Buffalo-area Republicans pick candidate for Higgins seat special election

West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson will be the Republican candidate in an April special election to replace Brian Higgins in Congress.

Feb 22, 2024 - 08:07
Buffalo-area Republicans pick candidate for Higgins seat special election

ALBANY, N.Y. — Western New York Republican officials have picked West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson to be their nominee in an April 30 special election for an open congressional seat.

Dickson will face off against Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy. The winner will finish off the term started by Democrat Brian Higgins, who left the 26th Congressional District seat earlier this month.

The seat’s math is very favorable for Kennedy, but not so much that it’s a guaranteed lock in a special election with unpredictable turnout. District resident Kathy Hochul received 57 percent of the vote within its borders in her successful 2022 gubernatorial campaign.

“We certainly all recognize that this is a difficult seat,” said Erie County GOP Chair Michael Kracker. It’s the state’s “bluest seat outside of New York City,” he noted.

But Dickson “has proven that he can win in blue territory with a message of delivering for taxpayers,” Kracker said.

Dickson, a retired FBI agent, became the first Republican to be elected supervisor of the 46,000-resident town of West Seneca in half a century in 2019. He won a second term with nearly 60 percent of the vote last year.

South Buffalo’s Kennedy has been a state senator since 2011. He began campaigning immediately after Higgins announced in November that he’d soon be ending his 19-year career in Congress to become CEO of Buffalo’s Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

The Democratic field was initially poised to be a crowded one, but Kennedy quickly rallied support and serious contenders like Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz declined to run.

“The Erie County Democratic Party and the Niagara County Democratic Party unanimously endorsed my campaign,” Kennedy said in an interview earlier this month. “I’m excited about the opportunity to go serve the people of Western New York.”

Kennedy has spent years as one of the top fundraisers in New York politics. He raised $745,000 in the first six weeks after he entered the race in November.

Republicans aren’t “expecting to compete dollar-to-dollar” with “Kennedy’s money machine,” Kracker said.

But, he said there will be “singular media attention on this race” in an atypical late April vote. That should help the GOP “get our message out locally,” Kracker said.

Former Grand Island supervisor Nate McMurray, the Democratic nominee in a neighboring seat on two occasions in the past decade, has been exploring an independent bid for the special election as well as a Democratic primary challenge against Kennedy for the party’s nod in November.