Maziarz retirement marks end of era in Niagara County politics

By Mike Hudson, The Niagara Falls Reporter

It’s the end of an era.

Political allies and enemies alike are lining up to re-imagine a Niagara County without the presence of State Sen. George Maziarz, a political dynamo who stands alongside former Rep. John LaFalce and the late State Sen. Earl Brydges in terms of influence and power.

Over the weekend, Maziarz publicly announced he would not seek re-election in November. The news came on the heels of the resignations of his two top staffers and reports that the U. S. attorney in Manhattan had launched an investigation of his campaign finance spending.

Maziarz, a Republican, began his political career in 1978, when he was appointed city clerk of North Tonawanda. Armed with a BA in history from Niagara University and a passionate love for both politics and the Niagara Frontier, he was elected to the position of county clerk in 1989.

In 1995, when former State Sen. John B. Daly resigned to become a commissioner with the New York State Department of Transportation, Maziarz ran for his seat and won. Since then, he has run for re-election 10 times and no opponent has ever come close to unseating him.

In Albany, where he is the third highest ranking member of the state Senate, Maziarz is widely thought of as a master politician who often crosses party lines in order to advance the causes he deems important. He has been described in numerous media accounts as one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest allies, despite the fact that Cuomo is a Democrat.

But closer to home, the party line antipathy is more pronounced. For nearly as long as he’s been in office, local Democrats have targeted Maziarz in an often bitter fashion.

In recent years, Maziarz has faced challenges not only from his traditional Democratic opponents on the left, but from the right with the candidacy of Johnny Destino two years ago.

Destino, now a Democrat, may likely face North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt in the November election for the 62nd District although Ortt, if he is the endorsed candidate, will face a primary challenge in September from Gia Arnold of Holley, a Tea Party favorite.

During his senate career, Maziarz has been associated with many landmark pieces of legislation. He helped develop “Megan’s Law,” creating the registry which enables law enforcement officers and citizens to track the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. He also authored the Assisted Living Reform Act, which created a number of reforms in the assisted living industry, and he successfully championed the effort to have New York State sign the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact to help manage the Great Lakes for future generations.

Maziarz previously served as chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, the Senate Tourism, Recreation, and Sports Development Committee; and the Senate Labor Committee. He currently serves as chairman of the powerful Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.

Since 2011, Maziarz has served as Vice President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

Maziarz was mostly unavailable to the media over the weekend but did issue a prepared statement from both his Lockport and Albany offices. He did speak however to the Niagara Falls Reporter on Sunday, twice.

In his prepared press statement, he says that personal reasons lie behind his decision to step down, and not the threat of any federal grand jury investigation. He said he recently reached the decision to leave office at the end of his present term following long discussions with his wife, Beverly.

The statement is clearly at odds with those he made several weeks ago, when Destino announced he would once again seek the Senate seat, this time as a Democrat.

At that time, Maziarz clearly intended to run and said he was looking forward to the opportunity of besting Destino once again.

But that’s all changed now.

“My second daughter gets married this summer and that is a much bigger priority for me than another grueling campaign. My family has sacrificed enough for my public service through the years and I cannot ask for any more,” the statement read.

“To the people of Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties who I have had the pleasure to represent since 1995, I extend my heartfelt appreciation for your continued support. I always told people that being your senator was the greatest job in the world, one I dedicated myself to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We accomplished great things and I did my best to help my constituents with any problem…big or small. Thank you for giving a kid from North Tonawanda the chance to fulfill his dream of serving in the state Senate.”

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