Rep. Vito Fossella's fall from grace left many conservative Staten Islanders with the difficult decision on whom to vote for in today's primary. Both Republican candidates, a former assemblyman, Robert Straniere, and Dr. Jamshad Wyne share many of the same political positions. Mr. Straniere, however, has won the endorsement of Governor Pataki and most of the Republican Party officials. It probably won't mean much to the electorate, but I will be voting for Dr. Wyne.
Until just a week ago, I was undecided because I've met both candidates and knew that they would represent our conservative borough and pro-life community better than Michael McMahon, the Democratic candidate, who is pro-choice. The Republican congressional candidates are both for cutting taxes and government spending and for drilling offshore and seeking alternative energy solutions.
Because Mr. Straniere is a seasoned politician, I was seriously considering him over Dr. Wyne. What gave me pause was a comment he made to a local news reporter. A front page article in the Staten Island Advance noted that the race was getting down and dirty and both candidates were slinging mud. By itself, that's expected in the world of politics, but interjecting ethnicity is an unworthy tactic. Mr. Straniere was quoted as saying Dr. Wyne has been using the name "Jim" on the campaign trail because "he is trying to remake himself into something other than who he is. He obviously doesn't want people to know he is Pakistani and a Muslim."
This January I met Dr. Wyne to write about the two free health clinics he had opened in honor of his deceased parents. When I met Dr. Wyne, he asked me to call him "Jim," a name that he has used for many, many years, and this was before the Fossella scandal opened the congressional seat. Every Staten Islander must be aware that he was born in Pakistan, as are many of the island's residents, and assume that all Pakistanis are likely to be Muslim. We have a very large Asian business and residential community here, so why did Mr. Straniere mention this?
I contacted him to verify that the article was correct, and he explained, "In a response to a question from a reporter about why Dr. Jamshad Wyne was referring to himself with a different name, I said he should be more focused on the issues of concern to Staten Island and Brooklyn families than concealing his Pakistani and Muslim roots. The voters won't vote against Dr. Jamshad Wyne because of these silly issues; they will vote for me because of my conservative philosophy and my 24-year track record of reducing taxes and representing hardworking taxpayers."
What Mr. Straniere should have done was tell that reporter to pose that question directly to Dr. Wyne. Instead he mentioned his background and religion, which I feel reflects poorly on Mr. Straniere's character.
It is true that Dr. Wyne has no direct elective experience, although he has been involved as finance chairman for the Richmond County Republican Party. Having a doctor in the House seems like a good idea, since everyone is so concerned about health care. I'm also well aware that there are questions about the doctor's medical history. Mr. Straniere said of his opponent, "These are the rantings of a desperate man seeking to divert attention away from the highly publicized determination by the New York State Health Department's Board of Professional Medical Conduct of the negligent practice of medicine which placed him on probation for three years."
But the charge that was levied had nothing to do with his practice of medicine but was about his record-keeping. He's never been sued, while Mr. Straniere has been sued by his business partners and had been a controversial figure on the island before he moved to Manhattan. Mr. Straniere told me that he will take up residency again regardless of the primary results.
When Dr. Wyne announced his candidacy for Congress, I admit I felt some regret because I feared that he would be forced to suspend the activities of his two free clinics. Dr. Wyne, however, assured me that his wife will continue operations as director and the two clinics, which he pays for out of his own pocket, will continue providing care in this borough, which is the only one without a city hospital.
"Change" is the campaign buzzword, but before we changed to a Democratic Congress in 2006, regular gas sold for $2.19, unemployment was 4.5%, consumer confidence was high, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 14,000. I hope whoever wins the primary will signal a change in the right direction.