EAST AURORA — Sean Bunny’s political plans were an open secret last month as Wyoming County Democrats rallied last month.
Bunny, 35, drew attention and conversations, but he not yet ready to announce what was made official this week — he, a Democrat from East Aurora, is running to represent Wyoming, the rest of the GLOW Region and a significant portion of western New York in Congress.
“I know its not going to be easy,” Bunny, until a few weeks ago an assistant district attorney for Erie County, told The Daily News Thursday. “But I’ve faced difficult things ... two months of Ranger School, where we weren’t sleeping, and weren’t eating. That was harder than this.”
Bunny says much of his drive to serve in public office has been formed by his experience in the U.S. Army.
A native of East Amherst, Bunny said his path into the military started studying political science and history at Syracuse University. The 9-11 attacks occurred when he was a sophomore, the Iraq War when he was a junior.
“It was in the back of my mind, and I was always more drawn to Officer Candidate School. It was a big way in World War II, Korea and Vietnam to get raw college grads and train them up,” said Bunny, who underwent 1.5 years of training at Fort Benning before being assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in 2007.
His unit spent 2009 and 2010 in Iraq, manning a combat outpost south of Baghdad, conducting civil affairs, working on infrastructure and in relations with religious and political leaders. It was challenging and horizon-broadening.
“It was pretty inspiring to be a soldier with people from all over the country, to be a platoon leader and lead a few dozen of America’s sons,” Bunny said. “I was very proud, even to be in my mid-twenties, to be in charge of 18- and 19-year-old kids. It gave me a maturity I’m very proud of. We were making hard choices, and getting the job done while being fair, and taking care of our soldiers.”
The announcement Wednesday that Bunny is seeking to run against Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, came with a humbling reaction. Bunny said he was met by messages of support from former soldiers in his units and his former commanders.
His wife, Mary, a former U.S. Navy nurse and now a commander in the Navy Reserves, and his two young sons have been just as supportive. Trying to explain to his boys what they were about to go through has been “interesting,” but he knows it will be time consuming.
Bunny joins a growing field of candidates hoping to defeat Collins, who is seen as both a strong including Nick Stankevich, a businessman from Mumford, and Thomas Casey, an attorney from Williamsville. All three are scheduled to speak Friday at a candidate forum hosted by several local campaign groups in Lancaster.
Local Democratic officials said they are looking forward to how the race develops, but are ready to support those who have announced challenges to Collins.
“We’re happy to have him in the race, and we look forward to getting to know him, Nick, and other candidates who may join the race,” said Cindy Appleton, chairwoman of the Wyoming County Democratic Committee. “We are pleased that someone with Sean’s record of service is stepping forward to serve our whole district, unlike Chris Collins, who seems uninterested in most of his constituents. This is about public service, not self service.”
“The voters of NY-27 will like what they see once they get to know Sean,” Genesee County Democratic Committee Chairman Mike Plitt said. “He has an impressive military and legal background.”
Bunny, who joined the district attorney’s office after receiving a law degree from the University at Buffalo, said he will campaign as a “Sean Bunny Democrat” who will draw from his work as a criminal prosecutor who worked with victims and law enforcement. He said he’s turned around an old Tim Russert quote to explain why a first-time candidate could succeed.
“What Chris Collins knows, I can learn. But what I know, he’ll can’t. He’ll never be able to, He never served (in the military), or prosecuted and worked my cases,” Bunny said.
“I think voters will respond to who I am as a person, and my message,” he said. “I want to run because I dislike how mean-spirited Washington has become. I’m proud to have served causes greater than myself. As I get out and start meeting voters, they will respond to that.”
If elected, Bunny said he would be interested in working on military and veterans issues, but wants to make labor and manufacturing his signature.
‘We’ve been hurt by having jobs go oversees, and I’d work with anybody to ensure we have a good labor base and economy,” Bunny said. “It’s hurt our workers, and not having the industrial base (makes it difficult to face international challenges).”
Healthcare will be a place to draw a distinction for Bunny. He said Collins’ votes for Obamacare repeal bills that “would have decimated the hospitals and nursing homes” of the region show a disconnection between the people and their representative.
“Collins doesn’t seem as on the same page as western New York,” Bunny said.