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Robert McCarthy: The VP, Collins and other political leftovers

A few leftovers from an event-filled week:

• Vice President Pence’s swing through Erie County on Tuesday accomplished much for local Republicans. Rep. Chris Collins and other GOP causes raked in about $400,000 from more than 200 people attending his Salvatore’s Italian Gardens fundraiser featuring the VP.

And, Collins continues as the Trump administration’s top House supporter following a strong defense of its tax overhaul proposal at Performance Advantage Co. in Lancaster. Loyalty may rank as President Trump’s most admired character point. Collins pledges it.

No matter how the rest of New York State views the president (and polls show it far from positive), the congressman knows his 27th District remains solid Trump territory. Collins will never shy away from Trump/Pence talk on his home turf.

• In Lancaster, Pence offered prayers for the family of fallen Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner, at about the exact moment recovery teams discovered his body in the Niagara River. And The Buffalo News reported that Pence even considered visiting the recovery effort’s command site in Broderick Park to show support.

In fact, key Trump/Pence supporter Carl Paladino says a quick stop along the river was more than considered after he spoke with the vice president during the Salvatore’s fundraiser.

“I asked him to go; that it would probably be a good thing to do,” Paladino said, adding the Secret Service remained wary of any unplanned stops.

“He told me, ‘I don’t know if I can,’ ” Paladino continued. “Then he went into a back room and told them: ‘Make it happen.’ ”
Just minutes later, however, members of the Police Department’s underwater recovery team discovered their missing comrade near Acqua Restaurant. At that point, Paladino said, all concurred “the timing was not good.”

Still, Pence called Lehner’s mother and Mayor Byron Brown from Air Force Two to offer condolences.

• Significant political development of the week: Former Erie County prosecutor Sean Bunny’s challenge to Collins. Maybe.
Democrat Bunny brings a sparkling military and legal resume to his uphill effort. But he faces a powerful and, as we have seen, well-connected incumbent with lots of campaign cash.

But no congressman ever wants to explain the ethics probe Collins now faces from the Office of Congressional Ethics. While he insists he followed all rules as principal investor in an Australian biotech firm, investigators recommend the House Ethics Committee take up the matter.

That means the spotlight will shine for months to come on the mix of Collins’ private business and public congressional roles. It also means the door for Bunny and his Democrats has opened – if just a crack.

• Speaking of Collins, his top political guru, Chris Grant, is joining with East Aurora consultant Michael Caputo to help return Republican Michael Grimm to his old congressional seat on Staten Island. Grimm plans a GOP primary challenge to incumbent Dan Donovan (who ran for attorney general in 2010) after serving seven months in prison for felony tax fraud.

Grant, Caputo and Grimm all met earlier this month with Steve Bannon, the onetime prince of Trump’s inner circle. Grimm’s comeback effort will tout the idea that he will work harder in Congress for the Trump agenda than Donovan.

Now it will be interesting to see if Grant and Caputo team with Bannon on other pro-Trump efforts around the nation.

• And speaking of Grant, his 5-year-old nephew, Jack Marchetta, enjoyed a big Tuesday. In the morning he escorted Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the Oishei Children’s Hospital dedication ceremonies, as he represented patients following his own successful treatment for an autoimmune problem.

Then during the vice president’s Lancaster event, Pence singled out young Jack while his parents, Chuck and Colleen Marchetta, participated in a business roundtable. To top it all off, a photo of Jack and his American flag sweater even made Wednesday’s editions of The News.

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