Western New York pols are gabbing today about the abrupt retirement of Senator George Maziarz - not about the Senator, but about his replacement. While North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt is said to have the inside track to be hand-picked to stand for election in Maziarz place, another name has popped up and caught fire: Charlie Nesbitt.
In fact, an inside source says the deciding panel - the official committee on vacancies listed on Maziarz's Republican petitions - is considering Nesbitt as the new designated Republican Senate candidate. If you haven't heard of Nesbitt, you're new to New York State politics. But this is a perfect opportunity to learn the story of a bona fide American hero.
Nesbitt served in the Assembly from 1992 to 2005 and was elected Minority Leader. Long before politics, he was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.
On Nov. 14, 1968, Nesbitt and his crew members were told an American soldier was stranded in enemy territory in the jungles of Laos, across the border from Vietnam. Another helicopter had been hit with a rocket, crashed and the crew needed to be rescued. Nesbitt flew a helicopter in and got everyone out, except one gunman who was separated from his crew. Nesbitt took the recovered crew members back to safety, and then returned to enemy territory to find the missing man. It took him more than nine hours, but Nesbitt finally was able to get him.
Veterans across Western New York are pleased to know that the two leading candidates for the designation are both veterans - Ortt enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in October 2001 after the 9-11 attacks. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where he served in the infantry in Kandahar City.