In an unusual election year that could shift the local congressional delegation from 3-to-1 Republican to 3-to-1 Democratic, only two incumbents are running in Western New York districts. The retirements of Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, and Amo Houghton, R-Corning, open contests that have drawn national attention.
27th District: Brian Higgins
More than a week before Election Day, we know who's going to win this year's marquee local race: the residents of the 27th District.
Either Assemblyman Brian Higgins, the Democrat, or Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples, the Republican, would be an excellent representative. Both are exceptionally bright candidates and have expertise in policy and financial areas that would serve them well in Congress.
We endorse Higgins based on his proven skills as a legislator and his record of delivering benefits to this region. Higgins has posted impressive results in his City Hall and Albany legislative jobs even when politics made that a long shot. And legislative skill is exactly what this job most demands.
Naples, on the other hand, has proven executive skills that would be more suited for a county executive's position rather than a legislative seat. Although she could undoubtedly learn and perform well in the House, where her financial skills would be a plus and her party is likely to retain control, she has no experience serving in a legislative body.
Higgins was especially impressive in standing up to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a 2000 coup attempt that promised reform in that dysfunctional body. Even when the effort, led by then-Majority Leader Michael Bragman, was going down to defeat, Higgins stayed true to his principles by remaining loyal to Bragman even when it was clear Silver was going to win that power struggle. Even more impressively, he overcame the political fallout from that stand to win Assembly leadership support for waterfront projects important to Buffalo.
Although he has expertise in waterfront redevelopment, transportation issues and Niagara hydropower, his most important advantage is a demonstrated ability to not only land and fund projects but to take a hands-on approach to managing them to completion. Naples, in her watchdog role as county fiscal overseer, has not had as much chance to demonstrate those kinds of skills.
The influx of national party money and influence into this hotly contested race has triggered some disappointingly negative advertising on both sides. The mudslinging detracted from the very real positive qualities both candidates bring to this contest, but we urge voters to look beyond that and take advantage of an unusually good choice of candidates.
26th District: Tom Reynolds
Incumbent Rep. Tom Reynolds, who has steadily consolidated power in the House leadership ranks, is running on a much broader record and range of issues than challenger Jack Davis, who focuses strongly and often emotionally on his opposition to free trade.
Davis' passion is appealing, especially in light of Reynolds' record as a party-line politician who has yet to deliver regional benefits in full proportion to the power he claims. But Reynolds has come through on projects including West Valley nuclear cleanup and Buffalo's bioinformatics center, and he clearly is in a far better position to legislate for his district.
Reynolds also has an influential Rules Committee post that makes him a key component of the Western New York congressional delegation. That delegation needs to play an active role in developing the bioinformatics research center and other initiatives that are important to Buffalo's future. Having amassed a degree of power, Reynolds should use it more often to benefit his home region.
Davis is a successful businessman who long supported Republicans but sought the Democratic nomination so he could campaign fiercely against free trade. While we, too, sympathize with those who have been hurt by an increasingly global economy, his stand is overly simplistic. Moreover, he is not likely to be effective as an inexperienced freshman minority member of the House should it remain in GOP control.
28th District: Louise Slaughter
The race between incumbent Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, and Republican challenger Michael Laba offers voters in the bizarrely redistricted "earmuff district" a clear choice of ideologies. Slaughter is a longtime liberal, and Laba is a strong conservative.
We recommend a vote for Slaughter, who has made frequent visits to Western New York since her Rochester-based district gained Niagara Falls and part of Buffalo. Although her major successes still focus on the Rochester area, she has targeted the Broadway Market as an East Side redevelopment tool and has built solid contacts within local support groups, if not the wider community.
Laba is a former aide to past congressman Bill Paxon, and he resigned from a job sorting out Iraq coalition logistics for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to consider this run for Congress. He is pro-tax cuts and pro-war, and holds a conservative line on most social issues except abortion, where he is pro-choice.
29th District: Samara Barend
Samara Barend is a bright, articulate young woman who has worked on Capitol Hill as an aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. More importantly, she brings to the district vital transportation knowledge and experience gained through her leadership role in winning designation of old Route 17 as the Interstate 86 corridor, an important economic development tool for her district. We enthusiastically endorse her.
Her Republican opponent, State Sen. John Randy Kuhl, is Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's assistant majority leader for operations. That means he's an integral part of a broken system that puts politics above governance in New York. He hasn't earned a promotion to Washington.