the borough in Congress, told Intelligencer.
Prior to the scandal, Fossella, 56, was on the fast track to national-party prominence. After serving on the Giuliani mayoral campaign, Fossella was elected to city council in 1994 at the age of 29. After a few years in City Hall, where he helped lead the effort to close the Fresh Kills landfill, he was anointed by the local party and by the Republican National Committee, which spent almost $800,000 in advertising to put him in office. Allies reportedly mentioned a mayoral run in his future. But less than three weeks after his arrest, the representative, whom tabloids began calling “Vino Fossella,” announced he would not run for reelection.
While some constituents were scandalized, there was immediately a sense that Fossella could someday return to office: Local Republicans urged him to try to defend his seat months after he announced he would leave office. A farewell brunch held at the Hilton Garden Inn in December 2008 drew 1,000 supporters, some of whom compared him to world-historical comeback kids, like Jesus Christ and Rocky Balboa.
The event that seemingly ended Fossella’s political career was barely acknowledged in the borough president race this year. During the debate last week, Fossella’s child out of wedlock while in office was never mentioned, eclipsed by talk of the vaccine mandate and debate over parochial concerns like HOV lanes. Politicians who endorsed him also weren’t worried in the final days of the race that the scandal would affect his chances at becoming beep. “There’s not a man alive that probably didn’t have an affair while he was married or before he was married,” said former borough president James Molinaro.
Other curiosities were glossed over by the 61 percent of voters that filled in Fossella’s bubble on the ballot. There was a bit of a transparency issue during the primary, when he eschewed a campaign website and held very few in-person events. (A representative for Fossella did not respond to requests for comment for this article.) On three different occasions, he left tens of thousands of dollars in matching funds from the city on the table after failing to properly report his campaign’s financial activity. He did not really mention how he spent some of his time out of politics — serving as a registered foreign agent for the government of Somalia and for a consortium of Polish weapons manufacturers. He also didn’t discuss his current employment during the borough president debate last week, when he described speed cameras in school zones as “a money grab” for the city. He may be grabbing some of that cash, too: Fossella is the senior vice-president at a firm with a $3.1 million contract with the municipal government to collect on unpaid speed-camera tickets.