Two Democratic hopefuls aiming to challenge incumbent Rep. Chris Collins in November dropped out of the race Monday following last week’s endorsement by party leaders of Grand Island Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray.
That leaves two other Democrats remaining in the race against Collins, a Clarence Republican. But neither East Aurora attorney Sean B. Bunny nor Mumford businessman Nicholas R. Stankevich are talking about their plans. They did not return phone calls Monday asking if they will run against McMurray in a Democratic primary.
The field still narrowed on Monday, however, when engineer Thomas P. Casey and Williamsville businesswoman Joan Elizabeth Seamans said they would not pursue candidacies.
“The time to replace those in office who have turned their backs on the good people of Western New York must remain a priority,” Seamans said. “A Democratic primary will only serve to divide us in that effort.”
Casey also withdrew, fulfilling a promise he made to party leaders while recently seeking their endorsement.
“I’m very concerned a primary will be difficult to keep positive and will take away from defeating Mr. Collins,” Casey said.
Neither had reported any fundraising to the Federal Election Commission.
Bunny and Stankevich have been active on the financial front, however. Stankevich reported $68,000 on hand in his last filing, while Bunny reported $92,000 and was posting views about the race on Facebook after party leaders coalesced behind McMurray on Thursday.
A primary in the vast, eight-county district is viewed in many circles as difficult because of the costs of competing in both the Rochester and Buffalo television markets for the right to run in a general election against Collins in a campaign that most experts view as daunting.
County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner noted, however, that Democrats offer mixed views about a primary.
“If you spend a lot of money and get your name out there, that’s a good thing,” the chairman said. “But money will not be easy in this race because it’s such an uphill battle.”
Zellner acknowledged that he and seven other Democratic chairmen endorsed McMurray to avoid what could prove a divisive primary.
The race against Collins continued over the past few days with charges and counter-charges. Immediately after the Collins campaign blasted McMurray over the weekend for living outside the 27th Congressional District, the Democrat’s supporters accused Collins of hypocrisy for making a similar congressional run 20 years ago.
A Clarence resident, Collins lived outside the 29th Congressional District in 1998 when he unsuccessfully challenged Rep. John J. LaFalce, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat.
Zellner offered his own criticism one day after a Collins spokesman ripped McMurray and his outside-the-district address.
“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 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 a few days ago that Democratic leaders passed over four other candidates who live in the 27th District before endorsing McMurray.
“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 M. Grant, a Collins political adviser. “Especially a guy who doesn’t even know where the district lines are.”
Congressional candidates are allowed under federal election law to run without living in the 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.
Collins confronted similar accusations of carpetbagging during his run against LaFalce 20 years ago, as Zellner highlighted on Saturday. But he 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 that 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.”
McMurray said the latest Collins argument “lacks teeth.”
“Christopher himself boasted during his run that nonresidency would not affect his relationship with his constituents,” McMurray said. “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 lived in the 27th District when he successfully challenged then-Rep. Kathy Hochul in 2012.
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 Rep. Brian Higgins’ 26th District, not Collins’ 27th District. On Friday, Collins spokesman Bryan Piligra employed a carpetbagger 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 to recent criticism of McMurray’s use of government email to discuss his congressional candidacy, which the candidate calls an innocent mistake.