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By David Staba

Finishing last in a first bid for office would have ended a lot of political aspirations as quickly as they started.

Not Glenn Choolokian's, though.

For one thing, Choolokian's showing in last year's Democratic mayoral primary was anything but dismal. While he wound up fourth in a field of four, the rookie garnered only a handful of votes fewer than third-place finisher Sam Granieri, a former Niagara County Legislator and fixture in Niagara Falls politics for a decade.

Choolokian, 36, said his support grew through the spring and summer, with an increasing number of people asking if he would go after the only City Council seat on the ballot in November.

"It hadn't even crossed my mind," the longtime city and water authority worker said of taking another shot this year. "But as more people started calling me about running, we decided to give it a shot."

Choolokian faces James Stewart in a Sept. 14 primary to decide the Democratic nomination for the seat, currently held by Stewart. He was appointed to the spot vacated by Vince Anello after Anello moved into the mayor's office.

The winner in the Democratic Primary faces Republican nominee George Lodick in November's general election. Stewart and Lodick also face off Sept. 14 in the Independence Party Primary.

Choolokian's mayoral campaign centered on a theme of replacing "recycled politicians" with new blood and fresh ideas. He points to the early track record of Anello's administration, particularly its hiring record and the rushed, hushed privatization of much of Hyde Park Golf

Course as perfect examples of the sort of government he campaigned against last year and is railing at again this political season.

"What I said came true," said Choolokian. "My whole campaign was about recycled politicians and business as usual."

As he campaigns through the city's neighborhoods with campaign manager Sam Archie, Choolokian said he's hearing words of support from many of the same people who backed other, better-known candidates a year ago.

"I've got people in my camp, putting up signs and working for me, who worked for Anello, (Paul) Dyster and Granieri last year," Choolokian said. "They're so aggravated with what Anello's doing, they want a real change."

Choolokian started working for the city in 1987. He became eligible to run for city office after his position was transferred to the newly created water and sewer authority.

With most of the local Democratic leadership lining up behind Stewart, Choolokian figures to face an uphill battle. The way he looks at it, though, the lack of party operatives around and behind him actually helps his chances.

"We need somebody who is going to be there for the regular people," Choolokian said. "In the past, no matter who gets elected, the same people make all the money and the same people get all the good (city) jobs. The regular people haven't been represented in this town in a long time."

Besides working for the city, Choolokian owned a couple of Main Street nightclubs during the 1990s -- Hustler's and Skylines. He said the experience underscored another shortcoming of City Hall in Niagara Falls, no matter who's in charge.

"There's never any help from City Hall," Choolokian said. "Just trying to put up a sign or an awning means trouble. If there's grant money available from the state or federal government, only certain business owners who know certain people can get it."

The May deal in which the Anello administration handed over control over an ever-increasing share of Hyde Park Golf Course to a group of investors already massively indebted to the city was a prime example of favoring private interests over the public good, Choolokian said.

"That was a travesty," he said. "And it's not just the golf course. The city runs everything into the ground, whether it's the course or the Ice Pavilion. Then, instead of admitting that management is incompetent, they just give it away."

Choolokian said the city needs to find ways to run its facilities more efficiently, rather than rushing to privatization.

"That golf course could make money with the city running it, if it was done the right way," he said. "They always look at trying to break even, or only losing a little. There's no rule that you have to lose money."

Choolokian and his wife, Pamela, have a 4-year-old daughter, Hope, and a 2-year-old son, Gadge.

"We've got to give them a better place to grow up, and a good reason to stay here," Choolokian said. "We've already lost most of a couple of generations of people who grew up here, but had to leave to find decent jobs."

That effort starts at the top, he said.

"It took 30 years to ruin this town, but we've got to stop talking about the past and start fixing it. We can't keep just talking about it, and it starts with honest government."

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 24 2004