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GOP's Madigan steps up to challenge Higgins

Finding a challenger for Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo, fortified by huge numbers of new Democrats in his reapportioned 26th Congressional District, has not been easy for local Republican leaders.

But Grand Island businessman Michael H. Madigan finally stepped forward Monday, acknowledging he will be outnumbered and outspent this fall but promising to wage a full-scale effort based on passions for education and traditional GOP principles.

And while he credits Higgins for a "tremendous job" in developing the waterfront, he believes that the incumbent has failed to confront conditions creating one of the nation's poorest cities and horrendous high school graduation rates.

"That's the real tragedy in our city, and it's something that has been horribly neglected," Madigan said. "The approach we've taken for the last 50 to 60 years has not worked."

Madigan, 48, is a senior program manager for Life Technologies, a global biotechnology company. He joined the company in 1987 and has worked as production manager and manager of process engineering. He said he will emphasize his private-sector experience in contrast to his opponent's long career in government.

The new candidate said he would never embrace a federal stimulus package favored by Higgins, pointing to a more than $700 billion price tag and the problems of unemployment, falling household incomes and even more national debt that have lingered.

"We really have different views; he's more about handouts and one-time payments," Madigan said.

The Republican hopeful steps into a difficult role ever since reapportionment solidified Higgins in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. GOP officials in Erie and Niagara counties received few inquiries in the new district, although in 2010, GOP opponent Leonard A. Roberto turned in a decent performance against Higgins in a district that then included Chautauqua County.

Madigan said that he expects to raise enough money to be competitive and that he has discussed his candidacy with minor-party leaders such as state Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long of Brooklyn. Though local Conservative leaders proved to be strong Higgins backers during previous campaigns, Long has refused to back his congressional efforts because of the Higgins' stance on litmus tests such as support for late-term abortions.

As a result, Madigan is expected to garner Conservative support and is seeking Independence Party backing, too.

The new candidate, a University at Buffalo graduate who holds advanced certificates in business studies from Villanova University and Project Management Institute, said he is active in educational causes and would rank them as a top priority in Washington. He said New York's graduation rate for black males stands at 25 percent, while neighboring New Jersey boasts a rate of 69 percent.

"You've got to wonder what happened in New York to make it so bad," Madigan said. "There are ways to fix the system, but it's going to take a tremendous amount of leadership."

He said more local control of education is needed rather than a federal government that "dictates."

"We need a fresh set of eyes and not someone beholden to special interests," Madigan said.

Though Madigan has never before run for public office, he has served as a Republican committeeman on Grand Island and worked on the campaigns of Roberto and 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino. He said he has not been part of the tea party movement but supports its goals.

"I'm not anti-tax; there's a difference between being anti-tax and 'taxed enough already,' " he said.