Weekly Feature



2018-01-31 / Local News

Five Collins challengers convene in forum

by BY TAYLOR NIGRELLI
Reporter

Local Democrats are gearing up for a fight this year with Rep. Chris Collins for New York’s 27th District congressional seat.

Five Democratic challengers convened for a candidate forum on Jan. 17 at the Lancaster Opera House. The event, part of the “Turn 27 Blue” initiative, was hosted by Lancaster Democrats and put on by Erie County Democrats. County Executive Mark Poloncarz was among those attending.

Getting a Democrat elected to represent the district — encompassing parts of eight counties in Western New York, including Erie — is difficult because of Collins’ financial advantage and the conservative nature of constituents, who elected Collins by a 35-point margin in 2016.

The five-person panel featured Sean Bunny, an Iraq War veteran and assistant district attorney for Erie County; Tom Casey, a retired environmental engineer; Nick Stankevich, a self-described entrepreneur; Joan Seamans, an Amherst businesswoman; and Grand Island Supervisor Nate Mc- Murray.

Collins, the district’s incumbent Republican representative, was criticized throughout the event. The candidates hit him on the recently passed Republican tax bill, his “stock tip” scandal, his praise of President Donald Trump and his refusal to host a town hall meeting with constituents.

“Our current elected official is fighting for wealthy corporations,” Stankevich said.

“My father always told me ‘when you see something wrong, you do something about it.’ Chris Collins is something wrong,” Bunny said.

But Collins was far from the only topic of the evening. After a brief introduction for each candidate, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner presented questions that were submitted by those in attendance. Each candidate was given one minute to answer each question. Topics ranged from why each candidate was running, to how he or she would raise money, to how each feels about individual pieces of legislation.

Bunny, who already has a labor endorsement from ATU Local 282, focused many of his answers on his military service. He said he plans to bring moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters to his side. He, as did other members of the panel, said he plans to support the Equality Act as an addition to the Civil Rights Act.

He said he would scrap the tax bill and support a solution that wouldn’t raise taxes on New Yorkers. Bunny also criticized Collins and the Trump administration for their lack of an infrastructure plan. He described himself as pro-choice and closed the night by talking about the necessity of reaching the youth vote.

Casey, who ran against incumbent Pat Gallivan in a state Senate race last year, was the only candidate who expressed issues with raising money. He focused on getting his message out to non-Democrats, as he believes both major parties have failed the electorate.

He described himself as a fiscal conservative but harshly criticized the tax bill. He said he favors restoring corporate taxes to their prior levels and is concerned about growing income inequality. While supporting a woman’s right to choose, as did the other candidates, Casey clarified that he thinks abortions should be legal only up to the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, with some exceptions. He also emphasized the importance of reaching the youth vote.

McMurray touted his victory in Grand Island as proof he can win in a traditionally red district. While affirming his support for the Equality Act, he mentioned that he was raised a Mormon and left the faith due to its view on LGBT rights.

He commented on his support for free college tuition, saying the cost has made it difficult for middle class students to pay for education, and he emphasized the need for improvements to local infrastructure. He also showed support for Planned Parenthood and for solutions to the opioid epidemic.

Seamans opened by discussing poverty in the district and pointed out that most do not have the financial advantages Collins has. She gave impassioned responses and received praise from the crowd while discussing women’s health issues, specifically when discussing the abuse women face and then later in talking about her pro-choice stance.

While discussing infrastructure, she talked of her support for renewable energy. She also talked about her experience in working with opioid addicts and the need for funding on that front. She said she would like to focus on what people have in common and “building an army” to defeat Collins.

Stankevich stated his support for single payer health care and debt-free college. He criticized the “horrible” economic policies that Collins has supported and railed against “trickle down economics.”

Since he currently works at a bed-and-breakfast in Mumford, New York, he touted his rural ties and his discussions with local farmers about issues pertinent to those communities.

He, as all candidates did, reinforced the importance of fighting for women’s rights, specifically mentioning the 2017 Women’s March he attended in Los Angeles. He closed by emphasizing the importance of bringing the Democrats back to being a party of the people.

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