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Editorial: A non-election in the 27th Congressional District

So, it’s underway – finally. Four of the expected Republican candidates for the long mistreated 27th Congressional District have announced their interest in the seat vacated by its most recently disgraced occupant, former Rep. Chris Collins. The fifth decided not to run.

All they need now is an actual election date.

The expectation – though not the certainty – is that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will schedule a special election to coincide with New York’s presidential primary, set for April 28. Cuomo preferred the date, he said, because packaging it with another election reduces the cost to the public.

That is true and was surely worthy of the governor’s consideration. But other costs also come into play and they are hardly insignificant. They prominently include a lack of congressional representation since Collins resigned on Sept. 30.

More than six months will have passed by the time the 27th District is fully served, assuming Cuomo settles on an April 28 election. Neighboring congressmen deserve thanks for pitching in while representation languished, but there is only so much that Reps. Brian Higgins and Tom Reed can do. They have their own constituents to serve. The 27th District needs and deserves its own representative in Congress.

What is more, an April 28 special election will inevitably – and unfairly – tilt toward Democrats, who will be going to the polls – likely in droves – to help select the party’s presidential nominee. Meanwhile, there is no corresponding Republican primary this year. Given the political makeup of the 27th – it’s the most heavily Republican district in the state – we don’t expect the party to be severely disadvantaged but, at a minimum, the optics are awful.

This will be an unusual election for Republicans in that there will be no election, at all – not in determining who to put up against Democrat Nate McMurray, anyway. Instead, under state election law, Republican party chairmen from the district’s eight counties will interview candidates – likely on Saturday – and will, at some point after that, choose the party’s nominee. Their votes will be weighted according to population, giving Erie County Chairman Karl J. Simmeth Jr. the greatest influence. That choice could come as soon as Saturday.

The candidates are State Sens. Chris Jacobs of Buffalo and Robert Ortt of North Tonawanda, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw Jr. and former Darien Town Justice Beth A. Parlato, who is also a frequent contributor to Fox News. Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Genesee County had considered entering the race but decided not to run.

It’s an unfortunate way to choose a party nominee, although practical, given the timing. (But don’t count us among those who lose sleep over the costs of elections. Democracy is, by design, inefficient. That’s a price of self-government.) Still, that’s the fact and it largely rules out public participation. Because of that, we are also listing the available contact information for the parties so that voters can make their preferences known. Genesee County alone provides no such information for the public.

Among the issues the chairmen will – or, at least, should – consider is the political earthquake that struck Albany some 14 months ago. The Senate, long in Republican control, flipped to the Democrats in 2018, giving the party full control of state government.

Those are the people who will draw new district lines based on this year’s census. In a district that is likely to become less Republican, the incumbent will have to appeal to a more politically diverse constituency in 2022 than exists today.

Whoever wins the special election will get little rest. That person will almost certainly have to defend the seat in the state’s June 23 primary and again in November’s general election. Parlato and Mychajliw have both pledged to run in the primary whether the party bosses select them for the special election or not. Parlato sees herself as a longshot in that decision.

This district has been ill-served for most of the past 11 years, with the resignations of two representatives – first Chris Lee, over a personal scandal, and then Collins, because of criminality. Oddly enough, its only brief stability occurred when a Democrat occupied the seat. But in a newly redrawn district in 2012, Collins defeated Kathy Hochul, now New York’s lieutenant governor.

That’s the other big concern that party chairmen should be considering. It’s not just who can best wave the party flag, but who will be a responsible, effective representative of a stressed district in a legislative chamber where Democrats dominate.

Stay tuned.

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