WASHINGTON – Embattled and embarrassed by the confession he fathered a child from an extramarital affair, New York Rep. Vito Fossella is facing public calls for his resignation. Secluded with his family, he must decide if he wants to keep his job badly enough to grapple with the lingering questions and fallout from the scandal.
In admitting the affair and a secret child Thursday, the Republican lawmaker indicated he planned to stay in Congress for months to come, but there are signs he could be out much sooner: House Minority Leader John Boehner pointedly said he expected Fossella to make a decision about his future this weekend.
Fossella's personal life came apart at the seams after police stopped him for running a red light last week and charged him with drunken-driving. The arrest fueled scrutiny which led to revelations of an affair with a former Air Force officer, and a 3-year-old daughter with her.
Political consultant Mike Paul, a former aide to Republicans including former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said the pressure will be intense on Fossella to make some sort of decision by Monday.
"This weekend for him is a lot of soul-searching," said Paul. "Blood's thicker than water, but even blood sometimes takes a walk: Your wife can walk, your children can say they don't want to be with dad anymore," he said.
The Staten Island Advance, the paper that speaks directly to the bulk of Fossella's constituents, declared Friday that he "is finished" and must resign immediately. The New York Post declared it's "time to go."
But go where? Back to the home he shares with his wife and three children on Staten Island? Or back to his other child and her mother in Virginia? If Fossella tries to hang on — as many lawmakers have done in recent scandals — he will still have some hard questions to handle, like:
— If convicted of drunken-driving, does he end up serving jail time under Virginia's tough anti-DWI laws? A sitting congressman sitting in a cell is not a pretty sight for the Congress or Fossella's Republican Party.
— Did his wife know he had a child with another woman, and even if she did, will she stay with him now that the world knows?
— Did the congressman mix business with pleasure? The New York Daily News reported the other woman, Laura Fay, was part of a government trip to Europe with Fossella and other lawmakers years ago, raising the question of whether taxpayer dollars were in any way used to pursue the romance.
Fossella's spokeswoman said Friday he was in Staten Island with his family, and provided no further details.
If Fossella did step down, and that resignation took effect before July 1, New York's Democratic governor David Paterson would have the option of calling a special election to fill the seat for the rest of the year.
That would force the financially struggling House GOP campaign committee to plow a large amount of money into an extra election in New York City, one of the most expensive places in the nation to campaign.
If Fossella made his resignation effective after July 1, then there would be no special election, the seat would be empty for the remainder of the year and the normal primary and general election process would take place.
Yet there are plenty of recent examples of lawmakers who didn't leave Congress after a scandal.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has stayed on after being linked to a D.C. prostitution ring; Larry Craig, R-Idaho, remains after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct resulting from a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom; and Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was indicted in a bribery investigation.