Chris Collins pleads guilty: Now what happens to his congressional district?


ALBANY – Rep. Chris Collins’ resignation became official when it was read into the record on the House of Representatives floor Tuesday morning.

But the jostling to replace Collins, R-Clarence, Erie County, started months ago, long before he decided to step down and plead guilty later Tuesday to insider-trading charges.

Three Republicans and one Democrat had already announced their plans to challenge Collins prior to his resignation, and a handful of others are believed to be considering a run.

For now, they have to wait: A date for a special election to fill out Collins’ term, which runs through 2020, has not yet been set.

Here’s what to know about what happens next:

In general, New York’s 27th congressional district includes the rural and suburban areas surrounding Buffalo and Rochester.

More specifically, it includes all of four counties — Livingston, Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans — and parts of four others (Monroe, Orleans, Erie and Niagara).

So far, three Republicans have declared their candidacy for the race:

  • Beth Parlato, an attorney and former Darien town justice
  • State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, Niagara County
  • State Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo

Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Collins’ last year, is running for his party’s nod.

There almost certainly will be more.

One name to watch is David Bellavia of Batavia, the Army veteran who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor by President Donald Trump for his work in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Bellavia, a Republican, had unsuccessfully challenged Collins for their party’s nod in 2012.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, had also expressed interest in running last year, when Collins briefly said he wouldn’t actively run before changing course.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul — a former congresswoman whom Collins defeated in 2012 — has ruled out a run.

When will the special election be held?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, will choose when to call a special election for New York’s 27th congressional district. (Photo: Hans Pennink, AP)

It’s up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to decide.

State law and court precedent requires Cuomo to call a special election to fill the vacancy because it happened before July 1 of the final year of the term.

In previous cases, Cuomo has often lined up special elections with Election Day so voters don’t have to go to the polls twice.

But Collins’ resignation came too close to this year’s general election because, by law, Cuomo has to give 70 to 80 days notice.

So instead, Cuomo will likely look to the next year’s presidential primary (April 28) or congressional primary (June 23) for the special election.

Cuomo said Tuesday he is likely to call the special election soon.

Who will pick the party’s candidates?

The party bosses — not voters.

For a normal election, voters who belong to a political party select their party’s candidate in a primary election.

That’s not the case in a special election.

Party officials from each county within the district will decide on a candidate using a weighted system, with the counties with more party voters getting more say.

From there, the selected candidates will face off in the special election.

The seat will be up for grabs for a full, two-year term in November 2020, with the winner’s term starting January 2021. The primary for that race will be held June 23.

Which party has an edge?

Definitely Republicans. It’s a very conservative district.

Since the seat took on its current configuration in 2012, Collins has easily won election every two years with the exception of last year, when he narrowly defeated McMurray while under federal indictment.

It is the most Republican-heavy district in New York state.

As of February, the district’s active voters included:

  • 185,230 Republicans
  • 145,280 Democrats
  • 100,128 independents
  • 43,842 third-party members

Trump won the district by 24 percentage points in 2016.