The three candidates for the newly created Assembly District 63 do differ on some issues. Their major differences, though, are their sponsors.
The Democrats have lined up behind Michael Cusick, who was director of constituent services for U.S. Senator Charles Schumer before leaving to work on this campaign. The Republican party organization has endorsed Betty Jane Maniaci, a 23-year resident of the borough, who is an insurance agent and former high school drug counselor, even though she is registered as a Democrat. (She promised them she would switch registration).
But Frank Peters, a Staten Island ferry boat captain and chief of a volunteer fire department, is also running for the Republican nomination. And he has the support of the popular former Borough President Guy Molinari.
Despite their histories of civic activity on behalf of their communities, the contest between Maniaci and Peters is being overshadowed by a simmering feud between their two respective sponsors, Molinari and Leticia Remauro, chairwoman of the Richmond County Republican Party Committee. The feud has spilled over into the assembly race.
The feud began when President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain were vying for the Republican Party nomination for president in 2000. Molinari chaired McCain's statewide committee while Maniaci supported Bush.
"When we won that primary, Mr. Molinari became very bitter and vengeful," Remauro said. Molinari said he was indeed angered but only when Remauro demanded that Island Republicans pledge allegiance to Bush before the primary.
"It became a litmus test to her," he said. "She created a scenario where it was stand by us or you're on the outside."
Term limits prevented Molinari from seeking a third term as the borough president last year. But, as a pillar of Staten Island's Republican Party, his endorsement of Peters has turned the primary race into a contest. He swiped at Maniaci's candidacy, saying she was only a candidate because she bowls regularly with Remauro.
"That's so insulting he would say something like that," Remauro said. "He should be ashamed of himself."
For their part, Maniaci and Peters are avoiding the negative.
"I think it's a shame," Peters said. "I'm trying to run a good, earnest, issues-oriented campaign. And I don't want to be sidetracked."
But for all the talk of issues, it is difficult to find one on which the candidates disagree. One is abortion: Peters is expected to win the endorsement of the Right to Life Party while Maniaci and Cusick are pro-choice.
All three candidates consider the Fresh Kills landfill as the main issue of the campaign, though has been closed since July of last year. Everybody is opposed to reopening it. The only argument is over who would be more effective in keeping it closed; Peters, for example, said because he lives right next to the landfill, he would bring the most passion to debates that would likely occur if the city sought to reopen it.
All three candidates say they support the reinstitution of the commuter tax, would have voted yes on the women's health act, and will support hate crimes legislation transit by building a bus depot and seek to alleviate traffic congestion on the island. They each support the mayor's control of the schools in a wait-and-see way, and vowed to slow development and protect the environment. None thinks that the legislative process in Albany needs serious revamping, just the right person to represent the island. Each said they would revitalize mass
Maniaci said she has formulated a plan to improve mass transit and alleviate traffic congestion. But the details she offered did not include any radically new ideas on the problem, like adding left-turn lanes.
Cusick said his political experience would make him more effective than the other candidates. But he is the youngest of the three, at 33.
"I know what the work entails," he said. "I know the district. I'm familiar with the facts and the people."
Maniaci said her community service and knowledge of financial matters gained from years in the insurance business meant she would best serve residents as the state grapples with budget problems.
"I think voters see that I am a good, honest person," she said. "And that I have a lot of knowledge about the issues of Staten Island."
Peters said his long service to the community made him the best candidate.
"I have an intimate knowledge of this community," Peters said. "I'm very active in the community and I have an established record of commitment."
The race may see a September 11th effect, of sorts. Peters was on duty when the World Trade Center was destroyed and guided the last ferry back to Staten Island from Manhattan. The press lauded his actions.
But the Molinari-Remauro feud is, for now, making the Republican race more a contest than anything else. Molinari proposed Remauro to be county chairperson in 1999 and their falling out - and acidic exchanges in recent weeks - is drawing most of the attention.
Peters recently tried to convince a court to take Maniaci off the primary ballot. A judge dismissed his claim that Maniaci should never have been considered for the Republican Party endorsement because she is a Democrat. Peters said that he will appeal.
--posted August 16,2002