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HIGGINS' BUSY ORIENTATION FEATURES LUNCH WITH PRESIDENT
ATTENDS D.C. MEETINGS AMID VOTE COUNT HERE

Brian M. Higgins' opponent hasn't conceded, but he's already getting some of the perks that members of Congress enjoy -- such as lunch with the president.

President Bush invited newly elected members of Congress to the White House earlier this week and ended up sitting at the same table as Higgins, a South Buffalo Democrat who appears to have narrowly won a pitched battle to succeed Rep. Jack F. Quinn, R-Hamburg.

"He was very folksy," Higgins said about the president. "It was exactly what you'd expect. He was very candid. He talked about what he wanted to do in his second term," such as reforming Social Security.

"I was doing more listening than talking," Higgins said Wednesday.

He and his newly elected colleague from the Southern Tier, Randy Kuhl, R-Hammondsport, are in the Capitol this week for their "freshman orientation."

Both said their White House lunch was the highlight of a week that is heavy on briefings about hiring a staff, renting office space and living part-time in Washington.

Kuhl did not sit with Bush, but he bumped into the president on the way into the luncheon.

"I told him how appreciative I was of his work, and how I looked forward to working with him," said Kuhl, who will replace the retiring Amo Houghton, R-Corning.

For Higgins, this week's series of meetings comes as election officials in Erie and Chautauqua counties count 13,000 paper ballots in his race against Erie County Comptroller Nancy A. Naples, a Republican.

Naples has refused to concede, hoping those absentee, affidavit and emergency ballots will carry her to victory in a race that Higgins led by about 4,000 votes after Election Night.

Bradley J. Stamm, executive director of the Erie County Republican Committee and attorney for the Naples campaign, said Wednesday that the recount is continuing. Election officials said it could conclude by the end of this week.

In the meantime, Higgins went to work in Washington, requesting to serve on two committees: Transportation and Infrastructure, and Resources.

Higgins said that he would like to serve on the Appropriations Committee, which doles out federal funds but that he doubts there will be an opening.

In making the transportation panel his top priority, Higgins would be continuing the tradition set by both his predecessors, Quinn and former Rep. Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo.

Higgins said he sees a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as key to redeveloping Buffalo's waterfront, which was also a focus of his work as an assemblyman.

And he said he wants a seat on the Resources Committee because it will oversee the 2007 reauthorization of the federal law governing the allocation of hydropower from the Niagara River, another key economic issue.

Meanwhile, Kuhl said he requested to serve on the Agriculture, Transportation and Infrastructure and Financial Services committees.

All of those panels have a huge impact on economic development, which Kuhl said will be his top priority in Washington.

Committee assignments will be made in December.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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