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JULY 15 - JULY 23, 2014

George and Me: Friends Were Made for Tough Times, No?

By Mike Hudson

July 15, 2014

Sen. George Maziarz supported gun owner rights.

For the first time in this reporter’s memory, New York State Sen. George Maziarz was unavailable for comment on Monday. Repeated calls to his private cell phone went unreturned on the heels of his shocking decision not to seek re-election in November.

If you want to hear or read somebody saying something bad about the senator, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I like him and he’s been a good friend to me. He’s advertised regularly in the Niagara Falls Reporter and hired me from time to time to do some freelance work for him.

I feel bad for him and his family, and I feel bad about the people who elected him time and again to represent them in Albany. Whether you like him or not, George Maziarz is certainly the hardest working politician in Western New York and maybe outside of the area.

 He was one of the first people I met when I came to Niagara Falls in 1998. I didn’t have to go looking for him, he came to me. Not only is he a hardworking politician but a smart one: Ingratiating himself to the Niagara Gazette’s newest beat reporter was just a part of his job.

He introduced himself and we had lunch at the Goose’s Roost out by the airport, a favorite spot of his. We hit it off, and began a 15-year relationship that sometimes raised eyebrows. Maziarz has never been a favorite of the press corps here on the Niagara Frontier, and while others bashed him, I took what I felt was a more nuanced approach. There were a lot of reasons for this.

To begin with, he was wildly popular with his constituents, and even those who weren’t, technically. There was a period between when I first arrived here and now that he didn’t represent the city of Niagara Falls but city residents called him every day with their problems.

You might have a tough time getting through to Byron Brown or Antoine Thompson or Mark Grisanti, the three state senators who represented the Falls during that period, but if you called George, the odds were likely he’d pick up the phone himself.

And a lot of the time, he’d be able to help you out with whatever problem it was you were having.

I remember one night, shortly after being hired by the Gazette, coming back from a City Council meeting at around 10 at night and finding the newsroom in turmoil. The Associated Press had moved a small item about George having some kind of attack at an Albany restaurant and being rushed to the hospital.

They’d called the senator’s office in Albany and they’d called the one in Lockport to no avail. None of his aides were answering their phones and there was no answer at his home.

“Did you call his cell?” I asked.

They hadn’t.

I got a cup of coffee and punched in the number.

“George Maziarz,” he answered.

He was lying in bed at some Albany hospital, where a bout of fatigue had landed him. Later on he told the story that he got just two calls that night, mine and one from then-Gov. George Pataki.

Years later, after I was worked over by some labor union thugs upset by some articles I’d written about them, George was the first politician to come out and say he would no longer accept the union’s political contributions until they cleaned house.

His leadership in that instance paved the way for dozens of other politicians, from judges, to mayors to city council members, to likewise decline the crooked-up union’s contributions, which stripped them of their political clout.

He did the right thing, when it would have been easier and more profitable for him to do otherwise.

That’s just the way he rolls. Buffalo radio commentator Sandy Beach did three hours this week about how Maziarz once helped his wife with a problem over a weekend without knowing who she was. Beach said he voted for Maziarz in every election since and would vote for him again had he not withdrawn.

His work ethic, accessibility and personable attitude combined to make a politician for all seasons, one who took serious interest in people and their problems. It truly didn’t matter to him who you were, who you were married to or what kind of job you had. He was and remains as close as the phone.

That’s something you don’t often find in an elected representative or, indeed, anyone in the public eye. Just try calling Mayor Paul Dyster sometime.

The vehemence of Maziarz’s enemies always caught me off guard. I couldn’t really understand it. Over a 37-year career in the journalism racket I’ve seen a lot of politicians. Do they want power? Yeah. Do they want money? Check that. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t make a difference.

Maziarz was superb at what he did and that made some people angry. For the most part, it made people angry who were running against him or who supported someone who was running against him.

But he never let it get him down. The weekly drives between Niagara County and Albany, the weekends on the rubber chicken circuit of volunteer fire department fundraisers and man of the year award dinners, the late night phone calls from constituents and errant newspaper reporters alike.

His weekend announcement will put an end to all of that. Those who couldn’t imagine a Niagara County without George Maziarz to vote for or kick around will now have to put their thinking caps on.

There’s a lot of talk about a federal investigation, his closest advisors have resigned and lawyered up, and his enemies say an indictment is pending. The barely concealed glee on the part of some is disgusting.

I hope it all comes to nothing. Maziarz is no more guilty – or innocent – than anyone who has spent much of their adult life in the public eye.

The man says he’s tired of the grind and, unless something comes along that shows otherwise, we ought to believe him.





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