An election year bereft of mandates offered the same stingy benefits to Chris Collins, who defeated incumbent Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul in the 27th Congressional District.
Whoever won that race would have done so with the slimmest of majorities, but in the state’s most conservative district, that would have counted as a remarkable achievement for Hochul. For Collins, the fact that many of his fellow conservatives voted for Hochul amounts to a warning.
A win is a win, of course, and Collins – defeated only a year ago for a second term as Erie County executive – will be going to Washington, where urgent work awaits. The deficit, Social Security, Medicare, immigration and many other difficult matters will require his attention.
Dealing effectively with those issues will require a degree of flexibility that has not been Collins’ public sector hallmark. His constituents have to hope that his razor-thin margin of victory, together with whatever lessons he may have learned from last year’s loss, will inform his approach to his new job. A little humility is in order.
It’s hard to be optimistic about that. Collins is hard-nosed and proud of it. He is a man on a mission. It’s a quality that works well in the private sector but which, unleavened by a sense of the nation’s political breadth, can serve country and constituents poorly. The zealotry of the failed tea party experiment should have made that clear.
During his endorsement interview with The News’ editorial board, Collins telegraphed the kind of congressman he intended to be. Declaring that he is not the type of person to avoid difficult issues by kicking the can down the road, he nonetheless said that he would do that very thing regarding the impending fiscal cliff if President Obama won re-election. There’s no hint there of a man who knows how to compromise.
Still, he won and it is possible that, instead of charging blindly ahead, he will take account of his failure to persuade an overwhelmingly Republican district to rally convincingly to his side. There will be clues, first and foremost, in what he says and does on the fiscal cliff.
Equally telling, and perhaps even more important to Western New Yorkers, is whether he can forge productive relationships with Democratic colleagues such as Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Louise Slaughter of Fairport. A lot can be accomplished through focused bipartisan effort. We’ll see soon enough if Collins is up to that.