Jim O’Donnell faces uphill fight against Collins
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 28 July 2014
ALBION – He has little money to spend on his campaign, and no staff to help get out his message in a near iron-clad Republican District.
But Jim O’Donnell likes his chances to pull off a big upset victory against Chris Collins, the Republican congressman in the 27th Congressional District, which covers eight counties, including Orleans.
O’Donnell, 29, is a police officer in Buffalo. He’s also an attorney with a master’s in economics.
“I’m tired of this mentality that Washington is this impossible minefield that you can’t get through unless you play to every little interest,” O’Donnell said in Albion on Sunday. “I want to be the guy that proves you can go to Washington with a purpose and you can get those purposes done.”
O’Donnell was in town for the Orleans County Democratic Party picnic at Bullard Park. He is juggling the demands of a full-time job as a police officer with the campaign. As a police officer, he can’t solicit campaign donations, according to the state election law. Some have encouraged him to quit his job to focus on the campaign, but O’Donnell has declined.
“That is one of the strengths of my campaign, that I have a full-time job working in the community with the people,” he said.
O’Donnell lives in Orchard Park. He said there is a strong anti-Chris Collins sentiment in the Congressional district. In the last election, Collins won a close race against Kathy Hochul, a Democrat. The district was reconfigured about two years ago to make it even more Republican friendly.
The gerrymandered district stretches through rural areas of Western New York. O’Donnell said agriculture is big in the district, and many of the farms rely on foreign workers to milk cows, and plant and harvest crops.
However, many of their workers are not in country legally, making the farms vulnerable to losing their workers.
“I don’t think it should ever be a crime for someone to want to come here and work,” O’Donnell said. “If someone is willing to cross the desert, to cross the cartels, to cross oceans to get here, in order to work an be productive members of society, those are the people who we want. We want to figure out a system to make those people legal citizens and start adding them to our tax base. It’s something everyone should be trying to do.”
Immigration reform is needed in our region, and not only for agriculture, O'Donnell said. Welcoming hard-working young adults would add vitality to communities suffering from population losses, he said.
“We need to be fostering a very strong immigration policy that grows our population, that does so in a way that promotes the success of our country,” he said. “If you’re coming across for the right reasons we should want you here."
Efforts to reform immigration laws have stalled in the past 20 years. O’Donnell thinks Congress sometimes tries to do too much with a proposal, leading to the legislation’s demise.
“It’s a complex issue because there are a whole bunch of different side issues that go along with it,” he said about immigration. “Whenever you try to do these big wide scope legislative things it ends up either not getting passed at all or it misses a lot of the important things should have been handled on an individual basis.”
He said he agreed with Collins that the U.S. shouldn’t house migrant children in our region who have recently crossed the southern U.S. border illegally, fleeing violence and poverty. Many of those children came across without their parents.
“It sends the wrong message to those parents,” he said. “I don’t want them sending their kids here alone, risking dying in a desert. That isn’t good policy. The border should be secured. It doesn’t make sense to allow just anyone to come in.”
O’Donnell said simplifying the tax code, which totals more than 70,000 pages, would also be a goal in Congress. A streamlined tax code would foster business growth and boost the economy, he said.
“The tax code is one of the few things government can do to help the economy,” he said.
O’Donnell urged Democrats in Orleans to rally behind his campaign, and not let the odds discourage them.
“He’s not a popular Republican,” O’Donnell said about Collins. “He’s not out there doing things for the community. Hopefully people will recognize that and the vote will go my way.”
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 27 July 2014
ALBION – It’s a rallying cry repeated often by Republican leaders locally and state-wide: the State Senate needs to remain in Republican control or the downstate Democrats will give free rein to the State Legislature and governor to pass a liberal agenda and drive up taxes.
Johnny Destino doesn’t buy that argument. He is running as a Democrat for Senate in the 62nd District, George Maziarz’s seat.
“Look at the downturn in Western New York over the last 40 years while we’ve had a Republican majority in the State Senate,” Destino said today in Albion. “That argument that all of a sudden it’s going flip to Democratic control and I’m going to succumb to downstate liberal interests is just false. I’ll be a strong advocate for the 62nd District.”
Destino, 37, is an attorney in Niagara Falls. He said he would make increased state funding for local schools a top priority. He serves on the Niagara Falls Board of Education and the board for the Orleans-Niagara BOCES.
He was critical of Maziarz for giving “bullet aid” to each school district in Orleans County rather than pushing for more state aid that would be outside the whims and influence of a state senator. Maziarz this past school year directed $67,800 in bullet aid to each of the five districts in Orleans.
