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ANALYSIS By Mike Hudson

Democratic committee people throughout Niagara County have been increasingly dismayed by the erratic antics of party chairman Dan Rivera, and the committee's longtime vice-chair, Diane Roberts of Lewiston, has resigned her position in disgust.

According to a letter sent by Roberts to committee members explaining her resignation, Rivera twice grabbed her by the nose during a recent fund-raiser for Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, pulling it painfully as a result of a disagreement. Rivera later called her on the phone, screaming and cursing her out because she refused to fawn over a letter he'd written to the Niagara Gazette attacking state Sen. George Maziarz.

After detailing the vile language Rivera used toward her, Roberts apologized for repeating it, but said she thought it was important to explain the reasons behind her resignation.

"I do not speak this way, and certainly do not expect to be spoken to that way and in such a manner," she wrote. "I will continue to work my heart out for the candidates in Lewiston, but at this time simply cannot and will not subject myself to physical and verbal abuse for a voluntary effort."

Veteran Democrats say that Rivera, Dyster and state Rep. Francine Del Monte all benefit from a fractured party, as it makes it more difficult for anyone to successfully challenge them.

"Without question, Dan Rivera is the poorest excuse for a party chairman in memory," said Nick Forster, the former party chairman who has retired and divorced himself completely from county politics. "In the last election, he turned his back on the candidates endorsed by his own committee."

In the city of Niagara Falls, the endorsed Democratic candidate for mayor, Lewis "Babe" Rotella, was soundly defeated by Dyster in the primary after receiving virtually no support from the county committee. Likewise, City Council candidate Nicholas Ligammari finished third behind incumbent Councilman Bob Anderson and Steve Fournier, whom the Democrats actually tried to have thrown off the ballot.

Rivera's contentious chairmanship has been wracked by controversy. In 2006, he used his day job as an investigator for the Liberty Mutual insurance company to dig up dirt on Gary Parenti, who was challenging Del Monte in the Democratic Primary that year.

The Tonawanda News then published his outlandish allegations, which resulted in an investigation by the office of the state Insurance Commissioner. Rivera ultimately lost his job after Parenti sued his employer in court and collected a substantial payoff.

Ironically, he used the money to buy the DeVeaux home of former Tonawanda News publisher Wayne Lowman, who had been fired for unrelated ineptitude and was forced to leave town. Republican state Sen. George Maziarz, for one, said he has enjoyed Rivera's tenure as Democratic Party chairman here.

"I hate to say it, but Dan's done quite a lot to ensure that the Democrats maintain their minority position in the county legislature and elsewhere," Maziarz told the Reporter. "Frankly, he makes (Republican Chairman) Henry Wojtaszek's job a lot easier."

Rivera is currently backing controversial Lewiston Town Supervisor Fred Newlin in his candidacy in November. Maziarz said he's not worried.

"With Dan's track record, if he has anything to do with Fred's campaign, I ought to be in pretty good shape," he chuckled. "At least they've found someone to run against me who has a regular job." Maziarz was referring to his most recent Democratic opponent, a part-time dishwasher.

Roberts' resignation from her high-ranking position in the committee may be the beginning of a more widespread show of dissatisfaction with a chairman seen by many committee members as both tyrannical and ineffectual, Democratic sources says.

And with the infighting the party will most certainly endure in the coming months, the Republicans now seem the least of its worries.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 27 2008