For Republican leaders in Erie, Niagara and Orleans counties, the timing of Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin’s retirement proves near perfect.
By announcing her departure less than 48 hours before the deadline for submitting this year’s designating petitions, Corwin greased the skids for GOP leaders to anoint Michael J. Norris as their chosen replacement. Officials insist any other interested candidate could collect the required 500 signatures by the close of business on Thursday, but the near impossibility of such a feat now leaves Norris – the former Niagara County Republican chairman – as the choice of a “committee on vacancies” controlled by party officials.
“Jane made her decision exactly when petitions were due,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said Wednesday. “Now the mechanism left is the committee on vacancies.
“That’s the way it works under New York State election law,” he added. “It’s not the first time and it’s not the last time it will work out that way.”
Niagara County Republican Chairman Scott P. Kiedrowski said Norris is the only GOP candidate to contact him about the post, adding he is enthused about his candidacy.
“I’ve known him for 20 years and can speak to his record, his knowledge of the process and that he knows how to campaign,” he said. “I’m delighted he’s interested.”
Kiedrowski also said no “political skullduggery” was involved in the selection process, emphasizing that the committee on vacancies meeting slated for Saturday is abiding by all aspects of election law.
“Jane’s decision was made on personal items in her life and she decided it was time to go,” he said.
Democrats and Republicans alike have used the time-honored July retirement announcement to head off potential challengers against candidates backed by party organizations. Party leaders tapped Joel A. Feroleto to replace Michael J. LoCurto as the Delaware Common Council member in 2015, while they named Dennis H. Gabryszak to replace Assemblyman Paul A. Tokasz in 2006. And a committee on vacancies selected G. Steven Pigeon to replace Vincent J. Graber as the Democratic candidate for Assembly in 1994.
Those retirement decisions also occurred in mid-July just as petitions were due.
Corwin said late Wednesday that she felt badly about the timing of her decision, but added it was unavoidable because she just recently came to the conclusion that eight years in the Assembly was enough.
“I would have liked to have come to this conclusion sooner,” she said. “At the end of each term, I always ask myself about running again, and basically, it took a little longer this time.”
She also said anyone who wanted to run for the seat could have begun circulating petitions in early June, though it is doubtful anyone in the party was considering running against an endorsed incumbent.
But Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner questioned the timing of the Corwin decision, while acknowledging that Democrats also have taken advantage of the election law loophole to allow party leaders to name their favored replacement.
He said Corwin’s actions should counter her claims of being a “reformer.”
“It’s incredibly disingenuous for Jane Corwin to act like a reformer and ‘lead by example’ by adhering to her support for term limits,” he said, “and then have the committee on vacancies fill that seat without any opposition.”
Zellner said Democrats heard rumors of her impending departure and attempted to find a general election opponent, but the district’s overwhelming Republican advantage made that difficult.
Corwin’s decision sets in motion all the steps proscribed by election law that are expected to result in the naming of Norris, an attorney who has long been active in Niagara County politics. On Wednesday, he issued a press release praising Corwin’s service and promising to continue her Republican agenda in the Assembly.
“I pledge to continue pushing back against the New York City special interests and politicians who don’t respect our way of life,” he said. “I will work to end the tax-and-spend mentality of Albany, support real ethical reforms, fight to help provide all the tools and resources our community needs to battle the heroin epidemic, support a repeal of the SAFE Act while further protecting our Second Amendment rights, and stop Albany from suffocating small businesses with mountains of red tape and regulations.”
The Norris candidacy also represents a shift in Albany representation as a result of reapportionment. Most of the 144th Assembly District now lies within Niagara County, with only the towns of Clarence, Newstead and Alden comprising the Erie portion of the district. The Orleans County Town of Shelby also is included.
Norris, 40, is a graduate of Niagara University who became involved in Niagara County politics while he was still at Lockport High School. He was named the GOP election commissioner in 1999, at age 23, where he served until 2002 before earning a law degree from Albany Law School.
He entered private law practice 10 years ago, remaining involved in politics as GOP chairman from 2009 to 2013.
At that time, Norris became Lockport town attorney, succeeding his law partner, Daniel E. Seaman. Norris is also Somerset town attorney and village attorney in Cassadaga, Chautauqua County. He is past president of the Lockport Rotary Club and is active in Tony Nemi’s Youth Sportsman League and All Saints Roman Catholic Church in Lockport.
News Niagara Reporter Thomas J. Prohaska contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org