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Eden to Chris Collins: Find somewhere else to run for office

Chris Collins for Eden town clerk?

Democrats – and at least one Republican elected official – don't want anything to do with that idea. But Republican party leaders say there are no plans afoot to move the indicted congressman onto the ballot in Eden this fall.

The town, a rural community of 7,670, unexpectedly found itself a center of political discussion this month following Collins' abrupt decision to suspend his re-election campaign.

Republican leaders are searching for another office where Collins can land to make way for a replacement in the 27th Congressional District.

Speculation has centered on Eden because there are two unanticipated vacancies in the town for positions that weren't scheduled on the ballot this fall. Collins also could move to a vacancy created if a current officeholder – again, whose seat was not up for re-election this year – in another town agrees to step aside.

But the Eden positions make sense because the vacancies already exist: Town Clerk Mary Jo Hultquist retired in July and co-Assessor Sharon A. Brockman died this month.

Collins could be nominated to run for one of those seats. Eden does not have a residency requirement, but state law requires all candidates to be a resident of the district by Election Day, said Ralph Mohr, an attorney and the Republican elections commissioner for Erie County.

There are endorsed Republican and Democratic candidates already for the town clerk's race, but town officials haven't yet decided what to do with the assessor's position.

Eden GOP Chairman Pete Gugino told The Buffalo News he hasn't had any serious discussions with party officials about Collins landing on the ballot in his town, aside from one brief phone call with Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy. He declined to comment on whether he would welcome that prospect and said he doesn't know how Eden residents would respond.

"It's a very interesting situation," Gugino said.

This lack of public activity isn't stopping Eden Democrats from loudly protesting the possibility of a Collins run.

"Eden is not a dumping ground for Republicans who are unfit to run for office and mired in scandal," Ed Krycia, the town Democratic chairman and a former Town Board member, said in a statement. "It’s the height of arrogance to assume that an entire town government is theirs to manipulate and control in this manner. The people of Eden deserve much, much better.”

Democrats also doubt Collins' interest in either post.

"We all know Chris Collins doesn't want to go become the Eden town assessor, or town clerk," said Jeremy Zellner, the Erie County Democratic chairman and the county Democratic elections commissioner.

Eden Democrats and a group called Citizens Against Collins are holding a protest at 7 p.m. Wednesday outside Town Hall.

They're not the only ones raising concerns. Town Supervisor Melissa M. Hartman said she objects to Collins, a nonresident, taking a place on the ballot there.

Hartman, a Republican, said the idea is disrespectful to voters and to other office-seekers or officeholders.

"We value those positions and we value the residents who wish to run for them," Hartman said. "We have two candidates for town clerk who have started their campaigns and have financially made a commitment to them. For someone to just replace that without even consulting our town, especially the supervisor or a town board member, is very insulting."

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