Please click the link below to subscribe to a FREE PDF version of each print edition of the Niagara Reporter
By: Tony Farina
The race next year for the 27th Congressional District seat now occupied by indicted incumbent Republican Chris Collins is shaping up as one for the ages with at least two Republican candidates already declared and possibly at least three more, including Collins, within shouting distance including North Tonawanda State Sen. Robert Ortt.
“We are very seriously looking [at a run],” says Ortt, the popular lawmaker from Niagara County, “and we’ll make a decision sooner rather than later.”
Ortt, who as a member of the New York Army National Guard received the Bronze Star, Commendation Medal, and Afghanistan Campaign Medal, says he has been traveling throughout the sprawling, overwhelmingly Republican district that includes all or part of eight counties, meeting with people and introducing himself.
“It is an exciting possibility,” says Niagara County GOP Chairman Rich Andres of a possible run by Ortt. “It is nice to have a homegrown candidate interested because it has been a very long time since that has happened, going back decades to Rep. Henry P. Smith who served from 1965 until 1975.” Smith, like Ortt, was a former mayor of North Tonawanda.
As he considers joining the growing field for the 27th District seat, Ortt and two other candidates attended the fundraiser last week for Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo, son of powerful Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo, at the chairman’s West Seneca home.
“Sen. Ortt had the strongest Conservative voting record in the State Senate last year,” said Lorigo, “and that’s certainly very important.” There are some very good candidates already in, says Lorigo, including State Sen. Chris Jacobs and Attorney and Fox News contributor Beth Parlato from Genesee County who announced her candidacy via social media on Monday. Both joined Ortt at the Lorigo event, with the 27th District race certainly on everyone’s mind.
Jacobs comes armed with an impressive war chest that already has reached more than $747,000, including $325,000 of his personal money loaned to the campaign. Collins, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has loaned his campaign $500,000, but he hasn’t officially announced whether he will seek re-election as yet as he faces a federal trial next year on insider trading charges along with several family members.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw Jr. is continuing to look at a possible run but did not make Lorigo’s party because it was held on the day his wife delivered an addition to the family. But the comptroller has long been interested and is holding back his official launch as he awaits Collins’ decision, showing deference to the man he once worked for.
Also reportedly holding up Mychajliw’s decision is the possible candidacy of recent Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia, who is currently on active duty with the Army. Some sources believe Bellavia may well elect to stay in service to his country and not leave to get into the 27th District race.
Ortt was one of the headliners at the city of Niagara Falls Republican Committee’s barbecue last week at the Hyde Park Stoneroom, an event which also featured Assemblyman Angelo Morinello. A surprise guest was Democratic mayoral primary winner Robert Restaino who was well received. Also in attendance was the GOP candidate for mayor, Glenn Choolokian, who has yet to get the blessing of the city committee although he is the candidate.
City GOP Chairman Bill Carroll and Vice Chairman Michael Gawel on Monday said they wholeheartedly support Ortt’s possible run for Congress, saying he would make a terrific candidate.
Both Sens. Ortt and Jacobs went from majority party status to minority status in Albany in the last election, making their future as Albany power brokers shaky at best. It could be a long time before Republicans regain the clout they had in Albany by virtue of their control of the Senate.
Ortt, first elected in 2014, is seen as a rising political star on the horizon for the GOP, but both he and Jacobs suffered severe setbacks when the Republicans lost the Senate. Minority lawmakers have a tough time delivering the goods for their constituents although both Ortt and Morinello, a member of the always minority GOP in the Assembly, are waging the good fight.
Many political observers believe Ortt could be a very strong candidate in the 27th District which includes all of Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, and Livingston counties and parts of Erie, Monroe, Niagara, and Ontario counties.
The petition process would start six months earlier than normal next year, meaning Ortt and Jacobs would probably have until February to make a final decision, Senate or Congress.
The educated guess here is that Sen. Ortt will take his strong conservative credentials, his military service, and his Albany record on the road and make a run for Congress. Expect an announcement shortly.