Candidate says he has experience to be effective advocate for area

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Robert Ortt, the North Tonawanda mayor who is running for State Senate, stops by the Republican booth at the Orleans County Fair on Monday evening and chats with Nancy Spychalski, left, and Kathy Case.

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.