NIAGARA FALLS – John D. Ceretto lost his re-election race for the Assembly, but he's back on the state payroll, working at Niagara Falls State Park in a newly created post of project coordinator that pays more than $80,000 a year.
Ceretto, a Lewiston Democrat, was the only incumbent legislator in the state to lose re-election last year. Niagara Falls Republican Angelo J. Morinello ousted him from his 145th District Assembly seat in the most expensive Assembly race in upstate history, with more than $2 million spent by the candidates, the parties and outside groups.
The new project coordinator job pays $80,327 a year, according to Randy Simons, spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. That's more than an Assembly member's base salary of $79,500 a year.
Mark W. Thomas, regional state parks director, did not return calls seeking comment on Ceretto's job.
Morinello said he has no problem with Ceretto's return to the state payroll.
"I'm glad John has a position. If John landed on his feet, I'm very happy," said Morinello, who credited Ceretto for being helpful to him in the transition.
It's a case of back to the future for Ceretto, who worked as a guide in the Niagara Falls Discovery Center in the state park before his election to the Assembly in 2010.
Simons said Ceretto's main role will be working with schoolchildren. He has a master's degree in education. The temporary job is slated to last 18 months.
"One of John's first responsibilities will be to champion the Connect Kids initiative throughout the Western Region," Simons said in an email. "John's history as a community leader will further engage and educate the community on the brand new Connect Kids initiative, which involves free access to all fourth-grade students and their families, free field trips for eligible schools, free Learn to Swim lessons for children, the youth conservation corps and various outdoor recreational programs. With a background in education, John will also work closely with eligible Western regional schools and communities to promote and encourage all to take advantage of the various opportunities that allow free access and enrollment to state parks, historic sites and its programs."
"I am so pleased to be back at State Parks," Ceretto said in an email to The Buffalo News. "I have always believed in the work that Parks does, and the Connect Kids to Parks program is exactly the kind of program that can make a real difference. I am so excited that one of my first responsibilities will be traveling around the region letting communities know about the program and seeing more kids get outside and into their local State Parks."
"We are pleased to welcome John back to State Parks," Simons said. "From his days working in the Parks Interpretation/Education Unit at Niagara Falls to his days in public office, John has always been a steadfast advocate for state parks and the outdoors, and we are excited to see him return as project coordinator that will see him lead and assist on a number of park and governmental affairs initiatives."
The position, considered a "management confidential" job, did not have to be advertised.
Ceretto served as a Lewiston councilman and a Niagara County legislator before winning his Assembly seat as a Republican. He changed parties in 2015.
Morinello, a former Niagara Falls City Court judge, defeated Ceretto with 54.6 percent of the vote in the district that includes Grand Island and much of western Niagara County, including Niagara Falls.