On Friday January 17, former congressman Chris Collins was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison for his lying to the FBI and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. It is a fittingly ignominious end to a particularly nasty and petulant politician.
In advance of his sentencing, Collins and his lawyers asked friends and supporters to send letters to District Court Judge Vernon Broderick to advocate for a lenient sentence. Those letters were posted to PACER, the federal online filing system, as were many letters advocating for a harsh punishment. Most of them came from family, a few former colleagues, party hacks, and business partners. There weren’t that many. He was not well liked, and he didn’t need anyone.
Until suddenly, he did. If I’m being generous, the turnout on his behalf was middling.
Collins will be forever disgraced and a convicted felon. He has selfishly destroyed not only his own life, but that of his family and his son’s soon-to-be in-laws’. People who think that Collins’ greed and above-the-law attitude were a one-off are deluding themselves. This was a pattern for him, and got what he deserved. More significantly for our purposes, the Republican establishment in western New York supported him wholeheartedly in 2018 despite the overwhelming evidence against him, not to mention the federal indictment.
As a result of Collins’ lawlessness, there will be a special election held (probably) on Tuesday April 28th, the same day as the New York State Democratic primary. (Despite Republican hyperventilations, it makes sense to do this, because the various NY-27 Boards of Elections will already be mobilized to handle that race, so it is in the interests of the taxpayers to do this all at once.)
There will be a proper, regular election again held on Tuesday, November 3rd — so basically there will be a race all year.
Democrat Nate McMurray has sewn up the Democratic nomination, despite a brief challenge from newcomer Melodie Baker, (who subsequently had an intemperate airing of grievances on Twitter about her withdrawal). Query whether she will run again if McMurray’s effort proves unsuccessful in April.
The Republican race for NY-27, on the other hand, is crowded. Well, it was until the Republican chairs held a super-secret meeting in their rural lair to interview and choose their fighter. The major candidates are State Senator Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda, Fox commentator and lawyer Beth Parlato of Darien, State Senator Chris Jacobs of
Buffalo Orchard Park, and County Comptroller/bathroom aficionado Stefan Mychajliw of Buffalo Hamburg. Ortt and Parlato are right-wing ideologues. Jacobs and Mychajliw have found it temporarily convenient to mimic Ortt’s and Parlato’s sharp-elbowed, omniphobic, ultra-right, alt-lite positioning.
As political philosopher Cyndi Lauper once wrote, “money changes everything,” and so it was that the party bosses selected perennial Buffalo News endorsee Chris Jacobs to run for the special election. Jacobs is that sort of effete cosmopolitan country-club Republican the Trumpsters love to hate, so it should come as no surprise that the bosses’ decision brought with it some butthurt. Mychajliw especially went out of his way to denounce the backroom deal, invoking Jeb Bush and incoherently alleging that no one would have heard of reality game show host Donald Trump but for the 2016 primary.
I do not recall a time when the Republicans in western New York were so fractured and toxic. This is largely uncharted territory. Now that 2020 will be a year-long race, the Republican contest in NY-27 is going to be all about yelling loudly and punching down. All of them seem to think that they can ignore genuine problems and issues the voters in NY-27 feel and instead regorge Fox News/Breitbart talking points that are broad and shallow — they don’t really have any bearing on anyone’s real life, but they make people feel better about themselves whilst giving them someone weaker to blame or hate.
Each of them has one thing in common: to sell voters that he is the true way — the only obedient vassal to the master, King Donaeld the Unready.
Chris Jacobs — Ri¢hie Ri¢h
Jacobs — the Parkside scion of a prominent billionaire family — would have you think that he is all in for Trump. Among his first tweets — since conspicuously deleted — was this:
I can guarantee you that refugees and undocumented immigration on the Southern US border isn’t a big issue for people in NY-27. Hell, we have an actual border ourselves that’s only a few miles away, as opposed to the one that’s 1,000 miles away. The goal here should be to make the Canadian border easier for regular people to cross, and not harder. People in the area making up NY-27 have had poor or non-existent representation for far too long. People here have concerns about things like predatory lenders, employment, farm labor, and healthcare, but here’s the Buffalo developer feeding anti-immigrant pablum to the masses.
