Rumors are swirling that former State Senator George Maziarz (R-Newfane), long considered an elder statesman of local politics, is considering a bid to unseat New York’s junior United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Hudson) in 2018. Gillibrand has performed strongly in recent elections, winning 72% of the general election vote in 2012. That year Wendy Long served as the GOP standard bearer.
But Maziarz is no stranger to New York’s rough and tumble politics, and he may find the covert backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo himself. Political observers note that both Cuomo and Gillibrand have presidential ambitions and both have been mentioned as contenders in 2020. If Cuomo quietly backs Maziarz and defeats Gillibrand in 2018, her presidential bid would be inalterably weakened.
Cuomo and Maziarz have worked together before, when Maziarz served as Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee while Cuomo pushed a controversial proposal to legalize hydrofracking. Gillibrand has taken public stances against the Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which could draw into the election the monied attention of natural gas drilling interests.
Maziarz has long championed the interests of the Seneca Nation of Indians, which could prove to be a valuable political ally. The Seneca Nation, with other gaming tribes like the Mohawk Nation and the Oneida Nation, form a powerful interest group in the state that is still finding its footing in Albany and badly needs a high level ally in the upper echelon of the federal government.
Niagara County political operatives speculate that Maziarz would be likely to seek the chairmanship of the United States Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs — which would be a first for a Senator from New York.
That’s not to mention his personal relationships with Tom Golisano, Robert Wilmers, Jeremy Jacobs, and Bob Rich — a formidable base of support capable of bankrolling a statewide candidacy that puts the region’s economic interests front and center.
If he does decide to run, observers say that he will need to announce early to begin fundraising and building his name recognition downstate (perhaps as early as this spring). A competitive statewide race would cost $24 million. They postulate that natural gas interests might be willing to fund half that figure, with Indian gaming interests splitting the balance.
Others mentioned as contenders for the seat are Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani — neither of whom are particularly in tune with Western New York’s economic interests.