If Niagara County Democratic Party Chairman Nick Forster entered Tuesday night hoping for redemption, he found none.
Despite being given the political equivalent of kryptonite with the fall from grace of former State Senator George D. Maziarz, the bombastic Democratic boss has failed to convert the county from its current red leanings to blue.
With one of his most high-profile incumbents wiped out in Niagara Falls, the only bright spot on the map for Forster anywhere was a Democratic win in North Tonawanda’s alderman-at-large race. Unfortunately, while he was certainly close to Kristen Grandinetti’s campaign, a former North Tonawanda Democratic elected official we talked to said Forster was almost completely invisible in the Lumber City.
Freshly-elected North Tonawanda Alderman-at-Large Austin Tylec “and his family ran that campaign without any help from Nick, without any help from the Falls,” the former North Tonawanda official told us over a celebratory drink in downtown NT. “Mark [Houghton, North Tonawanda Democratic chairman] did all the heavy lifting on this one, all the fundraising. Nick better not try to claim this as his victory, because I can’t remember the last time he showed up around here.”
And win Tylec did, besting Republican incumbent Jeff Glatz by 1,000 votes on what was otherwise a grand old night for the Grand Old Party.
Taking a short ride across town to Canal Club 62, we found the Republicans happily spending their remaining campaign funds on a boisterous party, celebrating having staved off a Tylec Wave in NT and having held back Democrats everywhere else.
“Great team, right message, real accomplishments,” Niagara County Republican Party Chairman Scott Kiedrowski said when we challenged him to sum up his win in five words or less. When we pointed out that was six words, he responded, “Okay. Try ‘Nick Forster ran our opposition.'”
If Kiedrowski seemed glib, it’s because he has consistently revealed Forster’s vows of Democratic comebacks and full slates of candidates to be little more than empty rhetoric and bombast. Many of Kiedrowski’s GOP candidates didn’t even face opposition.
In North Tonawanda, though, that wasn’t the case, with Tylec-aligned candidates challenging every single office and backed by the powerful North Tonawanda police union.
Despite the Tylec victory—a landslide, really—North Tonawanda’s Democrats came up short, and their Police Benevolent Association allies are likely to find out that the old maxim is true: If you strike the king, you must kill him.
Sources inside North Tonawanda’s Republican team tell us that the PBA committed gross violations of a peace pact reached between its members and Republican candidates when local officials acceded to PBA demands for a new radio dispatch system.
That move is likely to draw the ire of a government that survived a strong challenge, and some sources suggest that the PBA will not be the only union punished.
“The PBA made a mistake running Ed Smolinski against [County Legislature Majority Leader] Randy Bradt,” one NT Republican told us. “And they compounded their error when they tried to tie the dispatch issue to his candidacy.”
Already there is talk of GPS monitoring of police cars after reports of officers taking lengthy breaks during shifts, and a possible unwillingness to negotiate new contracts with any city unions.
Lumber City Republicans, meanwhile, were licking some wounds despite winning nearly every race. With Glatz losing by a lopsided margin, many were suggesting that the campaign failed because of an unwieldy structure.
“Scott [Kiedrowski] was busy managing a dozen County Legislature races, and left the Glatz campaign in the hands of the local committee,” a longtime GOP operative told us. “There were some voices on that committee that got louder as the campaign wore on and offered worse and worse advice.”
The worst advice, several North Tonawanda Republicans told us, was a negative mailer that landed in mailboxes the Saturday before the election. The piece, which attempted to compare and contrast the seasoned Glatz with the youthful Tylec, was widely panned on social media.
“It was the dumbest f_____ thing I ever saw,” one Republican operative told us. “They beat the Tylec kid up over his age. People decided right then and there that Jeff was an a__h___, and the poor guy didn’t have anything to do with that mailer.”
Still, despite the anger over the mismanagement of Glatz’s campaign by some, the mood at Republican headquarters was ebullient, particularly in the Bradt camp.
The Majority Leader, who returns for his third term, is walking in much more seasoned after the hard slog for his reelection against a well-financed, union-backed opponent. With his entire Majority Caucus returning intact—and having been instrumental in several winning GOP campaigns—expect Bradt to emerge as a stronger figure in county government.
Many on hand said Bradt, fresh off his victory, is likely to be given a freer hand to run his caucus.
Bradt was noncommittal when we asked about his plans for his county leadership team, only offering, “I’ve had a real chance to assess the talents of some of our lawmakers, and I plan to give everyone the opportunity to make the greatest possible impact for our taxpayers over the next two years.”
One Bradt supporter was less reserved, though, telling us, “The Randy Bradt Era in the County [Legislature] really begins tomorrow morning.”
It was a big night for Republicans around the county, however, and North Tonawanda’s Canal Club 62 was not the only loud bacchanal featuring Brooks Brothers-clad Republicans in their biannual tradition of letting their generally close-cropped hair down.
In Lockport, Adam VanDeMark, a rising star in the county GOP, was presiding over a scene from “Animal House” as Republicans, set loose in the Flight of Five Winery, celebrated unleashing an extinction-level event on their Democratic rivals.
Two years ago, Democrats managed to eke out a narrow majority on the Lockport Common Council. That became a functional majority aligned with Republican Mayor Anne McCaffrey after about three months, when Democratic Fifth Ward Alderman Rick Abbott defected.
Tuesday, Abbott was standing in the winner’s circle with city Republicans, part of a new 5-1 Republican majority, engineered by VanDeMark, McCaffrey and City Attorney John Ottaviano.
“Our message was about the future. The Democrats’ message was about…well, honestly, I don’t think anyone really knows,” VanDeMark told us. “Everyone in this room talked about wanting to run the city well for our taxpayers, about controlling costs, about giving our voters a government they could fully respect. The voters embraced that, and we’re going to keep our end of that bargain.”
The redemption that eluded Forster was there in spades for VanDeMark, who, just two years ago, stepped into a new role as chairman of his city committee and had to stave off massive losses following the departure of the scandal-tarred former Mayor Michael W. Tucker. While VanDeMark and Ottaviano ultimately gave McCaffrey the ability to lead a narrow government for two years, this frees McCaffrey’s hand to make needed changes.
Elsewhere, predictions made in last week’s Niagara Falls Reporter largely survived played out.
In Lewiston, Democrats and Republicans split the two town board seats on offer while voters returned Republican Steve Broderick to another term as supervisor.
Democrats in Pendleton faced a well-oiled GOP machine that includes several prominent members of the county Republican team and were dismissed by an even wider margin than two years ago, marking the full transition of this town to one governed by Republicans.
In Wilson, a last-ditch Democratic attempt at the supervisor’s office fizzled long before the polls were closed.
Kiedrowski was somewhat philosophical about his team’s victory.
“We put up better candidates. We listened to the voters. We stood for something,” the stoutly-built chairman told our reporters. “This is a great county, and people here deserve a good government. We’re going to keep giving that to them.”