When Jacobs ran for Senate against Democrat Amber Small, he was continually asked about whether he supports Donald Trump, and he remained silent. Now? He pretends like he’s Trump’s biggest fan. This is sheer opportunism, but Jacobs has money, friends, and name recognition in the Buffalo media market, at least.
Beth Parlato — the Evangelist
What about Beth Parlato? When Jim Kelly and his wife aren’t stanning for their fellow Christian Central Academy parent and tagging Donald Trump in the tweet…
President @realdonaldtrump my wife, Jill and I are supporting @BethforCongress for our district #NY27— Jim Kelly (@JimKelly1212) January 19, 2020
Our daughters grew up together; we know her and trust her to stand for what matters most. She’s a strong conservative/republican we believe can win special elec 4/28.
…she has things like this to say:
“Our families are under attack. Christian values are mocked, drugs and dangerous illegal immigrants flow through our broken borders, late term abortion is protected, and our schools teach what’s politically correct instead of the truth. Will you help me fight back?”
People literally cannot afford the medication and healthcare that keeps them alive, but this person is going to solve these problems by launching a culture war. Chances are that Parlato, doing her best Betsy Devos impression, hasn’t set foot in a public school in decades, if ever. The only people “mocking Christian values” are the ultra-right holy rollers who think Christianity is about getting rich, and that Jesus was a gun totin’ pickup-drivin’ immigrant-hater. And that the rapture is around the corner. Parlato continues,
As an attorney, as a judge, as an activist and most importantly, as a mother, I have seen up close the harm that the liberal extremist agenda has caused here in Western New York.
And when our families are hurting, so is our nation.
I’m running to fight back against the enemies of freedom who glorify socialism and show disdain for America’s entrepreneurs.
I’m running to create a better and safer world for all of our children.
I’m running because there are stronger voices for women than Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
I’m an educated, conservative woman who can make a logical argument; which means the Left and the mainstream media is going to hate me. But, I won’t shy away from talking about the same values you talk about every night at the kitchen table.
What specifically has she seen in WNY that has fallen prey to some “liberal extremist agenda” — she doesn’t say because it is enough simply to say it. “Glorify socialism”. “Enemies of freedom.” “Liberal extremist agenda.” “Nancy Pelosi.” “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” Parlato’s campaign is all about division and scare-tactics, and this sort of Fox trash talk should be — and will be — rejected. But at least Parlato is sincere about her myriad fears and hatreds. Query how someone so concerned with “Christian values” can support a guy who adulterously fornicated with a porn star while his third wife was pregnant, and then paid her off, or the guy who said his status and wealth made it easy for him to “grab [women] by the pussy”. (See, e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:2, Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:3, Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9, Revelation 21:8, Proverbs 6:32, and Exodus 20:14).
Rob Ortt — the Maziarz/Wojtaszek Machine
Likewise, North Tonawanda’s Maziarz guy Rob Ortt is a true believer. I heard his radio spot on WBEN and noted firstly that he is going out of his way to explain away his corruption, and this:
Some people want to go to Washington and bring everybody to the table. I want to flip the table over.
That one line should be instantly disqualifying. Like his opponents, Ortt isn’t running to represent the people of the 27th district; he has a constituency of two: himself and Donald Trump.
Politics is bloodsport, but government is supposed to be about doing things that are in the best interests of one’s constituents. One can have strong positions about things, but in the end the art of politics is about compromise and inclusion — not, as Ortt suggests, violent, over-emotional exclusion. If that is his ethos, it is no wonder he has been so feckless and useless in Albany.
When you click on “issues” on Ortt’s website, the first line that greets you contains the word “Trump”. One of the bullet-pointed “issues” reads as follows:
Fight Back Against the “Hate America” Voices of the Extreme Left
Honestly, I almost feel sorry for Ortt and the people like him. They are so consumed with hatred and fear that they go out of their way to agitate against people who advocate for things like libraries, schools, and healthcare. These weak-minded people aren’t running against opponents, or for any ideas — they are merely running against the things they reckon their voters reflexively hate.
