ROCHESTER – Voters in the 27th Congressional District appear headed toward an April 28 special election – just as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo preferred all along.
Question marks surrounding a date for filling the vacancy stemming from former Rep. Chris Collins' resignation on Sept. 30 evaporated Monday in a Rochester courtroom when the state Attorney General's Office relayed Cuomo's intention to call the election on April 28. The development now sets in motion the electoral machinery that will produce candidates from the various parties for that date – the same day significant numbers of Democrats are slated to vote in the state's presidential primary.
Though the judge must still officially rule and Cuomo must still proclaim the date, Republicans on Monday conceded defeat and now prepare for April 28. Assistant Attorney General Ted O'Brien, representing the governor, had argued in court papers that case law allows Cuomo to consider many factors in settling on a date.
"It is reasonable for the Governor to consider holiday schedules, the very real possibility of winter weather storms, the necessity of having voters make multiple trips to the polls within months apart, and the reality that many poll workers go south for the winter months," he said in court papers. "Importantly, these considerations are left to the discretion of the Governor by the language of the Public Officers Law."
Later, he told State Supreme Court Justice John J. Ark that the governor had arrived at his decision for "precisely" those reasons.
"Rather than having multiple elections, and for purposes of coordinated efforts," O'Brien told the judge. "The statute gives the governor the discretion to make those judgements. That's a decision he has made."
It is now anticipated the governor will call the special election by acting sometime between Feb. 9 and Feb. 19, setting in motion the required 70- to 80-day notification period that allows committees in the eight-county congressional district to name their respective candidates. No primary is allowed for a special election, but another contest could occur June 23 when primaries are held. That could pit the special election winner against any number of potential intraparty challengers, with the general election set to follow Nov. 3.
Throughout his time as governor, Cuomo has consistently favored slating special contests on the days of regularly scheduled elections, citing savings of around $1 million in the 27th District case and the need to eliminate voter confusion. But state Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy filed suit against the governor and State Board of Elections in December seeking an earlier date.
The chairman argued that 27th District voters have been disenfranchised and unrepresented in Congress ever since Collins' resignation. GOP attorney Joseph T. Burns of Buffalo argued Monday that the Collins seat has been vacant for more than 100 days and asked the court to order Cuomo to schedule an earlier election.
"From our perspective, the sooner the better," Burns said. "The governor has had ample time to schedule a special election."
But Ark noted that the governor's now-stated intention for an April 28 contest clarifies the situation and asked O'Brien to obtain a letter from Cuomo or his counsel for the record. Cuomo's office immediately indicated the governor will call a special election "in the very near future."
"We're glad that the court saw Langworthy's suit as the petty, politically motivated waste of time and money that it was," said Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to the governor. "The fact that the plaintiffs tried to weaponize the court, in order to saddle taxpayers with at least $1 million in extra costs, shows once and for all that they have zero claim to being the party of fiscal responsibility. Hopefully, they will now put this charade behind them."
The state GOP, however, found no solace in Monday's unfolding developments.
“Gov. Cuomo’s partisan manipulation of the NY-27 special election is a slap in the face to Western New Yorkers who won’t forget he put his own interests above their right to representation in Congress," Langworthy said. "At a time when our federal government is facing gravely important decisions concerning our national security, our economy and Democrats’ attempt to remove our duly elected president from office, the people of NY-27 are being denied a voice because Andrew Cuomo is trying to rig an election."
"The actions of this governor and Nancy Pelosi’s Democrat Party already sealed their fate in this election, and we will retain this seat, regardless of what date it’s held,” he added.
Republican spokeswoman Jessica Proud said late Monday that the party was "evaluating all options" when asked about the possibility of appealing Ark's expected decision. But Langworthy's comments and the time required might render moot any appeal attempt.
Republicans have indicated throughout the Collins succession process that they would wait for Cuomo to call the election, and Monday's indication of his official intention is now expected to force serious evaluation of potential candidates. They include State Sens. Christopher L. Jacobs and Robert G. Ortt, who have officially declared, as have former Darien Town Justice Beth Parlato and health care firm employee Frank C. Smierciak II.
Other Republicans considering the race include Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. and Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Genesee County.
Former Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray appears to have locked up the Democratic nomination.