ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – “It is great to be here,” attorney Henry Wojtaszek, 56, told the students in the Campaigns, Candidates and Current Elections honors course. “It is an interesting, to say the least, time to be in politics.”
Wojtaszek was referring to Republican Chris Collins, who resigned his seat in New York's 27th congressional district earlier that day. Collins' resignation was the reason the other scheduled speaker for that day's class, Robert McCarthy, a political reporter for The Buffalo News, was unable to attend. McCarthy, a 1976 St. Bonaventure journalism program graduate, was busy reporting on the story.
According to Wojtaszek, Collins, who had been indicted for insider trading, was deemed ineffective and many were jockeying for his position. Collins, who pled guilty the day after Wojtaszek’s visit to Bona’s, had been the first congressman to endorse Trump as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.
Wojtaszek, the CEO of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation/Batavia Downs, came to speak to the St. Bonaventure class about his history in politics and how his political experiences shape and inform his view of current affairs. His late September visit was the third in four years to an honors class taught by his brother-in-law, Dr. Richard A. Lee, associate professor in the Jandoli School of Communication.
“I’m just happy to be here and speak with you about politics,” he said. “It really is a noble profession.”
Having served as city attorney for North Tonawanda, as chairman of the North Tonawanda Republican Committee and the Niagara County Republican Committee, as a candidate for Congress in 2002, and as a delegate for the three most recent Republican National Conventions, Wojtaszek has extensive background in the field of politics. He also is a veteran, having served in the Navy as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps.
Wojtaszek said that those with the courage to get their names on ballots and argue for their ideas in such competitive environments deserve respect.
“They are making a difference in a good way,” he said.
Wojtaszek predicted that when it comes to national politics in 2020, “it’s going to be the Hillary Clinton-Trump election on steroids.”
He said that this increased intensity that he is predicting will be borne out of the impeachment inquiry.
“The impeachment inquiry, if you really get down to it, it is a political act. You can say whatever you want about it being a legal act, or a trial, or whatever,” Wojtaszek said. “They made a decision to attempt to take it to the next step to convince the American people that it’s the right move to replace someone who’s already elected.”
He said that every step in this process is a calculation.
“There is a real hatred for the president. However, it got there, that’s where it is,” Wojtaszek said. “If they pull back, it’s only because they think they are going to suffer backlash at the hands of the American voters.”
Wojtaszek, who was a delegate for Trump in the last presidential election, noted he is in a different business now and would, therefore, not make any public stands on Trump’s behalf during the discussion.
He also said that he tends to be conservative and that his conservatism came from two large pieces of his life.
“When I went into service, I became a little more conservative, I suppose. That’s probably when I chose to be a Republican,” Wojtaszek said. “My dad was very conservative. That always has an influence on you.”
One change Wojtaszek has observed since Trump has entered public office is that he has received increased criticism for being a Republican.
“For whatever reason, you kind of get pegged as being a little bit closer to the president,” Wojtaszek said.
Then he pointed out that for all that the president is criticized, he has seemed to gain some level of a loyal following.
“There is probably 40 percent of people that will not leave Donald Trump,” Wojtaszek said. “They like what he does.”
Many holding public office seem to follow the president almost blindly, he noted, then added that he did not see that occurring as much in local politics.
“It is not as pronounced as it is at the federal level, where you are either on his team or he kills you,” Wojtaszek said.
And he noted than an extremely high voter turnout for the next presidential election is likely.
Among the many issues that impassion voters is illegal immigration. Wojtaszek talked about concerns resulting from this issue, such as whether undocumented citizens should be allowed to receive driver's licenses that could come with the right to vote in American elections.
“The way it happened in California, the way it is scheduled to happen in New York, if you sign up for your driver’s license, and they ask you a question ‘Do you want to vote or are eligible to vote?’ and you say yes, there is nothing they can do to stop you,” he said.
The 2020 presidential election is likely to have different criteria than those in the past, he noted.
“I think the country has kind of given the indication that [character] is not the prerequisite for being the president anymore,” Wojtaszek said. “It’s more about who gets results in their opinion.”
Wojtaszek then got deeper into his own personal views, saying that he believes that moderate, cooperative mindsets in politics will help lead America out of this time of division.
“Something is going to majorly have to happen in order to get back to a reasonable center with a lot of people that make a difference. You just don’t have it right now,” he said. “You have it so highly partisan right now. It is only getting worse.”
Talking about his job with Batavia Downs, Wojtaszek noted overlap between his current position and his political past.
“We turn private money and give it back to the community as tax dollars, but it is a creature of Albany, so we are heavily dependent upon the legislation that comes out of Albany. I definitely rely on people I have met along the way who are in Albany and are in various places throughout the whole bureaucracy,” he said. “Some of the things I have done have been good training for what I need to do right now.”
As the class came to an end, he emphasized to the students that the difficult environment of today's politics is still worthy of engagement.
He left the room with these words of motivation:
“I encourage you to run for office if you have any desire.”
Sign Up for E-News to get top stories delivered daily to your inbox.