By Justin Sondel
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Republican voters across Niagara County will be asked Thursday to choose between a seasoned incumbent or a relative newcomer to represent them in the general election for New York’s 62nd state Senate district.
State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, is facing a primary challenge for the Republican Party line on the November election ballot from Niagara Falls attorney, one-time mayoral candidate and city school board member Johnny Destino.
The candidates have their differences.
Maziarz, 59, has represented the district for 18 years and is a veteran of Niagara County politics and government, having held clerk positions for both North Tonawanda and the county prior to his being elected to the state senate.
The 35-year-old Destino, a practicing attorney who formerly worked in the IT department for the Seneca Gaming Corp., has served on the Falls school board since 2010, his first elected position. His other foray into politics came last year when he made an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Paul Dyster as mayor of Niagara Falls.
Destino said he got into the state Senate race because he believes the district’s voters need new leadership in Albany, the kind that will work harder to promote the public’s interest than to protect their own.
”It’s not about maintaining power for myself,” Destino said.
In the weeks leading up to primary day, Maziarz has largely framed his campaign around his record, suggesting his influence in Albany has helped bring low-cost power, state funds and other valuable resources that have helped grow businesses and spur economic development projects in the district.
He’s touted his support for the Recharge New York low-cost power program as an example of a measure he championed that has helped grow business in the Niagara Region. He’s also frequently noted his support for the development of the new Niagara Falls International Airport terminal, which he believes will be a catalyst for growth in and around the city for years to come.
Maziarz has dismissed his opponent’s criticisms as misinterpretations while noting that voters have thought enough of his work throughout the years to return him to office every election season since 1995.
On Tuesday, Maziarz picked up an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that advocates for small business owners across New York. In endorsing him for re-election, the group called Maziarz a “staunch defender” of small business in the legislature.
”Senator Maziarz has stood with small business to help enact the property tax cap, reduce energy costs and enact two consecutive fiscally responsible budgets,” said NFIB’s state Director Mike Durant.
Destino and his supporters have attempted to depict Maziarz as an “Albany insider” who has lost touch with the needs of his district. Destino suggested his opponent has shown in recent years that he’s more adept at offering patronage positions and tax breaks to supporters and campaign contributors than he is at finding solutions to real economic problems, including high taxes and unemployment.
Destino believes the long-held process of state officials “picking winners and losers” to award grants and tax breaks hasn’t worked and a new direction, focused more on making the economic climate friendlier to everyone, should be adopted.
”They want to determine who they are giving breaks to instead of giving breaks to everyone,” Destino said.
Destino believes leaders in Albany like Maziarz should also be doing more to reduce taxes and regulations and to cut spending on government programs in an effort to make the state more business friendly. He pointed to Medicaid as a specific program he would seek to reign in if elected.
”New York spends more on Medicaid than Texas and California combined,” Destino said. “We need to go after the open fraud in Medicaid.”
The winner of the Republican primary will face endorsed Democrat Amy Hope Witryol in the November general election. The polls are open from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday.