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Gallivan, Ortt vie for state Senate Republican leadership opening

New York State Senate
Sens. Pat Gallivan (l) and Rob Ortt are vying for state Republican Senate leader.

For the first time since Earl Brydges left the job as Republican leader in the State Senate at the end of 1972, a Western New Yorker might step back into the position However, Brydges had a majority and the new leader won't.

Republican leader John Flanagan wasn't running again, so his party members knew he had to be replaced, eventually. Flanagan then announced Tuesday he is resigning as a senator to take a private sector post.

Both Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-Elma) and Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) immediately tossed their hats in for a post that would lead 21 members, after Flanagan leaves, in the 63-member house. They don't have as much say as when they were in the majority.

Gallivan said his party has to regain control of the Senate to be an alternative voice.

"We are looking at New York State and the significant problems that we faced, well before coronavirus," Gallivan said. "What we saw when the majority changed hands in New York State entered a period of one party, New York City-centric control. We've seen it cost more to live here. We've seen it's harder to do business and our communities are less safe." 

Safety is a big issue upstate and for Gallivan, who is a former New York State trooper and former Erie County Sheriff. He admits regaining  Senate control won't be simple.

"While the leader is leaving and we will have a new minority leader, keep in mind we have candidates who are already announced. They are out there working hard. They're out there already trying to make a case, and that the leader's role is to work with them to ensure that the message gets out and to ensure that everybody's on the same page and going in the right direction," he said.

While Nick Langworthy is an active Republican state chairman, the new Senate leader will be perhaps the more visible person, because of his elected position, to preach the party message right through November.

Ortt is in the same category, as a National Guard officer who did a combat tour in Afghanistan and a prominent supporter of gun rights. Ortt said Senate Republicans need to spread their message.

"Now, more than ever, when we are in the position we are in, when we are fighting for the people we represent, when we are fighting for people who care about affordability, who care about individual liberties, who care about public safety and law and order, I absolutely think we matter and it's about finding our voice," Ortt said.

Ortt said just because their ranks are thin, that doesn't mean Republicans are without a message.

"There's plenty of constituents in my own district and across the state who care about issues and would tell you exactly the opposite, that we probably have not mattered more in recent memory, when you look at this election cycle, not a lot of time, important election and then redistricting coming down the line," he said.

How much will President Trump influence what happens in New York State?

"We have great, to me, issues that we can push back on and highlight that have nothing to do with the president," said Ortt. "You can not like the president, but at the end of the day, he's not responsible for the taxes here in New York. He's not responsible for our budget deficit. He's not responsible for the bail laws that were passed. That's all owned by the Democrats here in New York State."

Gallivan said Republicans have to work together, for the good of the community.

"The Senate Republicans have to work with the Assembly Republicans and they both have to work with the state party and with the local parties and pool resources and work together," Gallivan said, "and if we don't do that, we will continue to lose ground and ultimately, beyond the politics, that's not good for our community."

Both said the sooner a Senate Republican leader is selected, that person can start a push to regain control of the Senate in November.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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