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By David Staba

George Lodick's credentials as a Conservative Party member are well established.

But unlike many of his ideological brethren, the veteran political operative-turned-candidate says he's more concerned with Center City than the country club.

Lodick told the Niagara Falls Reporter he'll challenge James Stewart for the City Council seat that opened up after its former occupant, Vince Anello, was elected mayor last November. While several Democrats expressed interest at the time, the party tapped Stewart in no small part due to his willingness to wage what amounts to a two-year campaign to keep the seat. Not only is the pivotal spot on the five-member Council the subject of a special election in November, the winner will have to defend it again in 2005.

Lodick, who said he'll seek the Republican nomination, spent five years working in Washington, D.C., as executive director of the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom, before moving home to Niagara Falls. Raising four children near the corner of Cleveland Avenue and 18th Street, he has no illusions about the problems facing the city's neighborhoods.

"You can't ignore them, they just don't go away," Lodick said of the woes that come along with urban blight, like decaying buildings and street crime. "We have all the problems of a major urban area without the benefits that come with most urban areas."

The city should look at financing efforts to counter its inner-city woes with revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino, Lodick said.

"The Casino Cash Commission said the city of Niagara Falls knows that tourism is the only thing we should spend money on, because that's all that matters," Lodick said. "I don't think that is all that matters."

Instead, he thinks more of the city's share -- which totaled $9.5 million this year and is expected to increase steadily -- should be devoted to sprucing up neighborhoods, repairing infrastructure and, in a nod to those Conservative roots, cutting taxes.

"We need to look at using casino money to cut tax rates," Lodick said. "That's a fight worth fighting. As long as tax rates go up, you're not going to encourage new housing or new businesses. We have to do something else, because it's not working."

In addition to running a business that recycles computer and electronics equipment, Lodick has long been active in area politics, working as a consultant and campaign manager, most recently on Wheatfield Town Supervisor Tim Demler's unsuccessful bid to unseat state Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte in 2002. He was also one of the leaders of the City Charter Review Commission that was appointed, then ignored, by former mayor Irene Elia.

The deaths of his father and pastor within a six-month span led the 37-year-old Lodick to step out from behind the scenes and run for office.

"I took stock of what was going on in my life, and figured if I was ever going to run, I should do it now," he said. "I think I have some good ideas and have an idea of how to change how things work in city government."

One such way would be reviving the work of the Charter Review Commission, a bipartisan body that wound up the victim of heavily partisan opposition. The body spent hundreds of hours trying to replace the present charter -- which amounts to two separate types of government mushed into one morass that many say violates state municipal law -- with a single, workable system.

The commission's recommendations included more than doubling the mayor's salary and forcing City Hall to hire many of its department heads based on qualifications, rather than patronage.

"We need to take the work we did on the Charter Commission and put some of the things we suggested back in play," Lodick said. "We should look at the things we might have been wrong about or hasty about, figure out what could still work, and come up with one good document. If nothing else, we need to mitigate the adversarial environment this charter tends to bring between the mayor and the City Council, no matter who is in office."

The seat Lodick seeks figures to be decided by one of the most hotly contested Council races in years. It's the only citywide seat on the ballot, with Democrats trying to maintain the 4-1 edge they currently hold. If the GOP can pull within 3-2, the administration would have more difficulty getting its way, with only a single defection needed to defy its wishes.

Lodick plans to officially announce his candidacy next month.

All candidates begin circulating petitions on June 8, with any necessary primaries scheduled for Sept. 14.

Unless you're a connoisseur of boarded-up buildings or prefer to pay for your movies a quarter at a time, there's not much reason to journey down Main Street past the Earl Brydges Library after normal business hours.

Or during normal business hours, for that matter.

That sad state of affairs lifts, for one night at least, on Friday, April 30, when The Book Corner at 1801 Main hosts an evening of poetry and music.

Local poet Dan Sicoli -- who lists influences ranging from William Shakespeare to Charles Bukowski to Muddy Waters among his inspirations -- is scheduled to read his work from 7 to 9 p.m., accompanied by a saxophonist. Admission is free.

More information is available by calling The Book Corner at 285-2928, sending an e-mail to info@fallsbookcorner.com, or venturing out to Main Street and stopping at the store.

The Shadow Martini Bar and Restaurant's Martini Madness competition produced a champion last week, with the Cranappletini -- which blended two brands of apple-flavored vodka, cranberry juice and a splash of sour mix.

The champion concoction edged out the gin-and-orange-juice-based Wet and Wild Canary (Citycide's personal preference), as well as another apple-oriented mixture and the three other weekly winners up for the grand prize. It's worth noting that each of the finalists stuck to a basic tenet of martini mixology -- if it doesn't involve either vodka or gin, it's not really a martini.

Congratulations to Kevin Agius, who won a weekend for two in Toronto and a permanent spot on Shadow's martini menu.

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 April 27 2004