Destino ran against Maziarz in a Republican primary two years ago and was soundly defeated. He didn’t want to associate with the Niagara County Republican Party this election, saying the party is corrupt.
Maziarz opted against re-election two weeks ago, a day before the deadline to decline the nomination. Many Republican Party leaders are rallying behind North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt, who faces a GOP primary challenge from Gia Arnold of Holley.
Maziarz’s campaign fund is being investigated by the US Attorney. Maziarz’s sudden absence from the race gives voters a chance to pick a senator who will fight for Middle Class families, Destino said.
Using the region’s low-cost hydropower to create and sustain jobs can keep more hard-working residents in Western New York, Destino said. The state government can also enact policies to bring down the cost of electricity for everyone.
“That will lead directly to the increase in jobs that we all deserve so our children don’t have to graduate from college and leave the area to find work and raise families,” he said.
Destino said he supports a fiscally conservative government “but not at an expense of the people.”
He vowed to be a strong advocate for the area if he is sent to Albany.
“I’m going to be a team player working for labor’s interests, for Western New York and to get our families back into good-paying jobs where they can start raising families and actually afford to stay in Western New York,” he said. “I’m not going to play games with my position. I’m not going to try and cut deals in exchange for votes. That’s what got us into this position in the first place.”
Three candidates for State Supreme Court Justice also addressed Demcorats at the picnic.
Alisa Lukasiewicz works a special counsel for the Phillips Lytle firm in Buffalo. She is a past corporation counsel for the City of Buffalo, the first woman to serve in the position. Lukasiewicz said she has worked hard in her career.
Dennis Glascott, current village of Angola judge and acting Buffalo City Court judge, has 25 years of trial experience across New York. He worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Navy.
Daniel Furlong has worked the past four years as a confidential law clerk for State Supreme Court Judge Joseph Glownia. Furlong also worked 26 years in private practice as an attorney.
Orleans Hub will have an article Monday about Jim O’Donnell, a Buffalo police officer running against Chris Collins for Congress.
Staff reports Posted 25 July 2014
The state Department of Transportation will add 450 miles of rumble strips to state highways next year.
The centerline strips will go on state roads in Orleans, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Wayne and Wyoming counties, according to State Sen. George Maziarz’s office.
The strips have been shown to reduce head-on collisions on high-volume, non-divided, high-speed roads, the DOT told Maziarz in an advisory.
“This work will be done during 2015 and drivers should expect only minor delays due to construction on the affected roadways,” the DOT advised Maziarz. “The work zone will be similar to what drivers encounter when meeting a striping crew, with the exception that flaggers will be stationed with the work zone to allow an alternating single lane of traffic to pass while the work is done.”
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 25 July 2014
ALBION – Orleans County expects a sale to be complete soon for the county-owned nursing home, a 120-bed healthcare facility that has needed county subsidies to pay its bills.
The county budgeted an $825,000 contribution from taxpayers for the nursing home’s operations this year and that is projected to jump to $1.65 million next year. County officials fear the gap between government reimbursements and costs will get larger, necessitating county subsidies of $2 million to $4 million annually in the future.
That burden prompted county officials to sell the nursing home – The Villages of Orleans Health & Rehabilitation Center – for $7.8 million to Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC. The sale needs the approval of the state and the Public Health Council is expected to vote on it Aug. 7. The state board has already given the sale contingent approval.
The nursing home sale is on target to be finalized by Jan. 1, 2015. If the sale isn’t finalized by then, county officials put a clause in the contract for Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services to pay for the operating losses for each month, beginning with January, until the sale is finalized, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Most of the sale price will be used to pay off existing debt, about $6.5 million, for the nursing home. The county will be spared from paying the shortfall for the nursing home in the future once its owned by a private firm.
The sale comes at a time when the county needs to repair or replace bridges and culverts. State and federal government dollars have been harder to come by for the county infrastructure. The nursing home savings will allow the county to direct more local dollars to infrastructure.
“We’re looking to address a number of bridge projects,” Nesbitt said.
The federal and state dollars are already scheduled for the next three years through a regional transportation council. Little of that money was directed to Orleans.
Nesbitt and the county don’t want to wait until 2018 for the next transportation funding plan to have a chance at state and federal money for local bridges.
“It’s problematic because of the number of the bridges and culverts that need attention,” Nesbitt said. “They can’t be deferred until 2016 or 2017.”
He expects the county will fix six bridges next year, with more to be targeted in the following years.
Besides the money it will be spared from the nursing home, Orleans also is projected to receive $268,000 in casino funds through a compact between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians. Those dollars can help with the infrastructure projects, Nesbitt said.
