By Justin Sondel
The Tonawanda News
NIAGARA FALLS — Candidates in the state Senate’s 62nd District race traded blows at a candidate’s forum in one week before voters will head to the polls.
State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, extolled his record as a nine-term incumbent while Senate hopeful Amy Hope Witryol accused him of serving special interest groups who have helped to fill his sizable campaign coffers while ignoring the interests of his constituents.
“I believe that the pay-to-play system in Albany is the single biggest drain on our economy,” Witryol said.
Maziarz spent most of his time discussing legislation that he sponsored and different initiatives of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo that have passed into law since Cuomo took office such as pension reform and the 2 percent tax cap.
“I have worked very closely, across the aisle with Governor Cuomo, with my colleagues in the New York state Assembly,” Maziarz said.
Throughout the forum, Witryol, who supports campaign finance reform, spoke about Maziarz’s large campaign war chest — boasting $811,000 on hand as of last week — saying the incumbent spends his time fundraising instead of working for residents of the district.
Witryol also touted her experience as a banking professional who worked in financial crisis management, saying her professional experiences would make her a valuable senator for her constituents.
“I’m working for the 99 percent, not the 1 percent,” Witryol said.
Maziarz defended his campaign fundraising practices, saying he has built to that amount over the 18 years he has been a senator, not being forced to spend much in certain election cycles because of either easy campaigns or a lack of a challenger altogether and added his fundraising is done by volunteers, not by himself.
“I don’t spend a lot of time doing it,” Maziarz said.
The forum was sponsored by the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, the Niagara Falls chapter of the NAACP, the Kiwanas Club of Niagara Falls and the Rotary Club of Niagara Falls and was held at the Earl W. Brydges library.
The Senate candidates were joined on stage by candidates for the state assembly’s 144th district, incumbent John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, and his challenger Robert Restaino.
Here are the views of the candidates for the senate race on a few of the issues:
Maziarz said he is “100 percent on board” with Cuomo’s plan, saying more studies need to be done to make sure that New York doesn’t have the pollution issues that states like Pennsylvania have had, but that counties should be able to decide locally whether they would like to allow the practice.
“If it can be done it will create thousands, or tens of thousands of jobs perhaps, in the state of New York,” Maziarz said.
Witryol questioned Maziarz’s ability to assess the situation without bias having taken campaign contributions from hydraulic fracturing interests.
She then said that she too agrees with Cuomo’s approach to the controversial matter.
“Not until there is absolute proof that we are not going to pollute our drinking water and that we are not going to pollute the water that is so precious to our agricultural industry here will I be jumping on board to make money off an unsustainable practice for a process that may be irreversible,” Witryol said.
Witryol said she will work at eliminating unfunded mandates from the state and would promote the assets of the region in an effort to create more tax revenues.
“I don’t think there should be any unfunded mandates,” Witryol said. “That’s why we have these entrenched career politicians. They legislate requirements for local governments and they’re not held accountable for those expenses.”
Maziarz reminded the crowd that he voted for the recently passed tax cap and also pointed to other measures that the legislature has taken — pension reform, a freeze on Medicare home health rates — to ease the burden of some of the worst tax conditions in the country for New York residents.
“These mandate reliefs were not baby steps,” Maziarz said. “They were significant.”
Legislator pay raises
Maziarz said he has never voted for a pay raise for legislators and would not vote for the pay raise that has been proposed in the legislature and may come to a vote in a special session before the end of the year.
“I have never, as a public servant, ever voted for a pay raise for myself,” he said.
Witryol took her pledge a step further and said if the pay raise passes before the end of the year and she is elected she will return the difference between the current salary and the new salary to the taxpayers of the 62nd District.
“I will absolutely work to make public service an endeavor where the public comes first,” Witryol said.
After the forum Maziarz again told reporters Witryol’s characterizations of his service to special interest groups were distortions, saying he raises money from many donors.
“I go out and I raise money from a very diverse group of supporters,” Maziarz said. “I hold fundraisers and when you are in a two-year cycle that’s something that you have to do and it’s something that I do.”
Witryol said she doesn’t see how Maziarz can claim he isn’t influenced by the many large contributors to his campaign and that he has spent his tenure in the state Senate participating in the pay-to-play culture of Albany.
“He’s not just an example,” Witryol said. “He’s a leader in the pay-to-play.”