It looks increasingly likely that Republican leaders are planning to tap State Senator Rob Ortt to succeed Rep. Chris Collins in New York’s 27th Congressional District — creating a ballot vacancy in the 62nd State Senate District. That ballot line is likely to be filled by retired Senator George Maziarz.
Such a scenario would mark a rather triumphant return to the political scene for the former Grand Poobah of Niagara County politics, who is still immensely popular and well known in the district, which stretches from Niagara Falls to the suburbs of Rochester.
Maziarz has accumulated decades of seniority in the Senate chamber, positioning him at the head of a caucus that is badly in need of leadership, vision, and cunning — three traits that even his political opponents concede he holds in surplus.
Many Republican operatives privately concede that Majority Leader John Flanagan is likely to lose control of the chamber. In Western New York they point to two toss-up districts that they fear will flip: Chris Jacobs in the 60th, and Mike Ranzenholfer in the 61st. Both men are facing surprisingly spirited Democrat challengers in Carima El-Bahairy and Joan Seamans, respectively.
If Flanagan loses the chamber, he is also likely to lose the Majority Leader’s office in the wake of such a striking failure (which has happened only once in the past 60 years). That would create an opening for Maziarz to claim the leadership post — an enormously influential position that would yield profound influence for Western and Upstate New York.
The position has long been held by a succession of Long Island Republicans who have close ties to the party’s Manhattan-based contributors, despite Upstate and Western New York members comprising a majority of the caucus.
Maziarz is seen as the only potential member of Western New York’s delegation with sufficient stature and capacity to maneuver within the caucus to secure the leadership position — which has traditionally served as the titular head of State’s Republican Party, given how infrequently the party is able to elect candidates to statewide office.
Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy, who controls an outsized portion of the weighted vote among the eight-county chairman who will decide on a replacement nominee, is thought to be open to the plan. Bestowing such an extraordinary political comeback on Maziarz would earn Langworthy a highly perched ally in the State Senate — the party’s last bastion of power in New York.
Langworthy has his eye on succeeding State Chairman Ed Cox. If Maziarz becomes Majority Leader, he’d lobby party officials to ensure Langworthy the chairmanship, his supporters postulate.
“George has never been an ideologue — he doesn’t have the stubbornness for that. You walk into his office and he’s the kind of guy who tries to help you in whatever situation you find yourself,” a former constituent reflects. “He works hard to do everything he can for the district, and he’s delivered a lot over the years.”
Indeed, Maziarz’s skill for compromise and service-oriented posture in office has made him so well liked in the district that a group of activists was briefly calling for the renaming of the Niagara Falls International Airport in his honor earlier this year, until the Senator declined the honor.
Longtime Niagara County political observers hope that Maziarz’s renewed influence will help the community finally secure the billions of dollars needed to address the county’s toxic legacy, once home to the largest uranium processing facility in the world.