When Paul Dyster ran for the office of mayor of the city of Niagara Falls back in 2007, he promised an end to the traditional “friends and family” approach to running government. Over the succeeding years of his tenure at City Hall, however, it’s become clear that the campaign rhetoric that emanated from the man with two college degrees in political science, and the reality that ensued, are two entirely different things.
Indeed, Mayor Dyster has elevated political cronyism to new heights. For example, consider his appointments to the Niagara Falls Water Board, which is currently under intense scrutiny from a half dozen different regulatory and law enforcement entities over the blackish, smelly discharge into the Niagara River that nauseated passengers on the world-famous Maid of the Mist boat ride below the falls on a July Saturday in the middle of the busy tourist season.
We use the plural “appointments” because, besides the mayor’s direct appointment of Dan O’Callaghan to the Water Board, two of the three appointments were reliable Democratic Party mainstays Nick Forster and Renae Kimble, who were nominated by Dyster-rubber stamps Niagara Falls City Council and ex-Assemblyman John Ceretto, respectively.
Exactly one month after Niagara County Democratic Party chairman Nicholas Forster was appointed by Mr. Dyster to the Water Board, in late January 2017, came the Great Water Board Massacre, which saw the mass firing of Executive Director Paul J. Drof, Director of infrastructure Norman Allen, Administration and Contracts chief Anthony M. Hahns and General Counselor John Ottaviano. Two of the dismissals, those of Mr. Drof and Mr. Hahn, may be seen as impacting the critical day-to-day running of the plant, and subsequently any role played in the disaster by operator error, routine maintenance or malicious act, whichever investigators determine it to be, that caused the July 29 spill.
It isn’t known what specific technical, scientific or civil engineering expertise Mr. Forster, an attorney, consummate Democratic dealmaker and close Dyster ally, brings to the Water Board, nor Ms. Kimble, for that matter. Mr. O’Callaghan at least had a lengthy career as a project manager in the plumbing industry.
Ms. Kimble, also an attorney, does have an extensive background obtaining government grants, something desperately needed to address the sorry state of the water system which, in 2015, wasted through leakage an astounding 5.2 billion gallons of 7.7 billion gallons processed. Whether she’s secured any grants since she was appointed in February, 2012 is unclear.
There are other of Mayor Dyster’s political appointments that have induced some degree of head-scratching, including the 2013 nomination of retired Niagara Falls schoolteacher, political insider and one-time Assemblywoman DelMonte staffer Ida Massaro to the influential Niagara Frontier State Park, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission.
Sitting on the commission, Ms. Massaro would have had input into decisions such as the Niagara Falls State Park “Landscape Improvements” plan that destroyed Three Sisters Islands, the setting aside of numerous regulations so that the Cuomo administration could build a State Police barracks on the Niagara Gorge and the handing over of the historic Schoellkopf site to James Glynn so he could rescue his business after it was expelled from Canada for alleged corruption, the failure to remove the north Moses Parkway and the ongoing diversion of ten of millions of tourism dollars from Niagara Falls State Park to state government coffers.
One thing is for sure, however, and that is we have never been able to bear witness to the fact that Ms. Massaro has ever spoken in public, written a letter to the editor or guest view for the newspaper, led one of her classes on a field trip, or otherwise had the remotest connection with anything to do with parks. Toiling in the Niagara Falls Democratic Party vineyards for decades, and an unshakeable fealty to Mayor Dyster and the party machinery, appear to have been her sole qualifications for the position.
We did a cursory review of the LinkedIn and Facebook profiles of Niagara Falls attorney Craig Touma, the mayor’s campaign manager in 2007 and 2011 and a significant campaign contributor, who was appointed by the mayor to a term on the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area board in 2014. Other than “sharing” the Facebook page of the influential non-profit nearly three years ago, there’s nothing anywhere on the internet to indicate a hint of interest on Mr. Touma’s part in anything to do with history, industrial or heritage tourism or cultural traditions.
Leaked emails from Assemblyman Ceretto’s campaigned last year revealed the antipathy that both Mr. Ceretto and Mayor Dyster had towards a proposed Tesla museum. National Heritage initially supported the project, even offering seed money in the form of a small grant for the effort, before one day abruptly and mysteriously pulling the rug out from under the nascent project.
There are numerous other patronage appointments by Mayor Dyster to positions at city hall and elsewhere we could mention, but in all fairness, what politician doesn’t surround himself with individuals whose primary attributes don’t necessarily encompass independent thinking, ability and competence.