The Legislature on Wednesday approved a bridge replacement on Hulberton Road in the town of Murray for $1,338,900. That project will be paid 80 percent by the federal government, 15 percent by the state and 5 percent by the county.
Crane Hogan Structural Systems in Spencerport submitted the low construction bid of $894,275 for the new bridge over the west branch of Sandy Creek.
Contract makes everyone pay towards health insurance
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 25 July 2014
ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature approved a two-year contract with management that gives about 65 employees 2 percent raises in 2015 and 2016.
The labor deal also continues a prior agreement for all management to pay towards their health insurance. The previous deal started a phase-in for veteran managers to pay more towards their health insurance in 2 percent increments.
That five-year roll-in continues in the new contract until it’s at a 10 percent share for all management, unless the manager is a new hire who chooses family insurance coverage. Then the employee has to pay 20 percent of the cost.
The new contract mirrors a three-year deal approved in October with about 70 employees in the Sheriff’s Department. They received 2 percent pay hikes annually and agreed to higher deductibles to their health insurance, which will reduce county health premium expenses.
The management staff also agreed to the higher deductible plan.
The county is now focusing on a labor accord with its largest union, CSEA. That contract expires on Dec. 31.
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 24 July 2014
State Assemblyman Steve Hawley welcomes the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do a full investigation in Albany “to root out the corruption embedded in the Capitol.”
The assemblyman from Batavia made a statement today following Wednesday’s report in the New York Times that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office interfered with the Moreland Commission and prematurely ended the high-powered investigative team. Click here to see the NYT story, “Cuomo’s Office Hobbled Ethics Inquiries by Moreland Commission.”
“Today’s New York Times bombshell about the corruption of the Moreland Commission makes it clear that good government reforms are still desperately needed in Albany,” Hawley said. “These allegations are alarming, and I encourage the U.S. Attorney's Office to perform a full investigation to root out the corruption embedded in the Capitol. I have sponsored several bills that will help clean up Albany, including the Public Officers Accountability Act, which would strengthen penalties for corruption, bribery, and misuse of campaign funds, and strip the pensions of officials who are convicted on corruption charges. Passing this legislation is a great first step toward making Albany work for the people again.”
Rob Astorino is running with the Republican Party endorsement against Cuomo. Astorino said a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate Cuomo’s involvement in the Moreland Commission.
“This is beyond outrageous,” Astorino told Fred Dicker on his Talk-1300 radio show. “Obviously, it’s criminal.”
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 22 July 2014
KNOWLESVILLE – Robert Ortt stopped by the Orleans County 4-H Fair on Monday. He will be back on Thursday for the chicken barbecue. He said local residents can expect to see him in Orleans often.
“You’ll be sick of seeing me because I’ll be here so much,” he said Monday evening while talking with people next to the Republican Party booth.
Ortt, 35, is running for the State Senate. He stepped in and was endorsed by Republican Party leaders in three counties after George Maziarz’s sudden announcement last week that he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Ortt has been North Tonawanda’s mayor the past 4 ½ years. He served in the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan from March to December 2008. Prior to being elected mayor, he served as the city’s treasurer and then clerk-treasurer.
Those experiences as a leader would make him an effective advocate for the area, whether seeking state resources for local communities or pushing to repeal unpopular and unconstitutional laws such as the SAFE Act, Ortt said.
At the Orleans Fair he signed a pledge to work to repeal the SAFE Act. He met with local leaders of the Shooters Committee for Political Education and then signed the pledge.
Maziarz signed a bill to repeal the SAFE Act. Ortt said he would do the same and would also try to work with other state legislators, including Democrats, to build support to oppose the law.
“This isn’t an issue that will just go away,” Ortt said. “In Orleans and Niagara there are a number of sportsmen. It’s a very important issue to them. There are a number of law-abiding gun owners.”
Republicans in the State Senate currently have a small majority and Gov. Cuomo has made wresting the Chamber to Democratic control a priority for this November’s election. Ortt said if the Senate switches to Democratic control, the SAFE Act will stand.
“We want to keep the Senate in Republican hands so we have a shot at repealing it,” he said. “There are some Democrats out there, hopefully, they would be for repealing it especially because of the way it was passed. It left a bad taste in a lot of folks’ mouths.”
The law was passed without public hearings.
His experience as mayor of a city of about 30,000 people shows him how the impact of state mandates, and their impact on local government budgets, he said. The mandates, without state funds to pay for them, is the prime driver for property taxes at the local level, Ortt said.
“Unfunded mandates that come out of Albany and are passed down to localities,” he said. “These unfunded mandates are a major reason there are high property taxes in Upstate New York.”
