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By David Staba

Now that everyone has fully recovered, at least physically, from Election Night 2004 and the bruising campaigns that preceded it, speculation is already flying about next year.

With the congressional and state races out of the way for two years, local offices campaign the 2005 electoral schedule.

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In Niagara Falls, where Glenn Choolokian won a one-year term on the Niagara Falls City Council, three spots on the city's legislative body are at stake.

Council Chairman Charles Walker shouldn't have any trouble securing another term, but the other two available seats should be much more competitive.

Choolokian won the Democratic Primary this year by upending the party's endorsed candidate, outgoing Councilman Jimmy Stewart, to fill the spot vacated by Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello when he won the mayor's job in 2003. City Dem leaders would seem more likely to support Choolokian in his attempt to secure a full, four-year term, given the Water and Sewer Authority worker's decisive win over Republican candidate George Lodick.

A couple of problems there. Choolokian has been campaigning for two election seasons against "recycled politicians," a species that occupies virtually every position of authority at City Hall. If he sticks to his vow to make noise at every opportunity about the way things have been run around here for the last half-century or so, a lot of noses are going to wind up out of joint.

As we've all learned so well, grudges trump accomplishments, potential and vision when it comes to party politics in Niagara Falls.

Then there's the question of whether Choolokian would even want the support of the city Democrats, after seeing what their "help" did for Stewart, and how little support they provided while he carried their banner earlier this month.

With or without the party endorsement, Choolokian could end up running as part of a ticket with Sam Archie, who ran his campaign this year, and John Diletti, owner of Club Joey's on Pine Avenue, where he used to work and held several fund-raisers.

Gary Parenti, a Niagara Falls native who until recently was a top aide to state Sen. Byron Brown, tried to launch a "Young Democrats" organization last year to help recruit new candidates and instill a bit of vigor into the moribund county- and city-wide organizations. Those efforts were quashed by former county Chairman Frank Soda and city Chair Tony Mondi, who apparently like things as they are and forbade the group from using the word "Democratic" in its name. So the Niagara Civic Club it is.

That approach by party leaders contributed to a downright pathetic turnout for September's primary and an Election Day vote that lagged well behind national levels.

Meanwhile, Parenti's Niagara Civic Club plans to back Walker, assuming he runs, but may field candidates of its own for the other two available seats, with or without official party backing.

The club reportedly is hoping to recruit at least one woman to run as part of its slate.

On the Republican side, Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek and state Sen. George Maziarz are expected to field a full slate of candidates. That group will likely include Lodick, who said before this year's campaign that he viewed his bid as a two-year effort.

Candra Thomason, a vocal critic of Anello's since his Council tenure, has yet to announce whether she'll seek a second four-year term.

Maziarz and Wojtaszek may also reprise the strategy that led to the Republican landslide in the 2003 Niagara County Legislature races, backing candidates sympathetic to their cause in the Democratic Primary in an effort to grab both major-party lines in November.

Speaking of the county Legislature, every seat will again be up for grabs next fall. That leaves the Democrats, who barely have enough members in that body to field a bowling team, with roughly half a year to figure out a way to offset the advantages in dollars and ideas that carried the GOP last time around.

Then there's Buffalo, where the first seriously contested mayoral race since Jimmy Griffin's last re-election campaign in 1989 is virtually guaranteed. Brown and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt have already been running for months. And while Tony Masiello was widely expected to step aside after three terms, he's been talking for months like someone who hasn't written off going after a fourth, even if it means running against an opponent with a pulse.

Why anyone would want the job is another matter, with the state-imposed control board holding all the real authority over city spending. Masiello has been angling to get the city a larger share of Erie County's tax revenue, but the $130 million deficit faced by the latter makes such a deal particularly unlikely.

Even less probable is enactment of Giambra's much-publicized "red" budget, which would cut thousands of jobs, close libraries, and otherwise bring a scourge upon the land.

The threat was never much more than the political equivalent of holding your breath and stamping your feet, particularly paired as it was with the but-if-you-let-me-raise-the-sales-tax "green" budget.

Giambra's already tenuous position took an additional hit late last week. On Friday, WGRZ-TV reported that his $81,000-per-year driver and "executive assistant," Victor Getz, who primarily assists the executive in doling out patronage jobs, has been running a Friends and Family hiring plan that would make even Anello blush. According to the televised report, Getz and 10 others in his family soak up more than $500,000 in county salaries. Even if Giambra's "red" budget were enacted, eight of the 11 would keep their apparently untouchable jobs.

Soaring Medicaid costs crunch every county, including Erie and Niagara. Giambra's grandstanding, however, has gotten little traction from the local Albany contingent.

Part of the reason for that is Giambra's refusal to concede that his massive property-tax cut upon taking office helped create the county's present mess. And it's pretty tough to argue that paying for Medicaid forces you to cut road patrols by the Sheriff's Department, but you can't possibly do without your buddy's cousin making $83,000 a year as the Assistant Deputy Director of Something-or-Other.

Fresh off the presidential campaign trail, former Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Pigeon has been spending significant time in Niagara Falls.

Pigeon spent much of the fall working on John Kerry's presidential campaign in Florida and Pennsylvania, where he helped with an effort simultaneously backing Kerry and GOP Sen. Arlen Spector.

Closer to home, he's been working on several real estate deals involving some very significant properties throughout Niagara Falls, from office buildings to hotels to retail space.

Pigeon, who ran Tom Golisano's most recent gubernatorial bid in 2002, and was instrumental in orchestrating the Paychex founder's purchase of the Buffalo Sabres from Adelphia last year, said he has no plans to abandon politics for business on a permanent basis.

"In between campaigns, I'm focusing like a laser on getting these commercial deals done," Pigeon said.


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 Nov. 16 2004