Sometimes, you can’t dance with the one that brought you.
That’s the feeling of Johnny Destino, who has announced exclusively to the Niagara Falls Reporter his plans to leave the Republicans and convert to the Democratic Party. After efforts to push him out of the GOP, Destino found that his own future and perhaps that of the entire Niagara region best lay with finding allies among other people. Robert Krause, the former City of Niagara Falls Republican chairman who was recently ousted from his position, concurs and says, “I can understand why he’s leaving the Republican Party… Johnny probably has a better chance of winning nomination for mayor if he was a Democrat than a Republican.”
Destino twice ran for public office, once for mayor against Paul Dyster in 2011 and again in 2012 against State Sen. George Maziarz in the GOP primary. Destino did surprisingly well against Democrat Dyster, who narrowly edged him out by 724 votes in the general election.
He did less well against someone in his own party – Maziarz, a 17-year incumbent who won with about 68 percent of the vote in last month’s Republican primary.
The move by Destino is somewhat of a surprise, since Destino espouses freedom principles that Democrats of late have largely abandoned as they embrace concepts of socialism and the nanny state.
The deadline for switching party affiliation and being eligible to run for office in 2013 is this week, though Destino says he has no plans to run at this time, including a run for council next year.
Destino was elected to the school board in 2010 and has at times been an outspoken critic of the administration of Supt. Cynthia Bianco. Destino, however, did support the recent initiative to sell bonds for a $68 million capital improvement project for the district’s 11 campuses. The $68 million is to be reimbursed by New York State because the district is designated “high needs” and thus eligible for the use of excel money set aside for capital improvements.
Destino, a lawyer, was a member of the Federalist’s Club and might be a new breed of Democrat. Once the party of slavery, Democrats drifted towards being the party of personal civil rights for a time, but have now drifted towards being the party of taking away personal liberties in the name of safety.
For his part, Destino sees the move as one necessitated by the desire to maintain his independence. “Sen. Maziarz represents the Falls now (if he wins in November) and in advance of that, he had his people take over the Niagara Falls City Committee… I don’t believe we’ll have any voice in the Republican Party. I don’t think they have room for someone like me.”
Seeing the changes in the local Democratic Party, Destino finds a kinship. “I’m encouraged that some of the younger people I know, who I’m friends with, who are Democrats, I know that their primary motivation is to help Niagara Falls and Niagara County for everyone, not just themselves.” He believes people like the newly elected Niagara Falls City Democratic Chairman Nick D’Aloise and County Legislator Jason Zona are motivated for the right reasons. “Why they’re getting involved, part of that being to protect Niagara Falls’ interests and hopefully being effective opposition against Niagara County Republicans,” he observed.
Zona agrees with that assessment. “I’m looking for younger, like-minded people coming into the party. People that have a vested future in Niagara Falls, who want to see the county and the city thrive. He’s someone who’s raising a young family here; he’s committed to this area and I’m looking for people who want to get onboard and help rebuild Niagara Falls.”
D’Aloise expressed surprise and caution that Destino was joining the Democrats. “He seems to stand for a lot of principles that the Democrats do not stand for,” he said. “But I have no problem with Destino. However, if he is just joining the Democratic Party for political advantage and not ideology, that’s not something we are looking for.”
Asked if the tenets of the Democratic Party were akin to the Bible and could never change, D’Aloise said, “no, of course not. We are always open to change.”
Prominent Republicans seem to recognize that the current party is stifling. Former Councilmember and former mayoral candidate Candra Thomason says, “Johnny needs to do whatever will help him best serve the people of our community. I believe he has a very promising political future. The Republican Party has done very little, if anything, to help Johnny or any of our candidates here in the city, including myself. I truly believe local government should be more about the people and the community, not the parties anyway. Democrats make up the greater part of the registered voters in Niagara Falls so working directly with them can only be beneficial for us all.”
Destino is optimistic about the crossover and what it will mean for the Democrats. “I had a lot of support during the mayor’s race from Democrats, so I believe it’s going to be a different party now with the new leadership under (county chairman) Nick Forster… the primary factor is that we need people to stand up to the Republican machine. There’s a completely new group in charge of the city Republican Committee. And those are people completely loyal to George Maziarz.”
Former GOP chairman Krause also puts the blame on Maziarz. He alleges that candidates for committee member never made it to a public vote due to interference from the local election board. “Who can I complain to? The Board of Elections is controlled by the Republican Committee. Can I go to the State about it? The State is controlled by Maziarz. Am I going to go to the district attorney or a judge? They’re all controlled by Maziarz. So the only thing we can do is leave the party. We don’t stand a chance. This is all because Johnny elected to run against Maziarz in the primary. And that’s why Johnny is leaving the Republicans. Myself, I’m thinking of changing to Independent.”
In the end, there were seemingly too many negatives facing Destino. “They didn’t kick me out of the party, but they attempted to,” he said. “The Republicans ran a primary against me for my committee seat; they put two of their own people in my district to get me off the committee. They don’t want me in the party.”