From today’s Morning Memo (item I):

Sen. George Maziarz’s abrupt announcement that he will not be seeking re-election this fall could not come at a worse time for the Senate GOP.

In order to re-take the majority, the Republicans must now do the following:

– Win battles for four open seats currently or previously held by Republicans – Maziarz, Greg Ball (Hudson Valley, retiring), Chuck Fuschillo (Long Island, retired) and Lee Zeldin (Long Island, running for Congress).

– Defeat at least two of the three Democratic marginals they are targeting – Sens. Cecilia Tkaczyk in the Capital Region, Terry Gipson in the Hudson Valley and Ted O’Brien in Rochester.

– Successfully defend two of their own marginals who are being targeted by the Democrats: Sens. Jack Martins (Long Island) and Mark Grisanti (Buffalo).

– Respond to any surprise dark horse races that pop up unexpectedly.

The GOP faced a difficult task before Maziarz dropped his political bomb Sunday night – especially given the IDC’s defection back to the arms of the so-called regular Democrats, and the newly-formed labor/NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio/Gov. Andrew Cuomo alliance that is all in on assisting the Democrats in their quest to take the majority.

It was bad enough that the Republicans’ second highest-ranked member – Sen. Tom Libous – was indicted on charges of lying to the FBI, making himself a target for the Democrats.

With Maziarz leaving under a cloud, the GOP’s task has become exponentially more difficult.

Speculation about the real motivation behind the Niagara County senator’s decision to decline the GOP nomination has kicked into high gear.

Regardless of Maziarz’s insistence that he is merely “just tired” and in need of a change after close to 20 years of driving back and forth to Albany, the news is being tied to the belief that the US attorney is looking into his campaign finances.

“My decision has nothing to do with any investigation,” the senator told The Buffalo News. “People always suggest things like that when someone is retiring. The U.S. attorney is looking into it. Let him look into it. I have nothing to hide.”

US Attorney Preet Bharara has taken over the unfinished investigations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s now-defunct Moreland Commission.

According to a May City & State report, the commission had been looking into $140,000 worth of unspecified expenditures by Maziarz’s campaign between 2008 and 2013 that went to pay for everything from a clown to rental to wine, flowers and specialty chocolates.

The rumor mill – fueled by gleeful Western New York Democrats – kicked into high gear following the resignation last week of two high-level Maziarz staffers.

Talk of subpoenas and the senator’s imminent resignation was all over town, though Maziarz himself was denying to reporters as late as Saturday that anything was afoot.

It’s expected that North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt will be the preferred Republican candidate to replace Maziarz on the ballot.

We’ll surely hear more about this as the day wears on.

Maziaarz had faced a primary this September from Gia Arnold of Holley, whose campaign is largely focused on repeal of the SAFE Act. He also was facing a general election challenge from Niagara Falls attorney Johnny Destino, who lost to the senator in the 2012 GOP primary. Since then, Destino has switched his enrollment to the Democratic Party, and intended to challenge Maziarz in November on Row A.