by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Robert Restaino has had it with negative campaigning.
The Democratic candidate for the 145th state Assembly district went defensive Thursday, calling out the state Republican committee and his Republican challenger, Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, after a general mailer attacking Restaino's past showed up in mailboxes throughout the district.
"I was hoping this campaign would focus on the issues instead of being sidetracked by stuff like this," Restaino said. "I'm not a wallflower. I'm not afraid to fight. I'm going to bring the fight to the Senecas. I'm going to work to convince Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo to come to Niagara Falls to see what we're dealing with here. I feel this position needs a little passion."
The mailer, paid for by the Republican committee, uses images from 2005 when Restaino, then a judge in the city, arrested an entire courtroom because a cell phone was ringing. He was removed from his position in 2008 following a state Commission on Judicial Review, something he said he's come to terms with.
The front of the large, folding mailer reproduces terminology the commission used in its eight-page decision removing Restaino, calling him a petty tyrant. Inside, news headlines are reproduced, including a story published in the Niagara Gazette.
"Rob Restaino was one of the very few judges to be fired from his job by an ethics oversight committee," the mailer says. "The committee said he 'abused judicial power' and placed 46 people in police custody for hours because they happened to be in his courtroom when a cell phone went off."
But Restaino said the cell phone incident he's become known for is part of an overall problem resulting in a lack of respect among people.
He said he grew up in a time when people showed more respect to teachers, parents, judges and others in authority positions.
"The cell phone incident personified a lack of respect,” Restaino said. “Sadly, we've lost a little bit of that somewhere along the way. But if my opponent really cared about respect, he'd have stood up to the Senecas’ lack of respect to us taxpayers."
The 52-year-old Restaino isn't just looking to speak for himself on character issues, though. He brought several community members with him Thursday to fight back against the negative ad, including a former Falls School Board president, two local teachers and a Catholic school principal.
Robert Kazeangian, who served for 13 years on the Falls School Board, hand-picked Restaino to replace him when he retired. He spoke of the candidate's passion and commitment to the community while explaining Restaino has worked his way back into good standing in the public.
"Bob has paid his dues and accepted what has happened to him because of this," he said. "He hasn't hid or shied away from his responsibilities."
Jeanine Fortunate, principal of Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls, also testified to Restaino's passion to help the community as a whole.
"Our community needs someone who'll stand up for what's right," she said. "I believe he'll be a passionate, hard-working advocate for this area in Albany."
Mary Posch, a fourth-grade teacher at the Catholic elementary school, and Michael Esposito, a childhood friend of Restaino's brother and a teacher at Niagara Falls High School, also spoke of Restaino's character.
As for Ceretto, a call made to his office where a staff member said the assemblyman would not be answering his phone Thursday.
A call to the state Republican committee was not returned.Robert Restaino Taking fight to Ceretto