Are Democrats Scrambling to Find a Job for Ceretto?

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It seems fitting that the last post to appear on the Facebook page of former Assemblyman John D. Ceretto was one memorializing the attack on Pearl Harbor. For Ceretto, it is not Dec. 7th that will be a date that lives in infamy, but rather, Nov. 8th.

That was the date that newly-inaugurated Assemblyman Angelo Morinello bombed and strafed Ceretto, sinking him in a 7-point electoral rout—a marked departure for a man who, just two years ago, cruised to reelection without opposition.

One top Republican we spoke to, however, disputed our characterization.

“Nov. 8th is a lot more like August…August-whatever-it-was [Aug. 6, 1945], when we bombed the [Japanese] at Hiroshima,” the high-ranking Republican official told us over lunch at a local dive. “When John Ceretto jumped to the Democrats, that was like Pearl Harbor—a sneak attack. And John got what was coming to him, just like the [Japanese].”

ceretto-pearl-harbor

Of course, while it might strain our Republican friend’s analogy a bit, Ceretto now is like post-World War II Japan—a bombed-out shell hoping to be rebuilt.

Numerous contacts have told the Niagara Falls Reporter that Ceretto is trying to land a coveted new gig at New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.  Before Ceretto bumbled into the Assembly six years ago after coming out on top in a three-way race featuring defeated incumbent Francine DelMonte playing spoiler against Democrat primary winner John Accardo, he worked as a tour guide at Niagara Falls State Park.

Now, Ceretto, who spent his days leading groups of visitors up and down the steep sides of the Niagara Gorge, is hoping to attain an office more befitting a former State Assemblyman.  One source close to Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nick Forster even suggested the former Assemblyman, most noted for his turncoat antics that moved him from the local Republican Party to Andrew Cuomo’s Albany Democrats—and out of the good graces of his gun-owning constituents, was lobbying Cuomo to take over the entire state agency from Commissioner Rose Harvey.

Cooler heads on the Democratic side tell us that is highly unlikely, but that Ceretto is being looked at closely to possibly replace Mark Thomas, the liberal former Chautauqua County Executive Eliot Spitzer placed in charge of the Parks’ Western District—still a huge bureaucracy, with 40 parks and lots of moving parts. Thomas, however, actually holds a degree in Park Management, while Ceretto is trained as a teacher.

Ceretto did, however, devise a trolley that connects Niagara Falls State Park with local hotels—an accomplishment he frequently boasts about.

Despite this, Democrats were not particularly bullish about Ceretto gaining a high post in the Parks office.

As one Democratic stalwart told us, who, like his Republican counterpart, asked his identity be withheld so he could speak with greater candor: “Look, John would be out of his depth running a single park—even the Niagara Falls State Park is more than he can handle. Maybe the Lewiston Dog Park, but anything more than that, and he’d be in charge of people, which would be a disaster.”

“Still, I suppose Gov. Cuomo has to help him pay his bills,” our source added after a moment’s reflection.

The insider did note that local Democrats are concerned that Ceretto will bring his former Assembly chief of staff, Rob Nichols—whose unrestrained email comments about punishing local communities for perceived slights are credited with derailing Ceretto’s reelection effort—along with him to a new post.

“We’re done cleaning up after this guy,” the Democrat leader told us.

Given how spectacularly Ceretto detonated, it’s hard to fathom why Cuomo would even consider hiring him to sort interoffice mail in the State Capitol’s basement mailroom, yet we heard similar explanations from our Republican and Democrat contacts, including a long-time Albany insider who told us simply, “Either Cuomo takes care of Ceretto, or he’ll never get another Republican to defect.”

Albany turncoats do, in fact, seem to generally fare well when their constituencies hand them their hats—so long as they were in the good graces of the leaders of their new party when their political shelf life was reached.

  • Former State Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Democrat who opportunistically joined the New York State Republican Party in time to defeat scandal- and incompetence-tinged State Sen. Antoine Thompson the same year that Ceretto trumped DelMonte, found himself out of office after two terms.  Grisanti’s socially conservative constituents held their noses after he broke ranks with Senate Republicans to back Cuomo’s 2011 gay marriage law and then he and his wife were involved in a bizarre 2012 dust-up at the Seneca Niagara Casino. Two years later, Grisanti’s vote with Cuomo and a coalition of Senate Democrats and Long Island Republicans to enact the NY SAFE Act effectively scuttled his reelection.  Cuomo rewarded the flipflopping Grisanti with an appointment to the New York State Court of Claims just months after he lost his reelection bid.
  • Steve Levy. The former Suffolk County executive, a fiscally conservative Democrat, bolted his party to become a Republican.  Republican State Chairman Ed Cox was so enamored of the party-jumper, he led efforts to make Levy the Republicans’ 2010 gubernatorial nominee. The party’s base would have none of it, however, and nominated Buffalo developer Carl Paladino instead. Cox burned considerable political capital trying to secure higher office for Levy.
  • Olga Mendez. While party jumping was political suicide for Mendez—who, after more than a quarter-century as a State Senate Democrat, bolted to the GOP, saying that Democrats in Albany took the state’s Puerto Rican community for granted—Senate Republicans rewarded her with the chairmanship of the powerful Labor Committee.
  • Debra Mazzarelli. The Long Island politician won election twice in the mid-1990s with strong backing from the GOP, before breaking ranks over then-Gov. George Pataki’s perceived treatment of Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross. She easily won reelection as a Democrat, with the full backing of her new party.
  • Mike Spano. After this Republican Assemblyman bolted to the Democrats, he continued to win election with his new party. After two decades in Albany Democrats backed him in his bid for mayor of Yonkers, and he won.
  • Not every party bolter in Albany is rewarded, of course.  Nancy Larraine Hoffmann, the Syracuse-area Senator who jumped from the Democrats to the Republicans, never was particularly embraced by either party, pushing aggressively for reforms that would have ended the Albany gravy train.  When she was defeated in her 2004 reelection bid after becoming a Republican, she largely faded from the scene. But Hoffmann upset the Albany applecart. Still, she does manage to score medium-profile honors like being grand marshal of parades in Central New York.

So, what does all this mean for Ceretto?  Our Republican contact was succinct:

“He’s the Democrats’ problem now. They stole him fair and square, and now they have to figure out where to stick him. Mowing lawns at the Olmsted park would be a fine use for his talents.”

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