ALBANY – State Sen. George D. Maziarz, the Newfane Republican who is one of upstate’s most influential lawmakers and a key ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will not seek re-election.
His decision comes as a federal prosecutor looks at Maziarz’s campaign funds, and follows the resignation of two aides last week.
Maziarz insisted that his decision not to seek re-election has nothing to do with the federal investigation.
“I’m just tired. That’s why I’m not running,” Maziarz told The Buffalo News. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, driving back and forth to Albany. Twenty years is a long time. My wife has wanted me to retire for five years.”
He said he recently reached the decision to leave office at the end of his present term following long discussions with his wife, Beverly.
Asked about the federal probe, Maziarz said: “My decision has nothing to do with any investigation. People always suggest things like that when someone is retiring. The U.S. attorney is looking into it. Let him look into it. I have nothing to hide.”
Maziarz said that he is aware of a federal investigation into his handling of campaign funds but that he has done nothing wrong.
Maziarz, whose political career began as the city clerk in North Tonawanda, said he has had to run for election at least 14 times, and does not have the desire to run again this fall.
The fact that he has had health problems in the past also entered into his decision-making, Maziarz said.
“I’m 61. I could have retired, taken a pension at 55,” he said. “You’ve got to leave office sometime. It’s a very difficult decision, because I’ve loved public service, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done in public service.”
Besides throwing a major question mark into the political power of Niagara County, the departure of Maziarz could make it exceedingly difficult for the Republicans to hold on to control of their last bastion of state power in the Senate as Democrats launch a major effort to retake the upper house in the fall.
The news comes shortly after two of his top aides resigned last week. Marcus R. Hall and Alisa D. Colatarci submitted their resignations Thursday. Colatarci earned $82,200 as his chief of staff, while Hall, who made $52,654 in 2013, served as office manager.
Neither returned calls Sunday, but both are described as longtime aides to the senator.
Both are now represented by defense lawyers in the federal investigation.
Hall is represented by Rodney O. Personius, a Buffalo defense attorney who is a former federal prosecutor.
“Marcus has resigned. I do represent him in connection with the investigation. Aside from that, I am not going to comment further at this time,” Personius said late Sunday night.
Colatarci is represented by Daniel J. French, a former U.S. attorney in Syracuse.
The senator encountered new difficulties in May when he denied any wrongdoing after City and State magazine reported that documents accumulated by the now-defunct Moreland Commission to investigate political corruption indicated that he led the state in unspecified expenditures from his campaign account.
Maziarz recorded $140,000 in unspecified expenditures between 2008 and 2013, according to City and State, and Moreland Commission documents showed that the money paid for everything from wine to a clown rental. The magazine also said the commission was probing campaign expenditures not explained on financial-disclosure forms.
A statement from Maziarz’s office at the time said: “The Moreland Commission never asked me for any information, made any inquiries to my office or raised any issue with my campaign. We have followed all campaign laws, reported all expenditures and have always been very transparent.”
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, has continued many of the Moreland Commission’s inquiries after Cuomo ended its mission in April.
A spokeswoman to Senate co-leader Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican who has rarely gotten along with Maziarz, said she had not heard of any troubles swirling around Maziarz on Sunday.
For the last year, Maziarz has dismissed several inquiries by The News about problems he might face that could affect his ability to stay in office, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office probe into his campaign operations.
Michael R. Long, chairman of the small but influential Conservative Party, one of the lines on which Maziarz was expected to run this fall, said he got a call from Maziarz on Sunday night to tell him he was not running for re-election.
“He said he’s been at this 20 years and the time has come,” Long said.
Long was all set to run Maziarz on the Conservative line.
“I can say I wasn’t happy finding out this way,” Long said of his call from Maziarz the night before the deadline for candidates to accept their party-line nominations to run in the fall elections.
Now, leaders of the Republican and Conservative parties will have to get together to select a replacement – thought to be North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt – in a district that is overwhelmingly Republican and runs from Erie County to parts of Monroe County as part of a 2012 redistricting effort to help Maziarz find more Republican-enrolled voters to support him.
Long said he did not know specifically how much of Maziarz’s decision to retire was the result of findings by Cuomo’s now-defunct Moreland Act anti-corruption commission and the work picked up by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan that has been battling Albany corruption problems for several years.
“I think it’s a combination of the above. I don’t know his case. I don’t know what he’s been hit with. I know the U.S. attorney has been looking at him, and I guess he doesn’t want to deal with it while he’s in office,” Long said.
The departure of Maziarz could have major implications on both the internal workings of the Niagara County political scene, where he has ruled as “King George” for years, as well as the possible partisan makeup of the State Senate.
The governor has already pledged to help Democrats take control back from Republicans of the Senate, and while Maziarz is thought to hold a safe GOP seat, his leaving office under a possible cloud could give Democrats an opportunity to take his seat as they add up the equations to assume control of the Senate.
Maziarz is as close to a political kingpin as Western New York has in Albany right now, thanks in large part to the seniority-driven system that decides many issues in the Legislature.
Besides locally driven matters, such as money to Niagara Falls or whether daredevil Nik Wallenda would be permitted to cross the gorge over Niagara Falls on a tightrope, Maziarz is also the powerful chairman of the Senate’s Energy Committee, which decides policy and financial matters affecting the various aspects of the energy industry that is worth billions to the industry each year.
News Niagara Reporter Thomas J. Prohaska contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org