Rep. Brian Higgins (D)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Oct. 6, 1959, Buffalo .
Education: S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, B.A. 1984, M.A. 1985, Harvard U. M.P.A. 1996.
Family: Married (Mary Jane); 2 children.
Elected office: Buffalo City Cncl., 1987-93; NY Assembly, 1998-2004.
Professional Career: Chief of staff, Erie Cnty. Leg., 1994-98; Lecturer, Buffalo State College, 2000-03.
The congressman from the 27th District is Brian Higgins, a Democrat elected in 2004. Higgins grew up in Buffalo, the son of a skilled tradesman who was prominent in local politics, serving on the Buffalo City Council and later as commissioner of the New York State Workers Compensation Board. His mother was a schoolteacher. Higgins graduated from Buffalo State College and later got a master’s degree from Harvard. A political junkie, he launched his career in government with staff jobs in the Erie County sheriff’s office, the state Assembly, and the county Legislature. In 1993, after six years on the Buffalo City Council, he ran for county comptroller and lost. In 1998, he was elected to the Assembly and served three terms. In a district crowded with unionized workers, Higgins often reminded voters that his father and uncle were bricklayers and he stressed his Irish immigrant heritage.
|Brian Higgins (D-WF)||185,713||(74%)||($850,357)|
|Daniel Humiston (R-Ind)||56,354||(23%)||($190,451)|
|Harold Schroeder (C)||7,478||(3%)||($3,635)|
|Brian Higgins (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (79%), 2004 (51%)
A House seat unexpectedly opened up in 2004 when Republican Rep. Jack Quinn announced he was retiring after 12 years in Congress. Nancy Naples, a former Merrill Lynch executive in Manhattan and a popular local figure with strong name recognition, quickly wrapped up the Republican nomination, while five Democrats battled for their party’s nomination. Higgins was the favorite of local and national Democratic leaders, organized labor, and the Buffalo News, which called him “an unusually productive member of a largely dysfunctional legislative body” in Albany. He won the primary with 44% of the vote. In the contentious general election, Higgins reminded voters that Naples supported many of President George W. Bush’s policies, including his handling of national security. He criticized Republicans for shifting the tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and promised that he would make health care more available and that he would protect Social Security benefits. Naples criticized Higgins for supporting tax increases in Albany. Higgins won 51%-49%. Naples took 57% of the vote in Chautauqua County, which cast 20% of the district’s votes. Higgins won 53% in Erie County. It took 16 days of recounts and a court challenge before Naples conceded the nearly 3,800-vote victory.
In the House, Higgins established a centrist voting record, and after spending his first years securing his hold on the seat with an array of mostly successful efforts for his district, he was rewarded with a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 2009.
Higgins got $42 million for local projects in the 2005 highway bill and he helped to eliminate toll barriers on Interstate 90 in Buffalo. He helped to broker an agreement with the New York Power Authority for local financial aid, including waterfront improvements, in exchange for its long-term right to operate the Niagara Power Project. The issue strained his relationship with Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter in the adjoining district, who disagreed with his strategy. In 2008, he won a change in policy from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that resulted in 2,700 homeowners in Buffalo’s floodplain being released from having to pay flood insurance premiums. He also demanded changes by the Social Security Administration to eliminate a nearly two-year wait for local appeals of disability claims.
On national issues, Higgins’s support for the USA PATRIOT Act, which gave law enforcement enhanced powers in terrorism investigations, and his opposition to a deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq led to complaints from some liberals. But those positions may have been a net plus for him in the district. Republicans wanted to try to defeat Higgins in 2006 but couldn’t come up with a credible challenger. Higgins initially got the endorsement of local conservative leaders, but the state Conservative Party chairman overruled it. Still, he won 79%-21% against Assistant District Attorney Michael McHale. He appears safe, at least until redistricting, when he likely will join Buffalo leaders in seeking to unify the entire city into a single district. However, western New York as a whole could lose a district in the 2010 census, which would add a high degree of volatility to redistricting in that region.