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Gulf War veteran from Lockport challenging Collins in 1st run for political office

Empire State Development Corporation

Democrat Erin Cole does not consider herself a political person, but has been on a career track to run for political office for quite some time. The 46-year-old said the timing is now right for a run, and she intends to take on Clarence Republican Chris Collins.

“It is absolutely my first,” said Cole. “I have never done anything like this before. If you look at my background and the strengths that I have… the expertise that I have, it’s all at the national level. It’s national security, it’s immigration, it’s trade, it’s economic development. Those are all national level issues. They all affect things at the local level for sure, but you wouldn’t be able to impact any of those things at the local level."

She is the first Democrat to publicly announce her campaign. Cole said Collins' connection to Trump should be bringing more results to the district he represents.

“Since he really has the ear of the President, then why isn’t he bringing any of that benefit home? He’s benefiting himself,” said Cole. “He’s going to benefit his campaign account, but how is he benefiting the people in the 27th District with that sort of access to the President? That isn’t coming home at all. That’s for him personally to build up his campaign account.”

Cole criticizes Collins' choice to not have any town hall-style meetings. With that being said, she’s not running because of him.

“It literally has nothing to do with Chris Collins and more to do with the fact that I have been serving our country for almost 30 years now,” said Cole. “For me, it’s just a natural progression. I actually have first-hand experience with many of the issues that are relevant. Everything from veterans issues to immigration issues… trade, manufacturing, and exporting… That’s really been the bread and butter for what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years.”

A West Seneca native, Cole has a long resume that includes work with the Empire State Development Corporation to help international companies grow. She touts her ability to work with Democrats and Republicans alike through her experience at the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In the Finger Lakes, she helped companies expand their international sales as head of the U.S. Export Assistance Center.

However, it was straight out of high school that she enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving eight years that included combat. Once discharged, she suffered symptoms related to Gulf War syndrome and was directed to contact the Buffalo Veterans Administration for follow-up health care. Frustrated with the care she received, Cole co-founded the Veterans for Common Sense advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. and plans to fight for better veteran health benefits if elected to Congress.

“Here I am, 21 years old, a combat veteran and a woman," Cole recalled her experience in 1992. "I show up at the Buffalo VA and they are like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’ They were not used to working with women at that point in time or female veterans. They literally didn’t have changing facilities for women.”

Cole says she was initially turned down by the VA, but came back and "didn't take 'no' for an answer."

Cole said she has set up a website and is currently in the process of establishing her campaign staff and other organizational infrastructure. Other Democrats are expected to run for the 27th District seat.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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