By Mark Scheer and Justin Sondel
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Officially, this year’s Republican primary in the state senate’s 62nd District involves two candidates — incumbent George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and challenger Johnny Destino.
There is, however, another figure who has been working hard on this year’s campaign — one-time gubernatorial candidate and longtime Western New York developer Carl Paladino.
Paladino insists he’s less interested in supporting Destino than he is in de-throning Maziarz. In an interview this week, he made one thing clear: He views the 62nd District race as a starting point in a larger campaign aimed at shaking up the status quo in Albany, Republicans and Democrats alike.
“This is an opportunity,” Paladino said, referring to his interest in the 62nd Senate District race. “George is a poster child for all the things that are wrong in Albany.”
Paladino says he did not ask or encourage Destino to enter the race and is not financing his campaign. Paladino freely admits to tapping into his own resources to deliver mailers and purchase ads opposing Maziarz in the week’s leading up to Thursday’s primary. Those pieces of literature have been highly critical, questioning the incumbent’s campaign finances and donations while suggesting, as senator, Maziarz has helped line up patronage positions for dozens of loyal campaign supporters, friends and family members.
Paladino said he’s trying to help voters “connect the dots” when it comes to Maziarz because he wants them to see what he sees: An 18-year incumbent and “Republican in name only” who is more interested in self-preservation than serving the people. He contends Maziarz has had plenty of time to address issues that matter — taxes, utility costs, jobs — but hasn’t delivered, in part, because he’s too busy cozying up to campaign donors and political power players downstate.
“George is very good at handing out bread crumbs,” Paladino said. “He does little things here and there. It’s the big things that count.”
Maziarz, who supported Paladino during his unsuccessful run for governor in 2010, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. During the campaign, Maziarz has consistently stood by his record of achievement, noting that district voters have liked his performance enough to return him to office
year after year. During a recent candidates forum at the Niagara Falls public library, he dismissed his opponents’ criticisms as misrepresentations and touted what he described as several recent accomplishments, including support for the new Recharge New York low-cost power program and the development of a new terminal at the Niagara International Falls Airport.
Maziarz is facing a winner-take-all situation when it comes to the GOP line. Thursday’s victor will face endorsed Democrat Amy Hope Witryol in the general election. Paladino believes Destino is the best candidate in the race and thinks he would offer a welcome change in the 62nd District, which encompasses all of Niagara County.
“I have found Johnny Destino to be a credible man of integrity and values,” Paladino said. “We need new blood. We need people who are going to go there and stand up and say what has to be said.”
Maziarz picked up an endorsement of his own Tuesday. The National Federation of Independent Business, a group that advocates for small business owners across New York, endorsed Maziarz for re-election, calling him 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 insisted he’s not receiving direct campaign support from Paladino and his campaign is not connected to the information being put out by the Buffalo developer. While he welcomes Paladino’s support, Destino said he does not necessarily agree with all of his positions.
“Carl is supporting several candidates who believe that we need new leadership in Albany. I just happen to be one of them,” Destino said.
Paladino said he intends to continue campaigning long after Thursday’s primary, regardless of the outcome. He believes state leaders, and state GOP leaders in particular, have lost their way and need to be refocused on issues that matter to the general public. While he has targeted Maziarz in the run-up to the primary, Paladino vowed to continue to oppose the campaigns of all candidates he considers out of sync with the needs of the people of Western New York.
“We’re letting people know that the rank-and-file people are disgusted with the leadership,” Paladino said.
“I’m a grassroots person,” Paladino added. “I’m an anti-establishment person. I will spend the rest of my life changing the Republican Party and changing New York state for the betterment of the people here.”