The campaign of Republican Congressman Chris Collins has been accused of dirty tricks after a former Green Party candidate has been called out as a Republican stooge. If true, the real reason for the attempt may have been to fend off the threat of the conservative anti-Trump Reform Party candidate, Larry Piegza.
Michael Zak’s wife makes him a sandwich
Yesterday the Daily Beast reported the story that former Green Party candidate for the New York 27th Congressional District, Michael Zak, listed as his official contact one Ross Kostecky. Kostecky is a local Republican operative and interned for Collins’ 2009 campaign for Erie County executive.
The story is not new – Zak had previously been called out in smaller media outlets, and under pressure had declined the nomination in mid-April. But for two weeks the story had failed to break into the national media.
Following up on the allegations, the Daily Beast spoke to Chris Collins’ current campaign manager Chris Grant who said, “Of course I know Ross Kostecky. I’ve known him for years. He’s a good Republican.” Grant then continued, “As to why he did this, you’d have to ask him. Our campaign has absolutely nothing to do with [Michael Zak]. We don’t know this person.”
Very few people seem to know Michael Zak, it turns out. Besides sharing a name with a well-known environmentalist in the area (which may have been helpful when it came to getting petition signatures) information on Zak is very hard to come by.
Some extreme conservative views from a now-deleted Facebook page in the name of “Mike Zak” are possibly connected to the former candidate. During the 2017 Women’s Marches across the country, this “Mike Zak” posted, “All them women marching for equal rights and my wife stayed home to make me a sandwich.”
Green Party blames Chris Collins
With the story making the headlines again, the Green Party are claiming this modus operandi is typical of the local GOP.
Erie County Green Party chairman told the Daily Beast, “I have a hard time believing that someone in [Collins’s] campaign wasn’t aware of this. The local Republican leadership is aware of this; it’s part of their playbook.” Jones also named two previous candidates the Green Party have accused of being Republican plants.
The advantage of having a Green Party candidate for Chris Collins is clear: Green candidates attract progressive voters who might otherwise vote for a Democratic candidate. As the Green Party of New York has historically avoided “fusion voting” endorsements (which the Working Families Party and other New York 3rd parties rely on), the Green Party line can often go unfilled in many races.
But Chris Collins won his district by overwhelming margins in the last two races: by 34% in 2016 and over 40% in 2014. If the allegations of Michael Zak being a Green Party plant are true, why would the Collins campaign bother?
Is Chris Collins in trouble?
In October 2017 the House Ethics Committee found that Collins “may have violated House rules and standards of conduct” with regard to Innate Immunotherapeutics, a pharmaceutical firm he had bought 4 million additional shares in a year previously. This will be the first time Collins will be facing the electorate since that finding.
Collins has also associated himself strongly with President Trump, seconding the nomination of Trump at the GOP convention and serving on his transition team. This may solidify his standing among Republican activists, but also energize the campaigns of his Democratic opponent.
But the real reason Chris Collins may want a spoiler siphoning off votes from whoever his Democratic opponent is may be the threat he faces from a 3rd party candidate, Larry Piegza.
Like Collins, Piegza is a hardline conservative. He is pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and for lowering taxes. Unlike Collins, Piegza describes himself as “pro-Mueller,” indicating his support of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump.
Problematically for Collins, Piegza has gained the endorsement of the Reform Party of New York State (which despite the name is really the vehicle of Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, not the 3rd party founded by Ross Perot). The Reform Party has its own automatic ballot line thanks to its performance in the 2014 election, which means Larry Piegza will be on the November ballot no matter how well Chris Collins does in the Republican primary.
If a “blue wave” is building as many commentators are predicting, a scandal-plagued candidate like Collins may need all the votes he can get. Losing a few percentage points in the general election from “Never Trumpers” casting protest votes for Piegza is a plausible scenario. A friendly Green Party candidate could have been an attempt to neutralize this threat.