Localities need more options and discretion for providing state-mandated services, and more resources to implement the programs, he said. Otherwise it will be difficult to reduce the property taxes.
“The state needs to tackle local government issues,” Ortt said. “A better environment for local governments would bring down taxes.”
New York Power Authority and the state also should use more low-cost hydropower to keep and attract businesses for Western New York, and profits from the power plant should also be used to reduce electricity rates in the region, Ortt said.
“We need more low-cost power to provide jobs,” he said. “It’s a huge incentive for providing jobs.”
Ortt faces a Sept. 9 primary against Gia Arnold of Holley. She will be at a booth at the fair all week. She would like to have a series of debates with Ortt in the 62nd District, which includes all of Orleans and Niagara counties, as well as the towns of Sweden and Ogden in Monroe County.
Arnold said defeating Cuomo, who has a big lead in the polls over Rob Astorino, would be the best way to repeal the SAFE Act.
“Realistically you need Gov. Cuomo out of office and you have to build support from the other legislators,” she said.
Arnold, 24, knows she is viewed as a long-shot candidate but she and her supporters have been encouraged by recent upset defeats of incumbent Republicans, including Eric Cantor, the House majority leader from Virginia.
When Cantor lost in June, Arnold said her inbox filled with messages from her supporters.
“People told me, ‘You can do it, too,’” she said.
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 20 July 2014
ALBION – Former State Assemblyman Charlie Nesbitt didn’t actively pursue George Maziarz’s seat in the State Senate after Maziarz sudden announcement last Sunday night that he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Nesbitt served in the State Assembly for 13 years before stepping down in 2005 after being Republican leader of the minority conference. He was appointed president of the State Tax Appeals Tribunal and continues to work as one of its three commissioners.
Nesbitt’s name was tossed out to a Committee on Vacancies that met last week and backed North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt for the Republican endorsement for the 62nd Senate District.
“As long as we had a good candidate I wasn’t seeking it,” Nesbitt said.
And Ortt, a mayor for 4 ½ years, is a strong candidate, Nesbitt said.
“He has a good background and I’ve heard good things about him,” Nesbitt said. “He is a veteran and a CEO.”
Ortt, 35, served as the city’s treasurer and then clerk-treasurer before being elected mayor. Ortt enlisted in the National Guard on October 2001 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He served a tour in Afghanistan from March to December 2008. Prior to working in city hall, Ortt was a personal financial analyst with Primerica Financial Services.
Gia Arnold, 24, of Holley has forced a GOP primary for Sept. 9. She also is working to be on the November ballot under the Libertarian Party.
The Republicans have a narrow edge in the Senate, and Democrats, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, want to see the power shift to Democrats after the November election.
Maziarz’s seat represents most of Niagara, all of Orleans and the western portion of Monroe. The Democrats have endorsed Niagara Falls attorney Johnny Destino, who lost a Republican Primary to Maziarz in 2012 and has switched parties to run as a Democrat this time.
Destino could see his chances for election improved if both Arnold and Ortt are in the ballot in November, splitting some of the Republican and Conservative bases.
Maziarz in his announcement on Sunday said the job was taking a toll with all the back and forth to Albany and his Senate district. Federal investigators are also looking into his campaign fund and have identified tens of thousands of dollars in unitemized and unreported checks.
Nesbitt worked closely with Maziarz in the State Legislature and said Maziarz had a reputation as one of the hard-working legislators in Albany with his work in the state capitol and in his home district. Nesbitt said the constant commutes and demands of the positions make it hard on legislators and their families.
“He really did a fine job,” Nesbitt said. “He worked as hard as anyone in politics.”
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 18 July 2014
A committee to fill vacancies has picked North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt as the Republican Party candidate for the 62 Senate District, which includes all of Orleans, most of Niagara and the western portion of Monroe.
Five Republican Party leaders picked Ortt as the party’s endorsed candidate after George Maziarz declined the party nomination and announced on Sunday night that he would retire at the end of 2014.
That launched a scramble to fill the spot for the 2014 election, and party leaders picked Ortt, who has been mayor of North Tonawanda the past 4 ½ years.
He will face Gia Arnold of Holley in a Republican Primary on Sept. 9. Arnold sought to be interviewed by the committee of Republican leaders. They picked Ortt without talking to Arnold.
In a joint statement Wednesday night, GOP chairmen Scott Kiedrowski of Niagara County, Ed Morgan of Orleans County and Bill Reilich of Monroe County announced their support for Ortt, who served in the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan from March to December 2008. Prior to being elected mayor, he served as the city’s treasurer and then clerk-treasurer.
