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August 10, 2018 - 3:22pm

For area GOP chairs, uncertainty hangs over NY-27 race after arrest of Chris Collins

posted by Howard B. Owens in County GOP, chris collins, NY-27, notify.

chriscollinsaug2018.jpgOn a personal level, the insider trading charges against Rep. Chris Collins are disappointing, said Richard Siebert, chairman of the Genesee County GOP, but it will be up to members of his committee to decide how local Republican leadership should respond to the allegations.

He said the executive committee will meet Aug. 20 to discuss their options, which would include everything from standing by there man or asking him to resign.

The case against Collins, Siebert conceded, looks pretty strong but he also believes that in this country, we support the rule of law and a person is innocent until proven guilty.

He understands, though, not all voters are going to see it that way and that could make it hard for Collins to get out in the district over the next three months and battle for re-election.

"It's a tough situation to campaign in with this hanging over your head," Siebert said. "The people in Genesee County are tough people and they don't like scandals and they don't like to feel betrayed so I wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now."

Ellen Grant, chair of the GOP in Wyoming County, said she is also waiting to see how things play out, with a similar belief in America's justice system but recognizing the case presented by federal prosecutors doesn't look good for the incumbent congressman.

"I was very surprised and very dismayed by the news," Grant said. "It seemed like a strong case that was put forth in New York City. I listened to the timelines they presented and the other information but I also understand people have an opportunity to rebut and refute and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty."

She understands, she said, that these charges were just filed and Collins has a lot on his plate but she was disappointed in his press conference in Buffalo on Wednesday. While he proclaimed his innocence, she noted, he provided no information that might convince constituents to believe him.

"I don't know when he might make any further statements beyond what he has said but I'm hopeful more information will come out to assure voters and the people in the party who are working for his re-election so he can continue to be our representative as a candidate and a congressman and do those jobs well."

As an elected official holding national office, Collins is in the public eye, she said, so "you have to prove your innocence instead of just proving you're not guilty to retain the public's confidence."

In Orleans County, GOP County Chair Ed Morgan said the future of the congressman is entirely up to him.

"My opinion, my stance is, we're in American and in America, you're innocent until proven guilty," Morgan said. "He's in the driver's seat. He can stay in the race if he wants. He is still our congressman and I will still back him and wait and take a deep breath and in a week (when his committee will meet) we'll see what our options are."

Morgan said he sees the legal issues faced by Collins as separate from his position and our congressional representative.

"This is not a congressional issue," Morgan said. "It's more of a legal issue. I think he's done a great job for the area and I think he would continue to do a great job. I'll keep an open mind. Our county is one of the smaller ones but one of the more heavily Republican ones."

The only other GOP county chair The Batavian tried to reach is Nick Langworthy from Erie County. We have placed calls yesterday and today and sent him a text message and have gotten no response.

Morgan also questioned the timing of the charges, just three months before an election, and wondered if they might be politically motivated (for the record, the prosecutor in the case is a Trump appointee) but Dick Siebert had a different take on the timing of events.

He wonders why Collins didn't alert the county chairs sooner about the pending investigation. The allegations stem from June 2017, months before Collins asked local party members to start passing around petitions for his candidacy (though it's hard to know when Collins became aware of the federal criminal investigation, he certainly knew as far back as April 25 and the news of his arrest caught everybody by surprise).

"If we had known before," Siebert said, "It would have given Chris a chance to explain himself before we decided whether to endorse him."

As for Siebert's own take on the allegations, he's been pretty unhappy since the news came out, he said.

"Right now from everything I've seen of the evidence, and what I watched of the proceeding when the charges were filed, there is no doubt about it, it's very disturbing," Siebert said. "It's very damning. This is not what you expect from a congressman or any elected official for that matter. In Genesee County, I'm proud of all the people we've helped get into office. We run clean campaigns. We've had no scandals in Genesee County in my 44 years and so I'm disappointed in our congressman."

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