Local Republicans, facing a looming deadline to act, increasingly are focusing on a post in Clarence as the electoral landing spot for Rep. Chris Collins, sources told The Buffalo News.
Three sources familiar with party deliberations said Wednesday that the Collins replacement efforts have centered on the Clarence Town Board. The sources said that at least two of its GOP members, including Robert Geiger, had been "approached" about resigning to create a vacancy that Collins can fill.
"Very interesting, because I wish they'd tell me," Geiger said in an interview Wednesday, denying that he has agreed to give up his seat or that he has been asked to consider it.
Collins, a Clarence Republican, was indicted last month on federal charges of insider trading. He announced several days later that he would suspend his re-election bid against Democrat Nathan McMurray, the Grand Island supervisor.
However, Collins' name can be removed from the ballot only if he dies, he moves out of state or he runs for another office that had an unexpected vacancy. Speculation has focused on the openings for Eden town clerk, Eden town assessor and, most recently Amherst town clerk.
But Clarence has made the most sense to some observers from the beginning because all of the positions have residency requirements and Collins already lives in Clarence.
No seat on the Clarence Town Board is up for election this year. This allows Geiger or anyone else in office in the town to resign to make way for Collins, who would leave the congressional ballot because candidates are barred from seeking two offices at the same time.
“Geiger was approached, so was one of the other councilmen,” said one source who asked not to be identified. Another source confirmed those seats are in play but said no commitments have been made at this point.
Nicholas Langworthy, the Erie County Republican chairman, declined to comment on the machinations but said he expects GOP leaders to make a decision by next week. Dan Michnik, the chairman of the Clarence Republican Committee, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Geiger, who is 80, has served on the Town Board since 2011. He said a number of people have questioned him at community events about the possibility of stepping down and he and his fellow Town Board members have teased each other about who is leaving the board.
"I'd really have to run it over with my wife and family," Geiger said. "You know what? I really like what I'm doing."
Clarence Town Clerk Nancy Metzger said she's not aware that anyone in town government has agreed to resign, and no such document has come into her office.
Clarence Supervisor Patrick Casilio and Paul Leone, a consultant to the Clarence Industrial Development Agency, both said they don't know anything about potential political maneuvering but they saw Geiger on Wednesday morning at an event and he didn't say anything about leaving his position.
Collins and Republican leaders face a deadline of the end of next week, when ballots for congressional races must be finalized and printed, said Ralph M. Mohr, Erie County's Republican elections commissioner. The deadline for local races, such as for Clarence Town Board, is the end of the month, Mohr said.
But while the focus remains on Clarence, the GOP is keeping open other options. That includes appointing Collins as Republican elections commissioner in Erie County, possibly explaining why appointment of a new commissioner is listed on this Friday’s reorganizational meeting.
That's the case even though Mohr is only midway through a four-year term and has shown no inclination toward stepping down.
But this move is also seen as last resort, since a Collins appointment would require him to resign from Congress – a move he has so far resisted, possibly to retain leverage for potential plea negotiations in the future with federal prosecutors. And he would not have to resign from Congress as a Town Council candidate.