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Hochul's decision plunges her into vortex

The huge drop in population in the Western end of New York is drawing early and unusual attention by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC has targeted Democrat Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo with a battery of robo-calls to constituents calling him "detached from reality" on taxes and the price of gasoline.

His race for a fifth term isn't until next year. Ordinarily Higgins' Erie and Chautauqua County district is considered a walk in the park for him. He won't be running inside those district lines, however. Redistricting based on the new 10-year census means that Higgins will be shoved closer into confrontation with his neighbor, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, in a party primary in the summer of 2012.

The charges the NRCC is making against him are ginned up, but they are designed to serve early notice to financial donors and potential GOP challengers that Higgins is no longer "safe." Slaughter, meanwhile, has made it clear she intends to run again no matter what. When preliminary census numbers were unveiled weeks ago, she announced that she is proud to serve three great cities -- Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester. On Wednesday, she will throw her fourth D.C. fundraiser in a month; top price $5,000 a ticket.

Higgins by contrast held only one -- his annual Taste of Buffalo party, top price $2,500. The more reclusive Slaughter never secured the local donor base that Higgins cultivated. The two are, to be polite, not close. Slaughter's trump card is her following among women's groups. She deployed them a decade ago to drive then Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, into retirement in a similar squeeze.

Into this vortex plunges the Erie County clerk, Kathy Hochul. She is the endorsed Democrat seeking to succeed former Rep. Chris Lee, R-Amherst, in a special election May 24. She will be one of five running for the remaining 19 months of Lee's term. It is a heavily Republican district that is trending even more GOP now.

It is so Republican that folks suspect that even the cows, tractors and haystacks vote. When Albany draws new lines next year, it will let the windmills vote. Why rock-ribbed Republicans would put another liberal organization Democrat in Congress is an enigma yet to unfold.

Even if she wins in May, Hochul has to do it again in a district where almost nobody heard of her until now. It will cost her family and friends millions. Democratic acquaintances of Hochul say she simply wants to return to D.C., where she went to college and worked as a Senate and House staffer.

The favorite in the race is Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence. Other likely candidates include Ian Murphy of the Green Party, David Bellavia and tea party industrialist Jack Davis.

Davis ran twice in the oughts against then Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-Clarence. A veteran who miraculously operates a growing manufacturing business in suburban Buffalo, Davis recently donated millions to the University at Buffalo, his alma mater. I think he is a patriot and I wish he would do something else with the $3 million he plans to spend this spring on politics.

The money could go to something Western New York desperately needs: A foundation or endowed chair in a private college that would perform disinterested research into regional economics and teach the next generation about how wealth is created. Not how wealth is accumulated or managed, which is what business schools teach now, but how whole new job-creating industries are developed, nurtured by society and expanded.

It's a lost language in upstate New York. Perhaps if the institute were successful, the next generation would have ready answers for the anti-business malarkey that helped shoot down the proposed Verizon data center in Niagara County, the region's largest private investment in a century.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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