A Collins catastrophe

On November 8, 2012

Chris Collins is headed to Washington.

That might be the most terrifying sentence I've ever read. And as UB students living within the 27th Congressional District, you should feel the same. 

Republican Chris Collins, after pretty much committing political career suicide during last year's Erie County Executive race, has come back to narrowly beat incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul for a spot in Congress.

The margin differed by less than 2 percent; Collins gained 50.8 percent of votes to Hochul's 49.2. And in a blue county that gave its popular vote to Barack Obama in the presidential race (yes, you read that right. Erie County gave 56.9 percent of its votes to Obama and 41.3 percent to Mitt Romney, according to a Politico map), this is absolutely shocking.

Hochul became the Democrat incumbent in arguably the most Republican district in New York State - 40 percent Republican to 32 percent Democrat, according to The Buffalo News - after federal redistricting earlier this year.

Hochul, who moved from Hamburg to Amherst before the redistricting, soon found herself sharing the 26th district with incumbent Democrat Brian Higgins, and she once again relocated to the 27th - a district that voted in her favor last November - in order to better her chances at securing a public office spot yet again.

Despite being located in a more conservative region, Hochul was confident she would be able to sway voters. The race remained close until the final count, and many pre-Election Day polls had Collins just barely ahead.

At the time I left The Spectrum office in the early Wednesday morning hours, it was only projected that Collins would take the victory. Despite the supposed lead, I was sure I'd wake up to a Hochul victory. I was sure the district's voters would remember Collins' shortcomings and scandals and sway to a more moderate candidate.

After narrowly losing to Democrat Mark Poloncarz during last year's Erie County Executive race, Collins granted an exit interview to The Buffalo News' Bob McCarthy, a political reporter who predicted Collins would win in a landslide. McCarthy wrote, "How did a county executive who fulfilled all his promises with minimal effects on taxes and no scandals manage to lose?"

That is hardly the case. Or are voters' memories just too short?

Collins ran under the slogan: "Three Rs - Reforming Erie County government, Rebuilding the local economy, and ultimately, Reducing taxes."

He didn't reform county government and instead routinely blocked reforms. He did not rebuild the local economy, and he raised taxes - all while serving as our county executive.

In Oct. 2009, Collins compared Shelly Silver, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly who happens to be an Orthodox Jew, to Hitler and referred to him as the "anti-Christ." He apologized for the gaffe, but it's still hard to ignore such a seemingly intentional "slip-up."

Just this past June, Collins was accused of ripping off Buffalo investors, as reported by local newsweekly Artvoice. Whether or not this is true is beside the point; the real issue is that Collins used his then-office as county executive, located in the Erie County-owned (read: taxpayer-owned) Rath Building downtown, as a meeting place. Conducting private business in a public-owned space is unethical and can be illegal.

 In 2010, he cut funding for childcare subsidies for working-poor families, and he was only going to give families 10 days to find alternative care before the assistance ran out. He also wanted to cut health clinics and nutrition clinics for at-risk women, infants and children, forcing many families to go back on welfare.

Collins fought against the United States Justice Department when it began probing the Erie County jail facilities for violations of prisoners' rights back in Nov. 2007. Basically, the facility workers were mistreating inmates - whether it was beating or raping them and driving many to commit suicide - making Erie County's jails the worst in New York State. Collins and his cronies refused to let the Justice Department in the facilities, stating the allegations of abuse were simply untrue.

Collins is wealthy, and he knows it; he has repeatedly shown his arrogant side to the public.

"My federal return is probably 25 pages long," Collins said of his tax returns, insisting his wealth is immense. "It's too much for the public to absorb."

And who could forget when the UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE) gave $2,500 through the UB Foundation to Collins' campaign last October? TCIE is a non-profit and because of that designation, the donation is illegal. TCIE also had a history with Collins and installed the "Lean Six Sigma" business strategy into his administration. Collins' administration gave the center $449,250.10 over two years for its services.

All these gaffes and scandals are just a small sampling of what Collins has done in his political career.

Do we really want him representing our district in the House? Or are we too wrapped up in the presidential election to pay attention to our local and state governments?


Email: rebecca.bratek@ubspectrum.com

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