May 20, 2008 / 3:28 PM / in 11 years

Scandal-hit lawmaker won't seek re-election

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella of New York, under pressure from fellow Republicans to step aside after two headline-grabbing scandals, announced on Tuesday he will not seek re-election in November.

U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella of New York (R) and Florida Congressman Mark Foley speak during a press conference at the Port of Miami in Miami, Florida February 21, 2006. REUTERS/Marc Serota

Fossella, who had campaigned on “a family values” platform, escalated his party’s election-year woes this month when he was arrested on charges of drunken driving and then acknowledged he fathered a child, now 3, in an extramarital affair.

“I have made a decision not to seek re-election,” Fossella, 43, first elected to Congress in 1997, said in a brief statement posted on his congressional web site.

“This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication and service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused my wife and family,” Fossella said.

Besides upsetting his family, Fossella also further rattled Republicans in the House of Representatives, who have lost three straight special elections this year to fill vacant seats previously held by members of their party.

Republican leaders, fearful they could lose Fossella’s seat if he ran again, had said he had to decide his own political future. But they also made it clear they wanted him to leave the House, now held by Democrats 236-199.

With Democrats expected to increase their majority in the November elections, Fossella became the 27th Republican to announce plans to leave the House. Only seven Democrats have said they plan to leave at the end of their current terms.

In 2006, when Democrats won control of the House, ending 12 years of Republican rule, Fossella easily won re-election with 57 percent of the vote in his district that represents the Staten Island section of New York City.

David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, predicted it would be a “competitive race” to replace Fossella, but that Republicans will have a slight advantage. He said Republicans have a strong operation in 13th congressional district.

Wasserman said he believed Republican leaders were relieved that Fossella decided to finish his term rather than immediately step down.

“The last thing they want right now is another special election,” Wasserman said.

Editing by David Wiessler

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