One day after the campaign of Republican Rep. Chris Collins blasted his endorsed Democratic opponent for living outside the 27th congressional district, supporters of Nathan McMurray accused Collins of hypocrisy for making a similar run for Congress 20 years ago.
Collins, a Clarence resident, lived outside the 29th congressional district when he made his unsuccessful race against Rep. John LaFalce, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat, in 1998, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said Saturday.
Zellner's criticism of the incumbent came one day after a Collins spokesman ripped McMurray, the Grand Island supervisor, for running in a neighboring congressional district.
“In 1998, Chris Collins saw no issue with challenging John LaFalce even though he lived six miles outside the 29th congressional district,” Zellner said in a statement. “In 2018, residency seems to be the centerpiece of his attack on Nate McMurray, and it’s nothing less than rank hypocrisy."
A top Republican official said Saturday that district Democratic officials passed over four other candidates who live in the 27th district before endorsing McMurray on Thursday.
"If I were the Democratic party bosses, I'd be scrambling to explain why I boxed out four NY-27 residents for a carpetbagger from NY-26, too," said Christopher Grant, a Collins political adviser. "Especially a guy who doesn't even know where the district lines are."
Grant was referring to an interview McMurray gave The Buffalo News in December in which the North Tonawanda native, referring to Collins, said, "I grew up in his district." North Tonawanda, however, is not in Collins' district now. It is in the same district, represented by Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, as Grand Island. It should be noted that district boundaries change every decade, following the census, and North Tonawanda for much of the 2000s was in the congressional district that covers much of the current territory of the 27th.
Both McMurray today, and Collins 20 years ago, are allowed under federal election law to run for a seat in Congress without living in that district. However, once elected, candidates must move into the district they will represent.
McMurray has pledged to move into the 27th district if elected, as Collins did two decades earlier.
Candidates who live outside the district in which they reside risk criticism as carpetbaggers. That's what McMurray, who lives on Grand Island, is facing today.
On Friday, Collins spokesman Bryan Piligra used a line of attack on McMurray that voters can expect to hear frequently in the months to come.
"This selection shows the Democrats learned nothing from the 2016 election and are again kicking progressives to the curb by rigging the primary to benefit an out-of-district Hillary Clinton wannabe with an email problem," Piligra said.
The "email problem" refers back to recent criticism of his use of government email to discuss his congressional candidacy. McMurray has described the five emails he sent as an innocent mistake.
Democrats dismissed the criticism of McMurray's residency and said he is far better suited than Collins to serve district residents.
“We’re proud to support someone who understands the challenges our working families face on a daily basis,” Zellner said. “Nate has shown that he’s a strong and independent voice who will put the people first and bring us all together to get things done. After the ethics investigations, divisiveness and extreme partisanship that has defined Chris Collins' time in Congress, Nate McMurray will be a welcome and much-needed change.”
Collins, who has denied wrongdoing in his business dealings while in office, confronted similar accusations of carpetbagging during his run against LaFalce 20 years ago, as Zellner highlighted on Saturday.
Collins, then as now, lived in Clarence, which was outside LaFalce's 29th district. However, Collins contended then that he understood that district's needs because he was president and former owner of a Niagara Falls company, Nuttall Gear Corp. His news releases from the time identified him as a "Niagara Falls businessman."
Asked Saturday to respond to the charge of hypocrisy, Grant said, "Chris Collins created jobs in that district. Chris Collins ran a business in that district. Chris Collins employed hundreds of people in that district. He also knew where the district boundaries are, which automatically makes him more qualified than Nate McMurray."
Grant noted that McMurray opened his first campaign office in a retail center at Sheridan Drive and Sweet Home Road in Amherst that is part of Higgins' 26th district, not Collins' 27th district.
“That argument lacks teeth, since Christopher himself boasted during his run that nonresidency would not affect his relationship with his constituents,” McMurray said in a statement. “Christopher refuses to meet with residents. He does not hold local meetings. When is the last time someone even saw him step foot in the district?”
Collins was a resident of the 27th district when he successfully challenged then-Rep. Kathy Hochul in 2012.