It is also important to be clear about something: what Ortt and his people did may not have been a crime, but it sure as hell was sleazy and corrupt.
Come to think of it, corrupt sleazery may exactly be why Ortt stans so hard for corrupt sleaze Trump.
Stefan Mychajliw — the Phony
Finally, we have young master Stefan Mychajliw, who did not have supporters available to launch his campaign with a rally. Instead, he posted an awkward video, replete with the same sort of divisive, hate-filled rhetoric as his rivals. Also like his opponents, Mychajliw is running for two people — himself and Trump. It is as if Trump and these people are one. To call it a cult would be insulting to most cults.
Like Ortt, Mychajliw’s first thought is of Trump:
SEND TRUMP AN ALLY: As President Trump fights to drain the swamp in Washington, he cannot do it alone. We need uncompromising conservatives to stand with him to Keep America Great by fighting for a secure border, fair trade policies, and economic solutions that continue record-setting results. Simply put, we cannot rely on self-dealing Albany moderates who only support President Trump when it’s politically convenient. We deserve a proven conservative we can trust — no matter when the next election is.
Mychajliw was once a Buffalo mensch. Since entering political life and becoming a career politician, he has successfully alienated everyone who used to matter in his life. He trades on his status as a first-generation American, (only half-true), while in the next breath heaping scorn and derision on refugees. Mychajliw targets Jacobs especially (Albany moderate) and ignores the Rev. Parlato and winger Ortt; Mychajliw isn’t a proven conservative, but a purely performative one. He has never had a truly competitive race for Comptroller, so it will be interesting to see how he fares over the summer, and just how low he’s willing to go. He is wholly unqualified for — and uninterested in - the job he has, and it shows. He has spent the last year traipsing across the farms and meadows of NY-27 and having his picture taken, all the while vocally supporting a person under felony indictment who has since resigned in disgrace.
Of Mychajliw, the Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney writes,
The growing body count at the two county jails says all that needs to be said about Tim Howard.
Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw says a lot of ugly things, takes campaign contributions from some very ugly people, and seems to be using his office more for political purposes than for protecting the interests of taxpayers.
Ditto for County Clerk Mickey Kearns, who seems intent on spending tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits aimed at demonizing undocumented immigrants.
I call the three of them the Bigot Brothers.
Kearns, Mychajliw, and Howard fit the mold of the Erie County Republican Party, which mimics the tone being set at the national level. Gone are the days when more moderate voices held sway. Now it’s the party of Carl Paladino, Michael Caputo, and the like. Which is to say: wingnuts.
The Bigot Brothers indeed.
And now that Mychajliw has formally announced what everyone’s known for a year — that he’s running for Congress — he will need to address the fact that he apparently used campaign funds from his state office treasury to pay for federal office expenses.
Even money an undeclared candidate for federal office raises and spends “testing the waters” — that is, laying the groundwork for a campaign, lining up support, conducting polls, etc. — must eventually be reported to the FEC, Svoboda told Investigative Post.
“You can defer filing if your fundraising and expenditures are solely for the purpose of testing the waters,” Svoboda said. “But your expenditures must eventually be disclosed if you run. And they must be solely be about the decision to run or not. They can’t manifest actual candidacy.”
“Testing the waters” means gauging support, not soliciting it. But Mychajliw appears to have spent money doing both — and well in excess of $5,000.
The fact that some of that money came from corporations — something not allowed in federal races — means that Mychajliw, the “swamp drainer” can’t even run this campaign in an uncorrupt fashion.
The people of NY-27 have been victimized by an unresponsive and predatory Republican for almost 10 years. Now four (maybe five if you count the late-coming Trump apparatchik no one’s heard of), candidates vie for approval from a President who is more the head of a crime syndicate than an administration. They each of them look to raise their profile in a region where the Republican Party has found itself with something of a weak bench.
The efforts of Ortt, Parlato, Mychajliw, and Jacobs to trip over each other in their fear-mongering veneration and worship of Trump and Trumpism leaves an opening for the Democrat Nate McMurray to simply say to the district voters: I will go to Washington and work for you, the people. You will be my bosses and no one else.
That is, after all and at long last, what this should be about.