Niagara Falls School Board Member Johnny Destino is circulating petitions to run as a Democrat against GOP State Sen. George Maziarz for the 62nd District Senate seat in November.
"We're collecting signatures right now so we'll probably announce in a couple of weeks," Destino told the Niagara Falls Reporter. "My interest is in defeating George Maziarz, who is probably the most corrupt politician in the state."
The two men have squared off before. In 2012, Maziarz defeated Destino in the Republican primary, walking off with about 70 percent of the vote.
This week, Maziarz characterized Destino as a "glutton for punishment."
"I wish this guy would get a job," Maziarz said. "That's what he needs. He is one of the few lawyers in Niagara County who doesn't have some sort of public position."
At the time of his 2012 primary loss to Maziarz, Destino was coming off a 2011 defeat to Democratic incumbent Paul Dyster in the race for mayor of Niagara Falls.
In that contest, Dyster beat Destino by a mere 10 points, or 764 votes.
The Maziarz-led Republican Party invested $25,000 in financial support for Destino in that campaign but didn't finish the job even though it appeared Destino was closing strong
After his loss to Maziarz, Destino became a Democrat.
As recently as February, Destino told the Reporter he was considering a run against incumbent Assemblyman John Ceretto in the 145th District where Democrats enjoy a 17 percent advantage in registered voters.
Republicans hold a registration advantage of nearly 20 percent in Maziarz's Senate district.
Sources in the Niagara County Democratic Committee conceded the party will not endorse or support a candidate to run against Ceretto. Unless an independent candidate emerges in the next few weeks, Ceretto will run unopposed in November.
"It really doesn't make any sense," Maziarz told the Reporter. "You've got a Niagara Falls guy in a (assembly) district where Niagara Falls is the biggest city and there's a Democratic advantage. But he decides he wants to run against me again."
Maziarz captured the 62nd District in 1995 and has won each subsequent election by double digit margins.
Destino told the Reporter that the Democratic candidate who ran against Maziarz in both the 2010 and 2012 elections -- Amy Hope Witryol -- has decided against another campaign this season.
"I spoke with her a month ago and she said she's not running," Destino said of Witryol.
Destino said he is not seeking support from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community or many of the other liberal organizations that traditionally support Democratic candidates in New York State. His conservative values remain intact.
"This isn't about that," Destino said. "The Moreland Commission identified (Maziarz) as the number one offender for un-itemized spending of campaign funds. He bankrolls every local Republican candidate."
In his last run against Maziarz, Destino was critical of what he called the incumbent's "friends and family" hiring practices.
Those attacks backfired less than a year following the election when Destino's wife Julia took a $33,920 position with the city school district.
Destino said the fact he was a School Board member had nothing to do with it. "The secretary position requires a high school diploma and two years of secretarial experience," he said. "My wife has a college degree and has spent 10 years as an administrative assistant and a paralegal."
The Buffalo News called Destino "shameless" in an editorial about the matter, an editorial that Maziarz described as spot on.
"He runs against me as a Tea Party conservative and now, two years later, he's running against me as a liberal Democrat," Maziarz said. "It's a free country, but I think 'shameless' is a word you're going to be hearing a lot in this campaign."
As far as Destino is concerned, the Niagara County Democratic Party may be split, with the faction headed by Dyster unlikely to lend Destino much backing. The second faction which includes Chairman Nick Forster, county Legislator Jason Zona and Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey, is where Destino hopes to find support.
Over the weekend, Brochey told the Reporter that he has been circulating petitions for Destino and other Democratic candidates, and had personally collected 31 of the 1,000 signatures required for the candidate to get his name on the ballot.
"Dennis is at the forefront of the reform movement in Niagara County, getting rid of George's people," Destino said. "Steve Reiter in Lewiston, Mike Tucker, Steve Richards in Niagara, these are all Maziarz people who have been driven from office."
While Destino declined to comment on the amount of money he hoped to raise, where it will come from, or whether he will have to encourage liberal Democrats who share few of his political ideals to contribute, Destino said he's not worried about the more than $1 million Maziarz has in his campaign war chest.
"Maziarz will need that for the legal costs he'll face when he retires," Destino said.
For his part, Maziarz seemed unperturbed. He said he would far rather run against Destino than Hope Wityrol, who actually possessed the serious philosophical differences with him that characterize the Republican and Democratic parties.
"It's like he's obsessed," Maziarz said. "We tried to help him when he ran for mayor and then he turned around and attacked me. He's been doing it ever since. I don't think very many people take him seriously."
Destino admitted that he is counting on a strong anti-Maziarz sentiment to get him to Albany.
"I got 30 percent of the vote in the Republican primary two years ago not because all those people liked me, but because they didn't like Maziarz," he said.
|Sen. George Maziarz