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Bob McCarthy: Stankevich eager for a 'positive campaign'

You have to give credit to Nick Stankevich.

He’s a 40-year-old Democratic “entrepreneur” from Genesee County who wants to challenge Chris Collins in November. He has declared his candidacy in the 27th District, registered with the Federal Elections Commission, and is raising money.

But he faces a big hurdle. Democratic leaders from throughout the eight-county district don’t want him. Their official county committees are coalescing behind Nate McMurray, the Grand Island supervisor and Delaware North attorney who is considered the favorite in the June 26 Democratic primary.

None of this makes a particle of difference to Stankevich, even after three other Democrats yielded to the party and dropped out. It’s America, Stankevich says, and he’ll run if he wants to.

“I continue to hear people say they want to have a say in who challenges Chris Collins in November,” he says. “It’s about choice, not challenging the establishment or causing party division.”

Yet that’s exactly the result of his decision. The people who run the Democratic Party are none too happy, especially since taking on Collins represents a herculean task to start. Two television markets in Buffalo and Rochester require the big time money that ranked the 2012 contest between Collins and Democrat Kathy Hochul among the most expensive in the nation.

“Our goal is to defeat Chris Collins and our hope is that Nate will do the right thing,” Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner said before Stankevich declared his intention a few days ago.

Others ask why any sane person would raise money and campaign through a primary only to get creamed in the most Republican congressional district in all of New York. Collins owns every advantage, and the Washington Democrats looking to control the House of Representatives are not exactly rushing money and manpower to this one.

Stankevich supported Bernie Sanders in 2016, and thinks a similar Democrat will appeal to NY27 voters.

“If we want different results we have to do something different,” he says. “I am the choice of the non-status quo.”

Stankevich faces daunting odds. He must first collect 1,250 signatures to qualify for the ballot, and that requires organization. He says it’s not easy to qualify as a challenger when party volunteers will circulate designating petitions for McMurray. But his “really good team” will succeed, he says.

So how does David go about slaying Goliath?

“A Democratic primary does not have to be divisive,” he says of Step One. “We’ll run a positive campaign based on the issues. I have zero interest in mudslinging.”

Step Two ‑ taking on Collins – revolves around “change.” He says Collins is vulnerable because of the House Ethics Committee probe into his stock dealings. And because he shuns the town meetings and other forms of public contact he says voters want.

“With Chris Collins at the helm, do we keep doing more of the same?” he asks.

Stankevich recently returned from 15 years in California after earning an MBA at Pepperdine and starting various small businesses. These days he helps run his family’s bed and breakfast in Mumford, and now mounts his first run for public office.

He has raised about $81,000 so far, including a $60,000 personal loan. Not exactly Collinsesque. And Democratic leaders would prefer he return to Mumford. But if he succeeds in making the ballot – and he says he will – he promises to prove more than a rebel without a cause.

“It’s an effort I’m not afraid of,” he said. “There will be a lot of sweat equity and support from others who think it’s worth it too.”
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Local Republicans gathered a few days ago to bury their friend Mario Alaimo, who died unexpectedly on Feb. 22 at 50. Most recently the GOP office manager at the Board of Elections, he remained a true party man to the end.

A button in the casket at his wake said it all with a very Mario-like message: Vote Republican.

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