Western New York Sen. Robert Ortt is the New York State Senate's new minority leader.
Ortt replaces John Flanagan, who is leaving at the end of the month to be a lobbyist for Northwell Health. After 34 years in the Legislature, Flanagan announced earlier this 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 said he knows he takes the leadership post at a difficult time during 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 said while he is a supporter of President Donald Trump and his policies, he knows the president is not held in high esteem in every part of the state.
“I realize that in some districts, the president’s style, the president himself is not as popular,” Ortt said.
But he said when Trump headed the GOP ticket as the candidate for president against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Republicans held on to the state Senate.
Ortt said 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 said he wants to bring more women into the Senate and to include more diversity in his staff and in leadership positions.
Ortt said his goal is to retake the Senate majority for Republicans, though he said he knows it won’t likely happen this year.
The Senate is now led by Andrea Stewart-Cousin, who is the first African American woman, and first woman, to hold that position. Ortt said he hopes to get along with Democrats in state government, and he said he’s worked successfully in the past with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But he said he won’t be shy about highlighting policy differences, either.