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LOCKPORT – Johnny G. Destino, the Democratic candidate for 62nd District state senator, tried this week to use the City of Lockport financial crisis and other Republican problems against his possible November opponent, North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt.

County Republican Chairman Scott P. Kiedrowski called Destino’s attempt “the biggest stretch since Gumby.”

Although Ortt still must overcome Gia M. Arnold of Holley in the Sept. 9 GOP primary, Destino took aim squarely at the mayor as a key part of a political organization, some of whose most prominent members, including the top man, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, have had a bad summer.

In Lockport, the state Comptroller’s Office pointed at Maziarz’s brother-in-law, City Treasurer Michael E. White, as the person largely responsible for the city’s fiscal problems, citing incomplete and erroneous financial reports as a reason for the Common Council not realizing until it was too late that it had appropriated money the city didn’t have.

White fired back, accusing former Mayor Michael W. Tucker, the Republican who appointed him as treasurer in 2006, of refusing to provide him with necessary staff when key employees were out with long-term illnesses. Tucker, who resigned abruptly Feb. 21, has denied the allegation, saying White had a larger staff than his predecessor.

“The Niagara County GOP valued loyalty over competency,” said Destino, a Niagara Falls School Board member who left the Republican Party after losing the 2012 Senate primary to Maziarz.

Destino said, “What we’re seeing in Lockport is a complete breakdown in competent representation. It’s just a travesty that we had to have a state bailout pushed through by Sen. Maziarz himself to try to protect the failure of his brother-in-law as city treasurer. Ortt is the hand-selected candidate of Sen. Maziarz’s GOP.”

Kiedrowski said, “If failed candidate and party-flipper Johnny Destino wants a lesson in cutting the deficit, reducing spending, running a surplus, creating jobs or revitalizing a failed economy, he should visit North Tonawanda under Rob Ortt’s administration.”

That city’s most recent audit showed an unappropriated fund balance of $6.6 million as of the end of 2013.

County Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster said, “The plight of the people in Lockport and the suffering they are enduring points to the real issues in this campaign. We have seen a political era in Niagara County where nepotism, cronyism and empire-building rule the day, and the fingerprints of George Maziarz are all over the mess left behind. The Republican candidate for the Senate seat represents more of the same.”

In July, the Niagara County GOP tapped Ortt to replace Maziarz as the endorsed 62nd District Republican candidate when Maziarz dropped out of the race for his 10th term after filing nominating petitions. Several of his top staffers resigned and hired attorneys after being subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan regarding allegations of illegal spending of campaign funds.

Forster said, “This November, there is still the choice of continuing along the George Maziarz path of fiscal management and corruption, or electing to start in a new direction. For the people of Lockport, it should be an easy decision.”

Destino pointed to two other Republicans who ran into trouble, referring to investigations of former Lewiston Supervisor Steven L. Reiter and the forced resignation of Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards in a plea-bargain for misuse of town resources.

“It’s not going to end unless we go in a new direction for Niagara County,” Destino said.

Kiedrowski said, “What voters are most scared of is Johnny Destino turning over the keys to the New York City radicals who understand nothing but higher taxes and reckless spending.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com