Its time to veto Vito

BROOKLYN – New York City labor, civil rights, and other democratic organizations have vowed to deliver a blow to the Bush administration and their Republican ultra-right allies in Congress this November. They are waging a campaign to take the seat of the only Republican member of New York City’s Congressional delegation, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.).

Widely viewed as working hand-in-glove with the Bush administration, Fossella has consistently voted against union and workers’ rights. He voted against increasing the federal minimum wage, voted for cuts in workers’ overtime pay, voted to weaken worker safety laws, and voted to deny union rights to workers in the newly created Department of Homeland Security.

Though the district covers a small section of the city – parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island – it is becoming a major battleground. A citywide focus on defeating Fossella has emerged, as the city’s labor movement, the Working Families Party and many others have prioritized this campaign.

Running against Fossella is Frank Barbaro, a former State Assemblyman and state Supreme Court justice with a strong record on labor and issues that matter to working people. Barbaro will give New Yorkers an opportunity to change the face of Congressional politics. In the current Congress, the Republicans rule with only a twelve-seat majority. A Barbaro win could help weaken – or end – the right-wing domination of Congress.

Barbaro, who began working in a factory at age ten, was elected to the State Assembly in 1972, and became the chair of the Assembly’s Labor Committee in 1980. While in office, he established himself firmly as a friend of labor, and continued the same record in the state’s Supreme Court. While assemblyman, Barbaro’s rating from the state AFL-CIO was in the upper 90s.

His campaign platform includes protections for workers, creating jobs, better care for the environment, better health care, and rebuilding the economy, as well as defending civil rights. During his time as a state assemblyman, Barbaro led a march against racist attacks and the murder of Yousef Hawkins, a young African American man in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn – a part of his assembly district.

“I’m going to work to elect Frank Barbaro who has been a pillar of our community and deserves to be in Congress,” Victoria DiSanto, a United Federation of Teachers retireee, told her union’s publication. The UFT, like most NYC unions, voted to endorse Barbaro.

The 13th district had been considered a stronghold for Republicans. Fossella has trounced his Democratic opponents in the past three elections. However, many have observed that the political situation is changing. Through grassroots and labor support, Barbaro has been able to raise more money than the three previous Democratic candidates – $90,000 – and expects to raise $500,000 by June 30.

Fossella has also alienated himself from people living in Staten Island, which has one of the highest per-capita union densities in the country, by voting consistently against workers’ interests.

The AFL-CIO gave Fossella a 4 percent lifetime rating; only 15 other congresspersons nationwide received a lower grade. On war and peace, he is a vehement supporter of the war in Iraq and Bush’s unilateral, foreign policy. On the environment, the League of Conservation Voters gave him a score of 10 percent – the lowest they have ever given. On health care, Fossella voted against the Patient’s Bill of Rights and for Bush’s unpopular Medicare “reform.”

According to an article in the Staten Island Advance, Barbaro’s campaign has attracted the attention of the Democratic Party’s national leadership, which is considering whether to mobilize national party resources behind Barbaro.

“It’s time,” said Barbaro in his candidacy announcement speech, “to veto Vito.”

The author can be reached at dmargolis@pww.org