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GOP leaders mull process for replacing Chris Collins on ballot

BATAVIA – Republican party leaders in eight Western New York counties will interview candidates for the 27th Congressional District seat next week.

The party heads met Tuesday night to discuss how to get Rep. Chris Collins off the November ballot and how to choose a successor candidate for the indicted congressman.

“We’re hoping to get a handle on who’s really in, who’s really out and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” said Niagara County GOP Chairman Richard Andres Jr.

“We have to move swiftly,” Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said outside Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel, where the six party chairmen and two chairwomen, other Republican party members and legal counsel met in a private room.

Several of the candidates for Collins’ seat are expected to make their pitches tonight at a previously scheduled meeting of the executive board of the Livingston County GOP Committee in Geneseo. Assemblyman Ray Walter, R-Amherst, confirmed that he was invited and that he plans to attend the session.

The scrambling began last weekend, when Collins, R-Clarence, announced he would not run for re-election, after being indicted on alleged insider trading and other charges.

As many as 15 Republican hopefuls have signaled their interest in running to party leaders, although that number was lower by Tuesday.

“I don’t even know,” Langworthy said, when a reporter asked him how many were in the running.

He acknowledged that picking a state senator to run for Congress would create a subsequent vacancy that would have to be filled. “Every action can have an equal and opposite reaction,” Langworthy said. “That will all factor into it.”

Langworthy also said there are “mechanisms in place” to remove Collins from the ballot.

“We’ll be working with him in cooperation to do that,” Langworthy said.

He said he has talked to Republican leaders from throughout the country, including the White House, since the news about Collins broke.

"There’s a lot of eyes here on Western New York. This is a circumstance that no one saw coming, that no one’s happy about,” Langworthy said.

He said Tuesday night’s meeting was not to consider candidacies, but to lay out a process.

“We are going to lay out collective goals. We’re going to talk about, maybe get a feel for who likes who. I’m sure there will be some discussion of candidates, but we are not making a decision here tonight,” Langworthy said, before he went into the meeting.

Before the meeting started, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia, walked into Batavia Downs. He said he spent the day on an annual tour of his district with a New York City state assemblyman, and the last thing on the agenda was to see Batavia Downs and eat. The arrangements had been made two months ago, said Hawley, who is one of those interested in the Congressional seat.

“It’s ironic that it's tonight. Who knew two months ago when we put this together,” he said.

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