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Bob McCarthy: Poloncarz v. Collins, round 2

Robert J. McCarthy

It should be no surprise that Mark Poloncarz and Chris Collins don’t call each other best buds.

Back in 2011, Democrat Poloncarz decisively beat incumbent Republican Collins for county executive after a one-term reign. It was a rough campaign, and the pair has since established no reason to hang out together on weekends.

So it may seem logical that during a wide ranging recent interview, Poloncarz touched on lots of subjects — including his old adversary who now represents the 27th District in the House of Representatives.

“I consider him the least influential congressperson in the United States,” the county executive said. “Even his own party doesn’t want to deal with him.”

Poloncarz reaches this rather critical conclusion via the well known developments surrounding the congressman. Back on Aug, 8, a federal grand jury indicted Collins and others on felony charges surrounding alleged insider trading. The government contends that Collins used knowledge gained as a board member of an Australian biotech firm to relay bad news about the company to his son.

The government even contends it has evidence of Collins making calls to Cameron Collins while attending a 2017 congressional picnic on the White House lawn.

The congressman has never wavered from proclaiming his innocence. And while he votes on bills and his office churns out the requisite press releases on issues of the day, it remains significant that he is stripped of his committee assignments. He also remains under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

The whole situation provides more red meat for Collins’ critics than the butcher block at Camillo’s Sloan Market.

“A freshman congressperson in the Republican minority has more power,” Poloncarz complains, adding he’s come to realize that any requests for Erie County — for the moment at least — go nowhere.

“He has no ability to have any impact whatsoever,” he said. “It’s not good for our greater community to have a congressperson who’s a seat-filler.”

Collins, meanwhile, continues to insist that nothing has changed. The same charges surfaced in last fall’s congressional campaign, when Democratic challenger Nate McMurray nearly beat Collins. In the most Republican congressional district in all of New York, Collins prevailed — barely.

Just before the election, Collins told The Buffalo News voters should not be worried.

“I’m going to be in Congress,” he said in October. “I’m not going to miss any votes. I will meet with constituents, different organizations will come into my office. My job will be the same as ever.”

A few days ago his office offered its version of things, and its own version of the politics involved.

“It’s shocking the nonsense Poloncarz spews when he has had literally no contact with our office during Congressman Collins’ entire tenure in Congress,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Brown. “Unfortunately, this county executive has always put politics ahead of the hardworking families of Erie County and that’s no different with these comments.

“If Poloncarz understood Congress at all, he would know that committee representation is somewhat difficult right now as minority Republicans deal with an extremely polarized House of Representatives led by Democrats,” she added. “Congressman Collins’ re-election demonstrates that it’s votes that really matter, not the tired political rhetoric from politicians like Poloncarz. It also demonstrates that the large majority of Western New Yorkers from our district who supported President Trump are heard loud and clear.”

Poloncarz, meanwhile, insists Collins keeps resignation available as a “bargaining chip” with federal prosecutors. Collins denies it.

Collins has returned to Washington. He executes his duties exactly as promised, casting votes and meeting with constituents. But in a House fashioned around the committee system, he remains shut out.

Now Poloncarz has resurrected a campaign issue and elevated it to a governance issue.

The bet here is that the argument will continue.

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