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With Collins seat now empty, what's next for NY-27?

Mark Tenally / AP

The House of Representatives on Tuesday morning formally accepted the resignation of Chris Collins. Now that his political career has come to an end, what is next for the Clarence Republican and the 27th congressional district? Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Bruce has been following the Collins case and believes federal prosecutors have a strong case against Collins on inside-trading charges.

"I think he's going to jail," Bruce said. "What he didn't lose in this case is somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,00-$800,000 between the three of them and there were a bunch of others that were involved and all of the money that those people tried to save will be swept into the calculator of whatever his sentence may be."

Collins' son and his son's future father-in-law were also indicted in the case. Bruce believes prosecutors were prepared to use the two co-defendents to get Collins.

"The U.S. Attorney down there was going to sever the son and the future father-in-law from Chris Collins and go to trial against him, I guess early next year. I think that brought some pressure," said Bruce. "They may have said, we're going to try these two and if they're convicted, we're gonna come back and use them as witnesses against you."

Since his indictment, Collins has claimed his innocence on the charges. However, on Tuesday, he is expected to plead guilty in federal court in Manhattan.

Bruce believes Collins will be sentenced to prison time and that he and his co-defendants will pay hundreds of thousand of dollars in fines.

"Chris Collins, like you, like me, is not above the law. He got caught and now he's gonna pay the price," he said, "and I think that's the way it should work with everybody in fact commits a crime and when there's great, substantial proof that the person did it."

With the congressional seat now vacant, who will represent the district's mostly rural, conservative constituents?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, now has the decision on calling a special election or leaving the seat open until Jan. 1, 2021, although there was a downstate case where a federal judge ordered the governor to call a special election.

The governor's office has not returned calls asking about a special election, which would probably be next year.

There are a lot of Republicans eager to win the nomination to run in the most Republican congressional district in New York. University at Buffalo Political Science Professor Jacob Nieheisel said an election would likely mean the 27th stays Republican.

"I really don't think a Democrat can win in that district. If a Democrat can't win running against someone under federal indictment for insider trading, I really don't know a Democrat who can win against any fresh candidate who doesn't have that kind of baggage," Nieheisel said. "Nate McMurray did, I think, a decent job of trying to play to the middle, at least during the campaign."

Now Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, won a surprise upset in the district in 2011, but lost to Collins upon re-election. McMurray is expected to take another run at the seat if it goes on a ballot. The Democrat narrowly lost to Collins in the 2018 race and will publicly address recent developments during a press conference on Tuesday. 

Erie County Democratic Chairman and Democratic County Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner said beyond deciding to run for the seat, there is a possibility of having to run twice more next year.

"If there is a special election, that would be just to fill the remainder of the term," Zellner said. "There will still be a primary next year for the congressional race and there will still be a general. So anyone seeking to run can run in that fashion, as well."

Nieheisel said a special election would be "unbelievably expensive," as varied political groups across the district's eight counties fight to keep the seat red or turn it blue.

"I think you're going to see a lot of outside money, not necessarily from groups, but I believe from sort of superpac bundlers that we saw kind of crop up in 2018," he said. "Act Blue was one of them on the Democratic side and I'm sure Republicans have learned how to do the same kind of thing by now. So I imagine you are going to see quite a bit of outside money going on."

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has not officially announced his candidacy, but continues to indicate his desire t0 run for the seat. Medal of Honor winner David Bellavia previously ran for the seat and is considered by many as a formidable possible candidate, but he has consistently rebuffed questions about his interest.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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