By Jack Shafer
The third-term congressman announced the decision Saturday morning on Twitter, just days after he vowed to clear his name and remain on the ballot.
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Collins is facing multiple counts of securities fraud, as well as charges of wire fraud and lying to investigators. His son and another associate were charged in the scheme as well.
Federal prosecutors allege Collins — who sits on the board of an Australian pharmaceutical company — shared non-public details about the failure of a multiple sclerosis drug in clinical trials. Using that information, Collins’ family members were able to sell off shares and avoid more than $760,000 in losses, prosecutors say.
Collins, the first member of congress to endorse President Donald Trump in 2016, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Under New York law, Collins’ name can be supplanted on the ballot at this stage of the cycle only if he dies, moves out of state or is nominated for another office — like a local judgeship. According to Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, the exact mechanisms are still being worked out, but he noted Collins owns houses in Florida and Washington, D.C.
“At this point, he has decided it’s a distraction focusing on his legal situation,” Langworthy said. "It was a distraction for us trying to retain the seat as conservative and Republican leadership. So, I think it was the best decision given the circumstances, and I wish him and his family the best.”
Republican leaders from each of the eight counties in the 27th District — which covers rural areas as well as suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester — will meet to select a replacement candidate, Langworthy said. There are more than 40,000 active Republicans than Democrats in the district, which went for Donald Trump by 24 points in 2016.
"I respect Chris Collins' decision to step down while he faces these serious allegations. As I've said before, Congress must hold ourselves to the highest possible standard," said Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the NRCC.
Democrats including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, had called on Collins to step down.
Nate McMurray, the supervisor of Grand Island, is the Democratic candidate. He had struggled to raise funds, but his campaign has seen a surge of interest since Collins was charged.
Republicans in the district were hardly enthused about Collins’ initial plan to stay on the ballot, and several potential replacement candidates began quickly gauging support. In the mix are State Sen. Pat Gallivan, a former Erie County sheriff, Assemblyman David DiPietro and David Bellavia, a talk radio host and Iraq War veteran who has run for Congress before.
“In a matter where the Republican incumbent is going to lose a race because of criminal allegations of this nature, integrity is a key requirement in the candidate model for his replacement,” said Michael Caputo, a GOP political consultant and former Trump campaign aide who lives in the district. "And New York 27 is blessed: we have a man of deep faith in David DiPietro, a former sheriff in Pat Gallivan and a Medal of honor nominee in David Bellavia.”
McMurray said he would like to see Collins resign his seat outright, and faulted GOP leaders who are about to select a new candidate for sticking by Collins — whose relationship with Innate Immunotherapeutics was the subject of House ethics inquiries long before criminal charges were filed.
“It helps Western New York because we won’t have someone like that who will embarrass us in Congress again,” McMurray said. "It would have been a travesty for him to go forward with his campaign. I don’t know who they’re going to run, but we’re going to win anyway.”
Jake Sherman contributed to this report