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SUPPORT FOR HIGGINS IS IN SHORT SUPPLY

It ought to be clear now to leaders in the Buffalo Niagara region that the 2001 congressional gerrymandering didn't go quite far enough.

The reapportionment stretched the district of Appropriations Committee "Cardinal" James T. Walsh, R-Syracuse, into Monroe County. Someone should have figured out a way to award Walsh a strip along Route 20A into the underbelly of Erie County.

Walsh's annexation of a piece of Monroe County brought to the Rochester area unlooked-for special federal goodies, the largest of which was $73.5 million for a laser research project at the University of Rochester.

Walsh is a very different Republican from the ones the Buffalo Niagara region has sent to Congress in the last decade. He thinks it's part of his job to not only take care of himself, but to see to the needs of his constituents.

Walsh's base in the Syracuse area got $200 million from the omnibus appropriations bill passed just before Thanksgiving. His newly acquired Rochester area got about $100 million. The Buffalo Niagara region, whose leaders are told by their representatives that they are asking too much from Washington, got about half of what was produced for Rochester.

This is the third year in a row that the smaller communities of Rochester and Syracuse got more than Buffalo Niagara. Even so, our university, business and community leaders are still looking to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, to right the scales in the upcoming session of Congress.

Unfortunately, the mix exists for another subpar performance. The leaders of the reinforced Republican congressional majorities and the GOP White House turn up their noses at New York generally, and may view the Democratic enclave in the state's west as hopelessly liberal.

Reynolds, the region's point man, has had his focus on building a national fund-raising base and electing a permanent conservative House majority and leadership. As chairman of the GOP's House campaign, Reynolds added at least three seats to the majority.

But Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has been given credit for the gain, and Reynolds is where he was on the ladder, number eight.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Jack F. Quinn is retiring and being replaced by Buffalo Assemblyman Brian Higgins, who, as a freshman, will be deep in the Democratic minority.

It's as sure as sleet that Reynolds' congressional campaign committee will try to knock off Higgins again in 2006. So Higgins' help as a producer for his district will have to come from somewhere else. But from where?

Sen. Charles E. Schumer is arguably the state's most powerful Democrat. But he openly deferred to Reynolds in the last election, appearing with him at least twice during the peak of the campaign and plainly ignoring Reynolds' Democratic challenger, Jack Davis of Akron, who had been endorsed by eight local party chairmen.

Higgins is not even getting help from the leaders of his own Democratic House minority, who had been so passionate about electing him. They could help inoculate him against a challenge two years from now by putting him on the Appropriations Committee. Minority members always have clout on the Appropriations Committee, as Walsh learned when the Democrats controlled the House.

Higgins asked for Appropriations when he met with Rep. Bob Matsui, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic congressional campaign. But Matsui gave him no encouragement. They'd have to move some furniture around to put Higgins on Appropriations, but it may save his seat next time.

A seat on Appropriations could be Reynolds' for the asking. But he wants, and expects, to be made a full voting member of the Ways and Means Committee, which deals with Medicare, Social Security, foreign trade and taxes and not pork.

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