Voters of the 27th Congressional District are in an unhappy place. Their elected congressman, Chris Collins, is facing federal felony charges related to insider trading and, late in the campaign season, has decided not to seek re-election. And because of that, Republican Party officials, not primary election voters, will choose a candidate to face Democrat Nathan McMurray in November – assuming they can complete the tricky legal maneuver of replacing Collins on the ballot.
That puts a special onus on the eight Republican Party chairs across the sprawling district. Their goal, obviously, is to pick someone who can win, but they also must pick someone who can do the job in a district long under stress. Two potential candidates stand out: State Sens. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, and Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma.
Both have the background, stature and temperament to represent their constituents in the national legislature. Either could be effective. Either would make the district proud.
Unfortunately, neither has yet committed to the race. Also unfortunately, the two who have – Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw and former gubernatorial nominee and Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino – are dogged by significant weaknesses that will hobble them during a campaign and, should they win, in Congress.
Like Collins, Mychajliw trails his own ethical issues. As comptroller, he solicited and accepted donations from businessmen so he could attend a Harvard University school for public officials. He defended the action by insisting upon the course’s value but steadfastly denied the obvious conflict of interest in soliciting money from people who might want to influence his decisions. The Erie County Board of Ethics wasn’t fooled. It cited him for the violation.
Meanwhile, Paladino’s only public office has been on the Buffalo School Board and he was removed from it. The reasons were insufficient, but his conduct created the conditions that led to his exile. More troubling, he showed little ability to work with others – essential for a congressman who wants to be effective – and although denying racism, repeatedly made offensive, sometimes incendiary, racial remarks about African Americans, including other school board members and even former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.
This has been a troubled district for years, since former Rep. Thomas Reynolds chose not to run for re-election 10 years ago. He was succeeded by Chris Lee, who quickly resigned over issues of personal misconduct, and now Collins is leaving under legal storm clouds. Only Kathy Hochul, now New York’s lieutenant governor, served the district well, but she held the seat only briefly: As a Democrat, she couldn’t win re-election in what became the state’s most heavily Republican district.
It’s time for a change. Voters in this district deserve competence, honor and stability. For Republicans, either Jacobs or Gallivan could provide that. GOP voters will not be able to make this decision directly, but they can influence it by calling their party headquarters and insisting on common sense.