As Bellavia joins Hall of Heroes, will halls of Congress beckon?

THE BUFFALO NEWS | JUNE 26, 2019

WASHINGTON – Iraq War veteran David Bellavia took his place on the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, political leaders in his native Buffalo wondered if Bellavia will ever allow voters to send him to the halls of Congress.

A day after President Trump draped the Medal of Honor around Bellavia’s neck, his Army heroism won a place on the Pentagon wall where generations of heroes are honored.

And while Buffalo-area Republicans said he would be a strong congressional candidate, Bellavia expressed concerns about entering politics – and even about returning to the WBEN talk show he co-hosts with Tom Bauerle.

Bellavia’s official Army commitments will be finished as of July 7, but he said he wants to work on behalf of the Army for some time beyond that. He indicated that honoring the medal he just received – and serving the next generation of soldiers – are far more important than any political office or radio show.

“I think it’s the best thing in the world to be able to go to cities and talk to young people and give them opportunities to better themselves and better their community and their country through the Army,” he said in an interview. “I think that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Still, when asked for the second time in three days if he would rule out a run for Congress, he again refused to do so.

“In the short term, as long as I’m still here with the Army, I’m not a candidate for anything,” he said.

Bellavia – who ran for the Republican congressional nomination in New York’s 27th District in 2012, only to lose to now-Rep. Chris Collins – elaborated on his mixed feelings about politics two days earlier.

“Why are we running?” said Bellavia, who lives in Albion, in the 27th District. “Are we running because we want a Wikipedia page, and we have some ambition? I have no interest to be a congressman for anything other than I want to serve. And that’s it. But I don’t feel compelled as a Medal of Honor recipient, to be able to say: this is a commercial – vote for me. I mean, nothing’s changed other than the award.”

One thing that has changed, though, is Collins’ status. He is under felony indictment, charged with insider trading, and scheduled to go on trial next February.

Collins won re-election despite the indictment, once, and hasn’t ruled out running again. Bellavia has forged close ties to Collins over the years, which may make him reluctant to take on the four-term Clarence Republican.

State Sen. Chris Jacobs, of Buffalo, has already jumped into the race, holding a fundraiser in East Aurora last Friday.

But the race would change completely if Bellavia were to run, said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, who has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

“If he decides to get into the political arena he will certainly be a game-changer,” said Langworthy, set to become the Republican state chairman next week. “But he has to decide. He’s got to follow his heart. But he is certainly in a different category if he decides to do so.”

Bellavia didn’t sound anything like a candidate in the 15-minute speech he made upon joining the Hall of Heroes.

Instead, he sounded like an extremely grateful soldier, thanking all the men he served with in Iraq, living and dead, name by name, from his commanding officers to his drivers to his interpreter.

This plaque honoring Buffalo native David Bellavia took its place in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes on Wednesday. (Jerry Zremski/Buffalo News)

He tried to explain, too, why the nation sometimes must go to war.

“We fight for the one day when our children and our enemy’s children can discuss their differences without fear or loathing,” Bellavia said. “We fight so that anyone out there thinking about raising arms against our citizens or our allies will realize the futility of attrition against a disciplined, professional and lethal force built to withstand anything you can dream of throwing at us.”

On Wednesday, Bellavia expressed concerns about rejoining WBEN’s show.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Bellavia said. “This award is not to be tarnished, and it’s not a Republican, it’s not a Democrat award. And I don’t want to ever say something and it’s interpreted as if it’s the Medal of Honor speaking or veterans are speaking or other people are speaking. I don’t believe I have the right to give my opinion anymore.”

Not surprisingly, the brash Bauerle has some strong, contrary thoughts on Bellavia’s future.

“I think politics is a dirty, filthy business and I certainly hope that David does not besmirch himself by entering into the waters of politics,” Bauerle said, on his show Wednesday. “I think he should do something else other than politics – like, oh, I don’t know, maybe this radio show would be a good idea.”