In a seismic political event, the shock waves of which were felt around the nation, our once-powerful local Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds announced last week that he will not be seeking re-election. As a certified political junkie, I have been watching the coverage of the scramble to find a replacement candidate, and although I do not have any inside information, here are a few of my educated guesses about what’s been going on.
First, why did Tom quit? Tom had been dogged by negative press in 2006 in the wake of allegations that he was involved in covering up the Foley scandal. Although he managed to narrowly win against eccentric industrialist Jack Davis, that election was a disaster for Republicans in general, as they lost control of the House.
The prospects for regaining a majority this year, with an unpopular war dragging into its sixth year and a record number of Republican retirements, look dim. Tom was also in danger of being tarnished by the investigation of missing funds from the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee that he headed through the 2006 disaster. Apparently a long-time employee that Tom promoted from within embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars (or maybe more!)
Although there is no implication that Tom knew, it doesn’t reflect well on his management of the organization. Even worse news, however, is that the NRCCC is practically broke. Apparently it is not as easy to raise money when you are in the minority, and with the country apparently headed into a recession, pocketbooks are tight.
Tom was actively raising money for re-election and reportedly had amassed a cool $1 million, but he may have realized that it was going to be difficult to raise the rest of the $5 million that he needed to win in 2006. On top of that, Democrat Jon Powers, an aggressive young Iraq War veteran, was starting to gain traction to challenge him. Tom probably took a hard look at his chances and decided to go out a winner.
What has happened on the Republican side in the week since has been fascinating. First, three incumbent state legislators whose districts are included in the sprawling 26th, all initially declared interest and then backed away from the race. Sen. George Maziarz of Niagara County, Assemblyman James Hayes of Erie County and our own Assemblyman Dan Burling all decided that they had important business that they wanted to stay with in Albany.
I had personally urged my friend Dan to make the race. As a Vietnam veteran of the Marine Corp and with soaring popularity in his own district, I thought he would be an ideal candidate to counter Powers. Dan took a hard look at it, and for reasons that I am not quite sure of, decided to stay where he was.
I suspect that, although there may have been personal factors, two of the major reasons were geography and again, money. Although the rural GLOW counties of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming make up close to 30 per cent of the district, the seat is generally considered to be a Buffalo (Erie County) seat, even though it sprawls into the western half of Monroe County for another 20 per cent.
This will also be a problem for the last remaining incumbent legislator who has expressed interest, Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia. The feeling is that Erie County Republicans will not tolerate a candidate from anywhere east of the Buffalo suburbs.
This could also be a stumbling block for Iraq War hero David Bellavia of Batavia. Bellavia has a compelling personal story of his valor in fighting “House to House” (the title of his book) in Falluja. He received a Bronze Star and was nominated for a Medal of Honor. That’s a pretty good start, but his political experience is nil.
That lack of political know-how was demonstrated last night when it was announced on WHEC TV-10 in Rochester, where his wife Deanna King is a reporter, that he would be a candidate. The report said that he would be coming back to town soon to “file papers” in the race, and that next month he would be meeting with John McCain.
First of all, the only papers he would need to file to get into this race are nominating petitions with 1,250 signatures in July, and in the mean time, he might better spend his time talking to the seven county GOP Chairman and other Republicans who actually vote in the district.
Although new names (including former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly) keep getting thrown into the hopper, there is one Erie County candidate who appears to have the inside track. Buffalo attorney Michael Powers is also vice-chair of the Erie County Republican Committee.
As a partner in the powerful Phillips Lytle law firm and with a resume that bespeaks fundraising prowess, Powers looks like a tough competitor. Could we be looking at a Powers vs. Powers showdown in the fall? Not so fast!
Although Jon Powers had racked up four county endorsements, all bets are now officially off on the Democratic nomination, as Reynold’s withdrawal has scrambled the other side of the race as well. Jack Davis is reportedly willing to commit another $3 million of his own money if he decides to make a third attempt at the office, and Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul may be tempted into the race.
It looks like the Democrats may be headed for a divisive primary in September, something Republicans traditionally try to avoid. This year, as has already been indicated by events in the last week, however, things may well be different. Stay tuned!