LOCKPORT – While North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt places himself in the Republican mainstream, his opponent in the 62nd State Senate District GOP primary, Gia M. Arnold, comes at things from a more libertarian point of view.
Ortt and Arnold both say they’d like to repeal the SAFE Act, the state’s controversial 2013 gun control law, but only Arnold recommended jury nullification – basically refusing to accept the law – as a means to make the law a dead letter.
While Ortt said he favors medicinal marijuana, at least in liquid form, Arnold said the drug should simply be legalized, in line with what she says is her general theme of maximizing liberty.
“I’ve always been concerned about marijuana being a gateway drug to other more severe drugs,” Ortt said. “I’m not a proponent of legalizing recreational use.”
Asked if he had used marijuana, Ortt said, “Like many, I tried it in my younger days. Then I grew up and joined the military.”
Arnold said, “People should be able to choose what they do with their bodies so long as they are not causing unjust harm to another. In truth, I have used (marijuana) and can say from experience I felt equally impaired as if I were drinking. With proper regulations and laws, I believe recreational marijuana use will ensure New Yorkers the right to personal freedom.”
But the mother of three, ages 5, 3 and 2, draws the line at abortion. “I believe abortion is unjust harm,” she said. “They’re causing unjust harm to that child.”
She and Ortt, who also opposes abortion, are competing for the Republican nomination to succeed State Sen. George D. Maziarz.
He unexpectedly announced in July, after he had filed his nominating petitions for a 10th term, that he had decided not to run again in the district that covers all of Niagara and Orleans counties and two towns in Monroe County.
That announcement came after some of his top staffers resigned after reportedly being subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury regarding allegations of improper use of Maziarz’s campaign money.
While Ortt was chosen by the Maziarz-controlled Republican Party organization, Arnold jumped into the race on her own with opposition to the SAFE Act as her catalyst.
Arnold, 24, earned sudden notoriety last month when she announced that she was suspending her campaign because she had an extramarital affair and was leaving her husband.
Nine days later, Arnold announced her return to the race, saying that the urgings of her supporters led her to do so. In any event, her original announcement about the affair came too late to have her name removed from the primary ballot.
“I don’t think it won me any votes that I didn’t have already,” Arnold said of the episode this week. “It’s very possible it made me lose votes.” Ortt has consistently refused to comment on Arnold’s personal life.
Arnold, who moved from Holley to Lockport after her marriage imploded, is working full-time in a real estate office in Williamsville.
Arnold filed nominating petitions in Albany to try to obtain an independent line, dubbed the Libertarian Independent Party, for the Nov. 4 general election. Ortt is challenging the validity of those petitions. The state Board of Elections has yet to rule, but Tuesday, facing a court deadline, Ortt filed a lawsuit against the board, just in case it rules in Arnold’s favor.
Ortt, 35, is in his fifth year as mayor of North Tonawanda. Before that, he was elected as city treasurer, and while his Army National Guard unit was in Afghanistan for 11 months in 2008, the post was combined with that of city clerk. Ortt, a first lieutenant, served in the combined posts for almost a year and resigned his Guard commission after being elected mayor in 2009.
“Every day, as a mayor, I’m aware of the impact state government has on local government,” Ortt said. “I think it’s important we have a leader in that seat, someone who’s going to be a strong advocate for local government, for local taxpayers in this district.”
Ortt said he “turned around a broken city,” converting what he said was a $500,000 budget deficit when he started into a $6.6 million surplus as of the end of 2013. He said his administration has reduced the city work force by 17 percent, primarily through attrition and, in one instance, by sending city police dispatchers to join the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. He also asserted that 700 private-sector jobs have been created in North Tonawanda in the past five years.
Arnold said her main point in the campaign is to protect the Constitution. She said, “We’re constantly being degraded of our rights and our personal freedoms.”
Ortt said, “The Constitution is something I take very seriously. I swore an oath to defend it and protect it when I joined the military. Just as I fought and defended it as a soldier, I certainly would do so as a state senator.”
Both candidates oppose the Common Core school curriculum and judging teacher performance through their students’ scores on standardized tests. “It’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that doesn’t work,” Ortt said.
Arnold said Common Core “is a federalized education program. Education is not supposed to be federalized.”
Ortt said fracking needs to be “very seriously looked at” and said he would support it if the natural gas extraction method were shown to be environmentally safe. Arnold said fracking decisions should be left up to local governments, not Albany or Washington.
The Democrats have selected Niagara Falls School Board member Johnny G. Destino as their candidate for the November election.