The New York State Senate has a new minority leader. Western New York Senator Robert Ortt replaces John Flanagan, who is stepping down after 34 years in the legislature.
Flanagan is leaving at the end of the month to be a lobbyist for Northwell Health, after announcing earlier in the year that he is not seeking re-election.
Flanagan previously held the post of majority leader, but in 2018 Democrats took over the Senate after a century of nearly exclusive GOP rule.
Ortt, who won a leadership vote taken by the state’s GOP Senators, is an Afghanistan War veteran, and was the mayor of North Tonawanda before being elected to the Senate in 2014. He says he knows he takes the leadership post at a difficult time: the COVID-19 pandemic, waning enrollment in the Republican Party, and a fundraising disadvantage. Nine of 23 Republican senators are not running again in November.
“I’m very cognizant of the challenges,” said Ortt.
Ortt says while he is a supporter of President Trump and his policies, he knows the president is not held in high esteem in every part of the state, and he hopes to gain Republican seats in the Senate.
“I realize that in some districts, the president’s style, the president himself is not as popular,” Ortt said.
But he says in 2016, when Trump headed the GOP ticket as candidate for president against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republicans held on to the state Senate.
And he says the Republican platform will include advocacy for lower taxes and restraints on government spending, and making the state more affordable to small businesses, farmers, single mothers and working families.
He says he wants to bring more women into the Senate and to include more diversity in his staff and in leadership positions.
Ortt says his goal is to retake the Senate majority for Republicans, though he says he knows it won’t likely happen this year.
The Senate is now led by the first African American woman and first woman, Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Ortt says he hopes to get along with Democrats in state government, and he says he’s worked successfully in the past with the governor, Andrew Cuomo. But says he won’t be shy about highlighting policy differences, either.