Pro-Collins billboard goes up where congressman was criticized last month

Mar 6, 2017

First, there was a billboard asking "Where's Chris Collins?" Now, in response to that ad, a new billboard is on display thanking the congressman for his service.

The original billboard,  which portrayed Collins as a character similar to the children's book character Waldo, took exception to the Republican representative's lack of town hall meetings. The new billboard, which debuted on Monday at McKinley Parkway and Southwestern Boulevard, instead praises Collins.

A billboard ad thanking and supporting Congressman Chris Collins is now available for viewing in the Town of Hamburg on the same site where, last month, an ad criticizing him was displayed.
Credit courtesy Michael Caputo

Like the original ad, the countering message was paid for by money raised by an online fundraising campaign. Local longtime political operative Michael Caputo led the effort to raise dollars for the pro-Collins billboard.

"I thought it was time for one of his constituents to stand up, and I figured it might as well be me," Caputo said. "I put a social media post up advertising a GoFundMe link, and within 24 hours or so I had raised enough money to answer their insulting billboard, on the same billboard where they had cast their aspersions."

Collins has stated previously that he disregards town hall meetings because he sees them as doing nothing more than attracting protesters who shout down speakers and disrupt proceedings. Michelle Schoeneman of the group Citizens Against Collins, which funded the original critical billboard, says her group is nonpartisan and includes many Republicans who share in the frustration that they've been unable to have dialogue with their representative.

"We don't want to shout him down," Schoeneman said."People in my group are fully supportive of the idea of really being respectful with their questions, but also expecting real answers from him."

Fellow Republican Tom Reed has held town hall meetings. Democrat Brian Higgins has not but he does appear at regularly scheduled smaller-scale meetings throughout his district known as "Congress in your Corner."

Caputo says a majority of people in Collins' district support their representative. He suggested that while local activists are taking aim at unseating the congressman in next year's mid-terms, the direction comes from the national level, from Democratic leaders including former president Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and billionaire George Soros. 

While acknowledging that Collins - who was first in the House of Representatives to back Donald Trump's bid for the White House - will be a top target in the 2018 elections, Caputo is confident Collins will withstand any challenge next year.

When asked about the dueling billboards, Caputo told WBFO that they represent one of the least-effective means to spread a message during a political campaign. But one-time ads may still prove successful.

"In a situation like this, when you're raising grassroots support or grassroots criticism, billboards are effective because they will, in the first instance, attract media attention."

Anything beyond that, he added, simply wastes money.

Schoeneman, when asked if her group may consider other billboards to get Collins' attention, replied that they may consider other, less-expensive options.