When state lawmakers convened in Albany on Wednesday to kick off the new legislative session, watchdog groups were holding a press conference calling on the governor and legislators to sign a “Clean Conscience Pledge” in the wake of the corruption convictions of the former Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader.
The scandal-stained legislature knows it must do something to regain the public’s trust, but what form that will take is still to be decided and ethics reform is expected to be a major part of the governor’s State of the State message next Wednesday (Jan. http://southbuffalonews.com3) to lawmakers anxious to put the latest scandal behind them.
Restoring trust in government is also expected to be among the many issues up for debate—along with the budget and minimum wage increases– in what could be the marquee election matchup of the year locally between incumbent John Ceretto and his challenger Angelo Morinello in the http://southbuffalonews.com45th Assembly District which includes Niagara Falls, Lewiston, Grand Island, several towns and parts of North Tonawanda.
Ceretto, a former Republican who switched parties last summer and who is now a part of the Democratic majority in the Assembly, says ethics reform is at the top of his agenda and that restoring the public’s trust in government must be a major focus of lawmakers in the wake of the corruption convictions of two of the most powerful lawmakers in Albany.
Morinello, who recently retired as a City Court judge, is also preaching about the need to clean up Albany’s image, saying he has the experience to lead that effort having lived “under the strictest judicial ethics in the state” as a judge.
Morinello is a bit of a surprise candidate who was forced to step down from the City Court bench after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 but who says he has plenty left in the tank to continue working as a civil servant “and try to bring change and focus in Albany” as a member of the legislature.
The former judge says he feels the area has been shortchanged in Albany and that Ceretto “has not served the district to the fullest extent,” and that if elected he is prepared to fight to make sure “we get our fair share.”
Ceretto says his focus is not on the upcoming challenge from Morinello but rather on his work in Albany in his new role as a member of the majority party which he says will enable him to deliver even more for his district that in his previous role as a minority assemblyman.
“I took a $9,000 pay cut to make this switch,” says Ceretto, “and my focus now is to address the needs that we have, especially in the area of economic development, and that’s what I’m going to be doing in addition to pushing for ethics reform to restore the public’s confidence in our government.”
Morinello says he expects to have the backing of the GOP leadership in his challenge to Ceretto who was elected three times as a Republican before switching parties last August. It is fair to assume that the party once ruled by George Maziarz would probably like nothing better than to turn out Ceretto after he left their ranks to join the Democratic Party although rumors of bad blood between Ceretto and the GOP leadership had been swirling for some time before he jumped ship.
Morinello served http://southbuffalonews.com4 years on the City Court bench, six years shy of the magic 20-year pension milestone. But while Morinello was forced to retire before hitting the 20-year mark, he sounds like he is anxious to continue working despite his advanced age, saying his many years of experience on the bench has prepared him well for the next stage of his life, dealing with the problems of people as an assemblyman.
For his part, Ceretto says he is anxious to work for the people of the http://southbuffalonews.com45th District in his new role as a member of the majority in the Assembly, and he thinks it will help him deliver a greater return for his constituents going forward, especially in the important area of economic development.
This could be a heavyweight contest between two prominent and respected public servants, and the race is only in the beginning stages with many more issues to be addressed before November’s election. And it will be taking place at a time when one of Albany’s biggest concerns is convincing the public that corruption is out and transparency is in. Let’s see who signs the “Clean Conscience Pledge” that was on display on opening day at the 20http://southbuffalonews.com6 session. And let’s see what the governor has to say next week about cleaning up Albany.
Meanwhile, Ceretto and Morinello will be digging in for what will likely be a hard fought and expensive campaign for a two-year term in the Assembly that continues to be under the strong control of Democrats.