Tonawanda News — Niagara Falls school board member and local attorney Johnny Destino is getting the backing of a prominent Western New York developer in his bid to unseat incumbent state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane.
Destino, who ran a close but unsuccessful campaign for Niagara Falls mayor last year, officially announced Tuesday that
he is joining the race in the 62nd Senate District w
hich already features Maziarz and announced Democratic candidate Amy Hope Witryol.
Destino plans to challenge Maziarz — a veteran of state politics who has represented the 62nd Senate district since 1995 — in a Republican primary this September.
“I believe Albany needs to be turned upside down in order for us to begin straightening out our priorities,” Destino said. “First, we have to remove career politicians who have long forgotten whose interests they were elected to serve.”
Destino’s candidacy is being backed by Buffalo developer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who called Maziarz a “poster child for term limits” in a release issued by the Destino campaign.
“He has been around for a long time and his only accomplishments have been in serving his special interests,” Paladino said of Maziarz.
Paladino said Destino
demonstrated “sincerity and ability” in his unsuc
cessful run against incumbent Mayor Paul Dyster last year. He also suggested the 35-year-old Destino would offer a refreshing change in Albany.
“(Destino) understands the issues in-depth and is willing to be a single voice, if that is what is necessary, to change the status quo in Albany,” Paladino said. “He is a talented lawyer with a young spirit who has not been infected by the Albany establishment.”
Destino, a graduate of Niagara-Wheatfield High School who earned his law degree at the State University at Buffalo, lost to Dyster by fewer than 700 votes in last year’s mayoral election.
He’ll face a formidable opponent in Maziarz who is consistently the top fundraiser in Niagara County politics each year.
Maziarz suggested Destino may have other motivations for entering the race, saying he’s been told his new opponent has been offered some type of job in exchange for his willingness to challenge him. Maziarz declined to elaborate, saying only that he’s ready to defend his record in office.
He said he’s most proud of his accomplishments in the area of job creation and touted his role in projects like Yahoo! in Lockport and the development of the new airport terminal in Niagara Falls.
As for the suggestion that he’s a “career politician” who has had his time, Maziarz said he has put his record on the line every two years since first being elected and is ready to do so again in 2012.
“I look forward to the challenge and will let the voters decide,” he said.
On Tuesday, Destino said he decided to enter the race against one of the most powerful men in Niagara County politics because the community has not been successful under the leadership of Maziarz and real change is needed to move the district forward.
“Everyone tells me that this race isn’t winnable, that George is too strong,” Destino said. “But what use is the political power and clout George has accumulated in the Senate when the only people who benefit from his more-than three decades in public office are his friends and family members?”
Destino said he decided to enter the race for a number of reasons, but said the vote to approve gay marriage in New York proved to be a tipping point. The controversial bill was approved last year with state Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, casting the deciding vote in the Senate. Maziarz is supporting Grisanti in his re-election campaign this year.
Grisanti’s support for the gay marriage bill reportedly sparked a feud between Maziarz and Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo who is supporting former Erie County lawmaker Chuck Swanick in a bid to unseat Grisanti.
Destino, who said he considers himself a conservative Republican, argued that Maziarz, as one of the GOP leaders in the Senate, should have done more to block the gay marriage vote. He also questioned the senator’s continued support for Grisanti under the circumstances.
“I don’t think (Maziarz) personally supports (gay marriage), but I think with his position of power and influence in government, that shouldn’t have come up for a vote,” Destino said. “I think he betrayed the voters in his district.”
Members of the Niagara County Republican Party Committee are expected to announce their endorsements later this week.