“Serving as the chief executive of North Tonawanda, Rob has fought for a smaller, more common-sense government, while revitalizing his community,” according to the statement from the GOP chairmen. “A staunch defender of the Second Amendment, Rob will work to repeal the New York SAFE Act, and advocate for law abiding gun owners across New York. As a combat veteran, he will bring a commitment to leadership and service with him to Albany to represent the people of Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties.”
The committee picked Ortt over Arnold.
“This seat will play a crucial role in preventing downstate Democrats from taking full control of New York state government at the expense of Western New Yorkers,” according to the chairmen. “We look forward to assisting Rob with the full support of our organizations and know he will represent the people of the 62nd district with the same integrity he has exhibited his entire career.”
Arnold has been a vocal opponent of the SAFE Act and one of the leaders of the New York Revolution, a group that formed after the SAFE Act was approved in January 2013. She helped convince every town and village board in Orleans County to pass resolutions calling on the state to repeal the SAFE Act.
She noted on a Facebook post on Thursday that North Tonawanda hasn’t passed such a resolution.
“You want to talk about jumping on the bandwagon a little late?” she said. “Where was he a year and a half ago?”
Arnold said she won’t just give “lip service” to issues. She said Ortt’s backing is from the “Good Ole Boys’ Club.”
“Now more than ever, we need accountability, we need tax relief, we need jobs, we need a senator who will truly represent us in Albany,” she said.
The winner of the GOP primary will face off against Johnny Destino in November. Destino, a Niagara Falls lawyer, challenged Maziarz in a GOP primary in 2012. He switched parties and is now running as a Democrat.
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 17 July 2014
HOLLEY – Paul Wagner was unflappable in a high-pressure job, a person who welcomed suggestions – and criticism – with a goal of keeping residents safe and getting firefighters the resources they need for their jobs.
“Paul has always been around and available,” said Doug Jones Sr., the past fire chief at Kendall. “He can handle stressful situations.”
Wagner, a former Clarendon fire chief, will retire on Friday after 14 years as Orleans County’s emergency management director. He stayed on the job until a new $7.1 million digital radio system was installed. The new system continues to work out some “bugs” but county officials say the system is a vast improvement over the previous one that was implemented in 1992.
Jones was one of many leaders from fire departments throughout the county that attended a retirement party for Wagner at Hickory Ridge Country Club in Holley.
“One of the things I appreciated about Paul is we could have a disagreement and he said it was OK to disagree,” Jones said. “He didn’t hold a grudge.”
Dale Banker, a past Albion fire chief, will succeed Wagner. Banker starts at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. Banker has worked 36 years for the state Department of Transportation. He has been the DOT’s equipment coordinator and a supervisor out of the Albion office. He will go on leave from the DOT and officially retire from the state in November.
Banker said he will push to recruit more firefighters because fire departments need more active members.
“We’re at an all-time low for volunteers,” Banker said.
Banker would also like to see upgraded and expanded classroom facilities for firefighters at the Emergency Management Office on Countyhouse Road in Albion. He would also like to establish a shooting range for firearms training.
Wagner isn’t fully retiring. He will stay on as a part-time consultant until the end of the year.
By Tom Rivers, editor Posted 17 July 2014
KNOWLESVILLE – Organizers of next week’s Orleans County 4-H Fair want to make growing the 4-H program a focus of the week-long Fair.
There are about 300 4-H’ers in the county. Robert Batt, the 4-H educator, wants to grow the program by at least 35 more 4-H’ers. That is the 4-H program’s goal, to sign up at least that many new kids during the Fair.
If 4-H can add that many new members, Batt has offered an incentive: He will wear a green spandex suit on July 26 for the last day of the Fair.
Batt said the program has expanded from traditional clubs with animals and home economics. Those clubs are still the core of the program, but 4-H has added robotics and a Lego Club. (For more on the 4-H program, click here.)
The opportunities are available for only a $5 enrollment fee, a major bargain, Batt said. Many youth sports leagues can easily get into hundreds of dollars per child.
“We are keeping the fee at $5 so we can keep it open to as many people as we can,” said Batt.
Many of the 4-H Clubs will have displays in the Trolley Building to educate the public about opportunities in 4-H.
About 25,000 people typically attend the Fair, which runs from July 21-26. Batt said the Fair Board has lined up a full schedule of entertainment, while keeping many fair favorites, such as the pie-eating contest, grease pole competition and many livestock events.
“We’ve work hard to preserve the Fair traditions while bringing in new attractions,” Batt said.
For more on the Fair, click here.
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