Critics say career politician’s arrogance is cause for concern

Assemblyman John Ceretto

by Matthew Ricchiazzi

John Ceretto is the quintessential career politician, first elected to public office in 1995 when he ran for the Lewiston Town Board as a Democrat.  He stood quietly and waited his turn for advancement, and was eventually elected to the Niagara County Legislature’s 12th district in 2005. Then came an abrupt move to the Republican Party in 2006, burning many bridges in Niagara County politics.

Observers say that he was angling for an opportunity to run for higher office. His opening came in 2010 in a three-way race against incumbent Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and Niagara Falls Councilman John Accardo.

On August 18, 2015, Ceretto announced that he was switching parties again. This cycle he is seeking election as a Democrat. He is running against the widely respected Judge Angelo J. Morinello, who is endorsed by the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Reform parties.

Judge Morinello “not a politician”, record proves it

Previously a well-regarded practicing attorney in the city, Morinello was appointed City Court judge in 2002 by Mayor Irene Elia, his first position in public office. He won election outright the following year running as a Republican in the heavily-Democratic city of Niagara Falls, for a ten-year term.

Having to adhere to New York State’s mandatory retirement age of 70, Judge Morinello has stated repeatedly that he owes the citizens a few more years of service, since his third term as judge had not yet been completed.

Switching parties for money

Ceretto said the reason he switched parties last year was that he would be able to obtain more state funds for his district.

Individual legislators are supplied with state money, often referred to as “pork barrel spending,” that they routinely pass out in their districts, ostensibly unrelated to a recipient’s political support.

Were Ceretto to remain a Republican, he would likely have been allocated between $100,000 and $150,000 per year for member items. As a Democrat, Ceretto is being given much more than that. Those allocations are determined in talks between two men in a room, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Judge offers integrity, respect, fairness

According to his website, Judge Morinello’s “diverse background in law, the judiciary and every day life experiences will afford the citizens of the 145th District with a strong and skilled representative in Albany who can address the important issues.”

“Judge Morinello is ready to address the culture of corruption that is Albany and understands the need for change.  Throughout his legal and judicial career, he has been guided by the strictest ethical standards and is ready to question the lack of structured standards in the legislature.”

Political grudges

A series of leaked emails between Ceretto staffers revealed that the office withheld state resources from political opponents, based on personal slights.

It was reported that Robert E. Nichols, Ceretto’s closest staffer, made sure that none of Ceretto’s allocation of $1.6 million for earmarks would benefit the Town of Wheatfeild.

The reason? According to the emails, Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe allegedly gave Nichols and Ceretto the cold shoulder at a public picnic. All of the town’s board members are Republicans.

The criticism that Ceretto is driven by grudges is a common one. Many of his critics claim that Ceretto would often retaliate against the organizations that they are affiliated with in petty and unbecoming ways.

State resources for politics

It has also been revealed that a former Ceretto employee in his Niagara Falls district office conducted several meetings in the office promoting Ceretto’s re-election efforts; printed invitations to a February 13 campaign fundraiser on office computer and printer, using the State Assembly postage stamp; and used state staff time to conduct political work.

Use of public resources for political purposes violates state Public Officers Law. An ethics violation could commence, if someone files a formal complaint against the Assemblyman.

“While I am still trying to digest (these) serious allegations… if true, Mr. Ceretto has some serious explaining to do. I am at a loss for words over the details of these repeated ethics violations.” Morinello said in a statement the next day.

A flagrant disregard for campaign finance laws

Morinello has blasted Ceretto for ignoring campaign finance deadlines that are required by state law. On Friday, October 7th, Ceretto was required to file a 32-Day Pre-General Election Financial Disclosure, and missed the deadline.

“John Ceretto’s complete disregard for campaign finance rules is shocking and appalling,” said Morinello. “It is even more shocking that he would blatantly disregard these rules just days after sending out slick political mailers calling for campaign finance reform. It’s another example of his “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy.”

Ceretto’s late financial disclosure came less than a week after it was revealed he had received over $70,000 dollars since 2010 in unitemized contributions, which is commonly referred to as “dark money.” (denoting that the contributor’s identity is kept secret). Nearly 40 percent of all money that Ceretto has raised has been unitemized.

Morinello has called for reforms to the state’s campaign contribution policy. He wants full disclosure of contributions to any candidate or elected official.

“It is clear that whatever ethics legislation being touted in Albany is nowhere near sufficient to solve the deep-rooted corruption within our Legislature,” said Morinello. “Assemblyman Ceretto can send all the shiny mailers claiming he wants about campaign reform, but until he starts practicing what he preaches it’s just another example of him saying one thing and doing another.”

Ceretto’s disregard for the disclosure requirement came a week after purchasing over $125,000 in television ad space.

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