NIAGARA FALLS – The race for the new 145th Assembly District might well be the most competitive Assembly race in Western New York.
Some are even calling the Niagara County battle one of the toughest in the state.
“Statewide in the Assembly, this may be the premier race,” said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.
Republican John D. Ceretto, a Maziarz ally, is fighting to keep the seat he won over former Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte two years ago in a three-way race.
The Democrats, meanwhile, “feel this seat is winnable and should be in their column,” Maziarz said. The party has pinned its hopes on Robert M. Restaino, a Niagara Falls School Board member who was removed in 2005 from his City Court judgeship when he jailed 46 people over a ringing cellphone in his courtroom.
Both sides have spent a total of more than $250,000 on the race, and the state’s political bigwigs have dispatched their committees to pour money and resources into winning.
The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee has spent $86,000 on the race, state Board of Election records show, and local party leaders said the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee has sent two staffers to work full time on campaign events and voter data tracking.
That interest might stem from the fact that the district has grown more Democratic through redistricting. The Republican towns of Hartland, Wilson, Newfane and Porter were drawn out of the district, while parts of North Tonawanda and Grand Island are now included.
Given the inclusion of the entire city of Niagara Falls, Democrats have historically held the seat, dating from former Assemblyman Joseph T. Pillittere to his chief aide DelMonte, who lost to Ceretto in a three-way race with John D. Accardo in 2010.
Both candidates have focused their campaigns on issues important to city residents.
Ceretto, of Lewiston, said the new Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and the continued development of Niagara Falls International Airport are signs of progress in his hometown. He talks regularly about the change in the public perception of state government from dysfunctional to competent.
“It was terrible at the state level” before, Ceretto said. “It’s unbelievable the things we have seen in the past two years – it’s a positive change.”
Part of the fury of advertising released by the candidates mentions Ceretto’s involvement with Nik Wallenda’s high-wire walk across Niagara Falls, which Ceretto said he and Maziarz helped legalize. Also in the direct mail and radio advertisements are Republican reminders of Restaino’s time on the bench, which ended when a state panel called him a “petty tyrant” and removed him from his seat.
Restaino, of Niagara Falls, has criticized his opponent for what he calls “vile and unscrupulous” attacks about the incident, saying,“I, and I think many people, have moved past that.” His campaign also featured a businesswoman who said it was “disrespectful” for others to be rudely talking on their cellphones.
Ceretto, 60, called the incident “brazen” and “bizarre,” saying, “I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.” Both candidates said voters ultimately would make their judgment on the matter.
Restaino, 53, pledges to expand business opportunities with Southern Ontario and champion fair pay for women. He has criticized Ceretto for taking credit for bills he said Ceretto had little to do with and for not doing enough to resolve the slot machine revenue dispute in Niagara Falls.
“I would have insisted the governor and I talk about the plight of the host communities, namely the City of Niagara Falls,” Restaino said. “I would have insisted that something be done.”
Ceretto said he has met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s chief of staff to discuss the issue and has sponsored legislation to allow direct payments of the Seneca casino revenue to the city. He said the governor, not the Legislature, negotiates with the Senecas.
“I inherited this issue, but I’ve been working for it,” Ceretto said.
Restaino also said mandate relief is needed. “A property tax cap of 2 percent makes little sense if the state has already programmed a 3 percent increase in the Medicaid cap,” he said at a recent debate.
Ceretto said the tax cap “is a beginning ... I would like to see a zero percent tax cap.”
Both candidates said the Robert Moses Parkway should be removed, but only between Findlay Drive and downtown Niagara Falls.
Ceretto had spent $143,000 on the campaign as of this week, while Restaino had spent $108,000.