When I first heard the new chairman of the Niagara County Republican Committee was backing Rick Lazio in 2010 instead of Carl Paladino, I got angry. As head of the Paladino for Governor campaign, I knew how important Niagara was to Carl. So I set out to elbow chairman Mike Norris.
That was the first sign I knew next to nothing about Western New York politics. After 30 years in the arena, I had almost never worked in New York State, let alone in my hometown. If I had, I would have known you don't just throw an elbow at Chairman Norris. People don't like that.
Curious, I called around and discovered more about Norris. I learned just about every Republican in the area genuinely likes him. His reputation as an attorney is impeccable and his very linear view of politics made him easy to deal with. He stood by his early commitment to Lazio, even though a hometown boy had entered the race for Governor.
"I gave my word to Rick," Norris said, simple as that. I learned to respect it and gave him plenty of room. (After a long negotiation with Nick Langworthy and other GOP leaders, Norris eventually did endorse Paladino.)
After the Paladino campaign, I got to know Chairman Norris as a close ally of our mutual friends State Senator George Maziarz and GOP powerhouse Henry Wojtaszek. The three managed a tight party organization in Niagara. I had a few occasions to work with Norris, most notably during Chris Collins' 2012 primary challenge to David Bellavia for the 27th Congressional District.
Bellavia was underfunded and had a tough time gaining traction in Niagara County, a sizable portion of his district. Even though Maziarz had endorsed Bellavia early, nothing we put together in the county ever held. A GOP leader emerged, then dissolved into the mist. Other top Republicans would pledge their support, then disappear. To us, it looked like the fix was in for Collins.
Just like Erie County, you don't get much accomplished in Niagara GOP primaries without a full-throated endorsement from the Republican Committee. Norris had pledged an open primary and he stuck by his commitment, even though he was pressured to fully endorse Collins. He promised to circulate petitions for all candidates, and he did. In fact, he made extra efforts to assure Bellavia's petitions were available to his committee members.
We knew the Chairman was allied with the Collins camp and helping them a bit behind the scenes. There's a reason for that: Norris is close with Langworthy and Erie County's top Republicans. He was accustomed to forming important alliances with the ECGOP for endless reasons. Our race wasn't going to be any different - why would it?
Still, Chairman Norris always had something positive to say when he met us at events. In fact, he was one of the few GOP chairmen in the 27th District who dealt with us fairly 100 percent of the time. He always provided exactly what he promised; he never went back on his word. He was fair.
Frankly, Mike Norris is one of precious few in this game who is exactly as he appears to be: a genuinely nice guy.
"The Lockport Town Board appointed me as Town Attorney [which] will require me to commit a significant amount of my time and energy to providing legal services to the Town of Lockport," Norris said as he resigned the chairmanship. "There are only so many hours in one day."
Maybe so, but a lot of other party chairmen might have pulled the GOP reins from the Town Attorney post. Not Norris. "The right thing to do is to pass the torch to a new leader," he said. He leaves behind a well-organized committee in pretty good shape, a blessing for his eventual replacement.
First Vice Chairman Scott Kiedrowski will serve as acting Niagara County GOP Chairman effective immediately. He's got some comfortable shoes to fill. They must be comfortable - they fit Chairman Norris so well.