Falls' Magnificent Seven Candidates Have Tougher Task Than Film's Stars Did
By Mike Hudson
Those of you who are familiar with the classic film The Magnificent Seven are already familiar with the plot. Seven sally forth, only three make it through.
The seven candidates seeking three contested seats on the Niagara Falls City Council seem every bit as determined as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Bucholtz and the other stars of the movie, but rather than deciding the fate of a sleepy Mexican village plagued by bandits, the results of the election may cast the future of the falls, a contentious northern city plagued by high taxes, high crime rates, declining population and a long tradition of stupefying, inept government.
The upset defeat of longtime Councilman Sam Fruscione in the Democratic primary set the stage for a shift in the council majority, away from the opposition troika he ran with Councilmen Bob Anderson and Glenn Choolokian, and toward - perhaps - a majority more sympathetic to the administration of Mayor Paul Dyster.
Fruscione, Anderson and Choolokian were able to beat back Dyster’s proposed tax increases, his spending on frivolities like the Hard Rock Café concert series and his wretched personnel choices, like former Economic Development Director Peter Kay who was famously paid $100,000 a year but failed miserably in creating even one permanent private sector job.
As a public service for the minority of Niagara Falls citizens who will actually go out and vote next Tuesday, the Niagara Falls Reporter here offers brief profiles of the seven council candidates, including insight into whether they would be likely to endorse or oppose Dyster’s s tax-and-spend style of government.
He’s the cousin of Dyster’s campaign manager, Craig Touma, an in-law of Dyster’s appointed City Court Judge (and Touma’s wife) Diane Vitello, and cousin by marriage of Lisa Vitello, Diane’s sister, who was recently named by the mayor to a post in the city’s billings and collections department.
How likely is Democrat Andrew Touma to oppose anything proposed by Dyster, who provides employment for half of Touma’s family?
He was the biggest vote getter in the Democratic primary and, along with Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker, has been officially endorsed by Dyster.
When Democrat Kristen Grandinetti first ran for the council four years ago, she was adamant: The people of Niagara Falls didn’t have to worry about her being a rubber stamp for the Dyster administration; she was her own woman and made up her own mind.
This was despite the fact that she lived a few doors down from Dyster on Memorial Parkway and the mayor had a big sign in his front yard asking people to vote for her.
Four years later, Grandinetti’s honesty must be called into question. She’s voted with Dyster nearly 100 percent of the time and has also served as an attack dog, using public forums such as newspaper op-eds to berate other council members for not towing the administration line.
The longest serving member of the council began his career being a yes man to former Mayor Irene Elia, continued by being a yes man to Vincenzo V. Anello, her successor, and now serves as a yes man to Dyster.
So great is Democrat Charles Walker’s talent to say yes nearly all the time that the one-time, graveyard shift, machine operator now serves as a highly paid executive at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
After a stunning upset in the Democratic primary that saw Fruscione lose the Democratic Party line, the former council chairman announced he would continue to campaign on the Conservative and Independence party lines.
Such candidacies have a dismal record of success, but some think he may be able to siphon off enough Democratic votes to help Russell Vesci or one of the other Republicans seeking a council seat.
Fruscione had been the top vote getter in every election he’d run in prior to the primary, but an organized smear campaign put on by the Dyster camp proved his undoing.
He was attacked for everything from his opposition to the highly questionable Hamister hotel deal to being a fan of the “Godfather” movies. A history buff, his interest in Niagara Falls’ colorful past as a center for organized crime was brought up again and again.
Of non-incumbents not named Touma, Republican Russell Vesci is seen by many as having the best shot to upset Dyster’s grand designs.
A karate black belt who is also known as a musician, Vesci has campaigned against high taxes, out of control street crime and the city’s crumbling infrastructure.
“Out-of-control spending has to be curbed,” he said. “This is the very epicenter of what’s been wrong with the city for so many years.”
Former Republican County Legislator Vincent Sandonato has campaigned on eliminating lifetime healthcare for elected officials in the city, stabilizing and reducing overall tax rates for both residents and businesses, and restructuring the city’s budget process to generate cuts and return surpluses to the taxpayers.
“I will focus on fostering an environment that grows good-paying private-sector jobs and broadens the city’s tax base,” Sandonato said. “That’s how you pay for a tax cut.”
A registered Democrat running on the Republican line, political neophyte Robert Elder is an Army veteran and business owner who says the fact he’s never served in government is a reason to vote for him.
“You can’t keep voting for the same people and expect anything to change,” he said.
Elder, who has been assisting his ailing sister in Florida, has not been actively campaigning.
Mayor Dyster has not minced words in his support for the Touma-Walker-Grandinetti ticket.
"I'm a mayor. I shouldn't have to be a detective, too. But I'm trying to straighten out one of the most crooked cities in the U.S.A,” Dyster said.
"Want to know what you can do to help? If you're a Democrat... support Kristen Grandinetti, Andy Touma and Charles Walker for City Council. Your vote matters. I'm doing what I can, but I need your help.”
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
OCT 29, 2013