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Education & health care policy expert Melodie Baker announces for NY-27

Mike Desmond

There are many candidates and no official Election Day set to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Chris Collins. A political newcomer threw her hat into the ring Monday in the closely-watched content.

Melodie Baker is seeking the Democratic nod for the seat, joining Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray in the Democratic field.

McMurray lost a close race to Collins last year. Baker lives in Collins' former congressional district, while McMurray doesn't.

Baker is an education and health care policy expert whose husband is a middle school principal in the district. She told supporters this is a nation that needs healing, but that isn't happening and she wants to help change that.

During her campaign kickoff Monday at Clarence Town Park, she offered many of the traditional Democratic pitches: affordable health care, jobs, protecting Social Security and strengthening education. Baker said there should be Medicare for all, coverage for pre-existing conditions and something should be done about drug prices.

"Just the other day at the Thanksgiving table, my dad shared a story about one of our uncles who requires four pills a month, but his insurance carrier will only pay for one," she said. "He has to make the decision whether he's going to pay for his mortgage, the high premium cost of health care or for his prescription drugs."

Baker said her family came here from Texas when she was a kid and she used education to build a career and a life, after a third-grade teacher helped her to finally learn to read and put her on the path to success.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Baker said as a Black Democrat in a heavily Republican, rural and conservative congressional district, she looks to another Black woman who won a heavily Republican seat in Georgia, Lucy McBath.

"An African American woman who was in a very similar district, the 8th District in Georgia, and her opponent, which was an opponent that looked more traditionally like a heavily Republican opponent, who lost a victory a year before extremely narrowly, and it took someone who did not traditionally look like the district to bring the district together."

All of the Democratic county chairs in the 27th District except for Erie County are backing McMurray. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner said his party has not made a decision yet. Erie County has about half of the weighted votes in making an endorsement in the district.

"Right now, Nate McMurray's in the driver's seat," said Zellner. "He's got the support of every one of the outlying county chairs and he's doing a good job with our town leaders and our rank and file members, and if the nomination were called for today or the special election was called, he'd have this thing wrapped up. At this point, though, anything's possible between now and the time the governor calls the special."

Everyone expects that to be on presidential primary election day April 26, 2020. The governor has said it is simpler and cheaper to have the 27th congressional vote on a day when all of the machinery of politics is already in place. That primary is expected to lead to a big turnout in the 27th, as Republicans turn out to vote for President Trump.

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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