What makes a man think he can waltz into Washington and orchestrate a better tune from Congress?
Experience leading transformations in both the private and public sectors, asserts Chris Collins.
The front runner for the Republican nomination in this year’s 27th District congressional contest, Collins says that what the United States most needs is leadership that works from shared “core values.” Identifying them in the businesses he’s operated, and the Erie County government that he recently led, was the key to creating positive change in both arenas, he said.
“How do we tackle the issues? Let’s have a debate, understanding we’re all guided by the same core values: smaller government, personal accountability, local decision-making, fiscal discipline, government that serves taxpayers, and respecting future generations, (by) upholding the promise of the American dream for our grandchildren,” Collins said. “When core values are the underpinning of the discussion, it really takes the angst, and the anger, and the partisanship out of the discussion, and you get down to problem solving. That’s what we need in Congress.”
In one four-year term as County Executive, Collins said he helped reverse Erie County’s debt-saddled, cash-poor condition by cultivating a majority coalition of legislators, five Democrats and three Republicans, who backed his moves to streamline and slim county government.
When he was elected in 2007, Erie County was awash in debt and answering to a state-imposed fiscal control board. By 2011 when Collins’ term ended, the county had shed the control board, along with $120 million in debt and 1,200 employees or 22 percent of the pre-Collins county payroll. Collins points out that roads, bridges, beaches and parks that had been closed were now reopened for public use; administration had “held the line on taxes;” and the county was sitting on fund balance of $100 million-plus.
Referring to the legislative majority caucus that backed his administration’s cost-cutting efforts, Collins said, “People were astounded at what we were able to achieve. I’ve got a proven record of dealing with legislatures in a respectful way. ... I can bring a different format and a problem-solving attitude (to Congress) that I actually think people are looking for.”
When Collins lost the county executive post to Mark Poloncarz, a Democrat and county comptroller, pundits attributed the loss at least partly to Collins’ stand against county tax funding for arts organizations and public libraries; of the latter, he embraced special districts financed by a library tax, rather than county property tax, and wound up accused of opposing books and knowledge.
While he was cutting spending and jobs like a disciplined CEO, Collins was dogged by publicity of behaviors that suggest he lacks personal discipline: Butting in ahead of veterans in the parade line at the Village of Lancaster’s 2011 Independence Day parade; comparing state Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver, an Orthodox Jew, to Adolf Hitler and the anti-Christ in a speech; allegedly suggesting to a woman who was trying to find a seat in state Assembly chambers, during then-Gov. Paterson’s 2009 State of the Union address, that she’d have no trouble if she offered someone a lap dance. The online Buffalo Record posted photos of Collins parking in a handicap spot ahead of Akron’s 2011 Fourth of July parade; the accompanying text observed he “seem(ed) able bodied” and other non-handicap spots were available nearby.
Collins For Congress committee member William L. Ross, chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, acknowledges Collins could use more “people touch” but says he’s on board with the campaign because of Collins’ record turning businesses, and Erie County, around.
Collins founded Nuttall Gear Corporation in Niagara Falls in 1983, in a leveraged buyout of the Westinghouse Electric Gear Division in Buffalo; he sold the manufacturing business in 1997 and today it’s operated by Alta Industrial Motion Inc., still in Niagara Falls. Presently Collins co-owns Audubon Machinery Corporation, a manufacturer of oxygen machinery, solar panels and micro wind turbines headquartered in North Tonawanda; and seven other industrial/manufacturing companies in Erie and Monroe counties.
Collins “gets” the role of manufacturing in the local economy, and his work as a county executive “put Erie County in a good fiscal position,” Ross said. “His record is very, very solid.”
In disclosure reporting required of all House candidates, Collins estimated his 2012 income will range between $345,000 and $3 million, and current assets are worth between $25 million and $112 million. His latest campaign finance report to the Federal Election Commission shows that, through June 6, Collins For Congress raised $255,750 — all but $5,750 of it personal loans from Collins — and spent $79,600.
Primary Election day for federal offices is Tuesday. Collins’ competitors for the Republican line in the 27th District Nyew York/U.S. House race is David G. Bellavia of Batavia.
The newly reapportioned district covers all of Niagara County except the cities of Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda; all of Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston counties; large swaths of Erie and Ontario counties; and several border towns in Monroe County.