GENEVA — Politicians are known for “tooting their own horns,” but Mike Nozzolio didn’t have to do that during a tribute to him Thursday night at the Smith Center for the Arts.
A brass band called the Hitmen did it for him, as did a number of speakers who paid homage to the retiring state senator, who at the end of 2017, will end a 34-year career in public service.
Speakers ranged from those he’s worked alongside in the Senate to representatives of government, law enforcement, education, business and the arts.
The night was emceed by famed Syracuse broadcaster Doug Logan, known for years as the “Voice of the Orange.”
He’s also a friend and golfing buddy of the senator, who decided to step down from the Senate because of health issues. He underwent successful heart surgery earlier this year.
Nozzolio, said many of the speakers, set the example for what a legislator should be.
“He provided us with the values of how we conduct ourselves as public servants,” said Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Marren, who is Victor’s town supervisor.
And Nozzolio passed on this lesson to Marren: “Remember who you work for (the people).”
Wayne County Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve LeRoy said Nozzolio never forgot who he worked for, recalling the senator’s ability to remember names of the thousands of people he’s met over his long political career,
“How does he do that?” LeRoy said to laughter from the big crowd that turned out to the Smith to honor him. “He really is that good. Sen. Nozzolio is a true icon in Wayne County” and throughout the district.
“He will be remembered as one of the finest senators in New York State history,” LeRoy predicted.
Mark Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, said the senator has demonstrated “public service without peer.”
And while Nozzolio forged a reputation for delivering for his district and constituent service, he could have easily sought higher office, said Gearan.
He said it was a tribute to Nozzolio that a former “Clinton operative” like himself could end up being the final guest speaker.
Nozzolio has been an advocate for a number of causes over his career, notably law enforcement and first responders — and for that Geneva Police Chief Jeff Trickler acknowledged the support his department has received for equipment.
But that advocacy wasn’t limited, as Lauren Moore, director of the Pioneer Library System, discovered.
She said his support for the library system and libraries all over the state helped to ensure that a child in the rural village of Red Creek had the same access to books as one in Canandaigua.
And Sean McCloud, director of the New York Institute for Dance in Auburn, said Nozzolio was a big supporter of the organization, but also of the effort to bring more prominence to the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who lived in the city for many years.
McCloud presented a stirring rendition of a song featured in a musical tribute to Tubman that will be presented in Auburn and eventually New York City. Besides McCloud and the Hitmen, two a capella groups from Hobart and William Smith Colleges also performed.
Mike Davis, president of Finger Lakes IBEW, said Nozzolio “excelled at job creation.”
“He not only created jobs, he fought to keep jobs in the region,” he said.
And if you needed his help, you could count on him, said Davis, noting a time Nozzolio came with him to meet officials about a hospital building project in which out-of-area workers were being used instead of local laborers.
The issue was solved.
His work for Cornell’s Ag Park in Geneva, as well as Finger Lakes Community College’s Wine and Viticulture Center, were acknowledged during the evening, with Susan Brown, director of the Cornell Ag Center in Geneva, calling him a “wonderful senator and tireless advocate and friend.”
She said the work being done at the Ag Center — with considerable state financial assistance by way of Nozzolio — will benefit the site and consumers for generations.
Finger Lakes Times Editor Mike Cutillo, representing the Geneva Sons of Italy, said, “Mike is as proud of his Italian heritage as anybody I know,” and is one of the fraternal organization’s “most revered and respected members.”
The evening featured a number of touching moments, including a video that spanned a good portion of Nozzolio’s political life — and more, like photos from his days at Mynderse School, where he starred on the gridiron.
And then there were the countless pictures — from the ribbon-cutting ceremonies with the bigwigs to touching moments with aging veterans. In each one, there is that Nozzolio smile, in which he looks as though there is nothing he could be doing that was better than this.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here this evening,” he told the audience. He also acknowledged his wife, Rosemary, “who had to endure a political campaign of one type or the other” for decades.
“I couldn’t have done it without your wonderful support,” he told her.