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Lewiston Democratic Chairman Calls Sentinel Insert 'Political Mailer'

Palmer:Newsletter was informative
Roberts: Newsletter may be illegal.

Basically, it's a political mailer paid for by taxpayers.

That's what opponents say of a full page insert that appeared in the Lewiston Sentinel on Oct. 12.

Called the "Town of Lewiston Newsletter," it carries a picture of Town of Lewiston councilman, and candidate for town supervisor, Ernie Palmer, and boasts of the accomplishments of the Lewiston Town Board.

For the past several years, Lewiston taxpayers have been paying for a similar insert, also called the "Town of Lewiston Newsletter," also tucked inside the Sentinel, the newspaper of record for the town.

But this edition has a significant change.

Ever since the quarterly taxpayer-funded newsletters first appeared in the fall of 2010 - one coming out for each season - they have been billed as coming "From the Desk of Supervisor Steve Reiter."

Seen on the previous newsletters is the picture of Town Supervisor Steven C. Reiter, his face smiling, placed prominently, as he announces glad tidings for Lewiston readers to behold with wonderment.

With Election Day three weeks away, however, the fall of 2013 edition of the newsletter came not "From the Desk" of Reiter but from something called the "Councilman's Corner."

That councilman, one of four in the town, is Palmer, a Republican, and, as also mentioned above, is running for supervisor as a Republican.

Palmer defeated his fellow Republican, Reiter, in the Lewiston Republican primary for supervisor in what might be called a friendly transition of power. The present supervisor, Reiter, did not actively campaign after admitting he is under criminal investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Office for alleged misuse of town gasoline in his personal vehicles and other matters.

Despite the official seal affixed at the top, the Town of Lewiston newsletter reads like campaign literature, Diane Roberts, chairwoman of the Lewiston Democratic Committee, points out.

“It is nothing but a political puff piece for Palmer, and the town taxpayers paid for it! I think it’s illegal. I haven't had a chance to look it up yet, but I'm pretty sure it’s illegal,” said Roberts, who is also an attorney.

Legal or not, it is curious that the newsletter's substitution of Palmer for Reiter by the Republican-controlled town board comes to taxpayers just as Palmer faces a strong Democratic challenger, Dennis J. Brochey, Sr., a longtime auto repair shop owner and Village of Lewiston trustee.

Brochey has campaigned on a platform that includes charges that the Republican leadership in town is more of a political club and patronage machine than servants of the townspeople.

Palmer explained the newsletter was meant to keep townsfolk informed.

“The turnout at our town meetings is generally very small, so they were paying to have the meetings videotaped and run on cable,” he explained. “That cost money, so a few years ago [Councilman] Mike Marra came up with the idea of doing the newspaper thing.”

The taxpayer-funded newsletter, as Palmer writes it, is meant "to give my perspective on the recent activity and accomplishments by the Town."

Mentioned are Colonial Village Park, the Sanborn Streetscape, the dog park, the new kitchen in the Farm Museum and "the wildly popular ice rink."

Roberts says some of these are not "recent activity" but have been completed for years.

"For years, it was always Steve Reiter's picture," Roberts points out. "The public's funds are used to print an insert into the Lewiston-Sentinel, not the usual column by the supervisor, but, at election time, the 'councilman's corner'-- and not any of the three other councilmen, nope, only the one who happens to be running for supervisor, reporting on all that has happened in basically the past four years."

Palmer reacted with a laugh when told of Roberts’ charges.

“This woman is desperate,” he said. “She and her friends have been attacking me in letters to the Lewiston Sentinel and the Niagara Gazette because the county Democrats are too broke to buy any political advertising.”

Roberts, in turn, reacted to Palmer's response. "If they have that much [money] why use taxpayer money to do what essentially was a mailer?"

Asked how he came to write the most recent column, Palmer said that Marra - who is in charge of putting the insert together - asked him to.

“I didn’t think anything of it,“ he said. “And I don’t think there’s anything political about it at all.”

In the newsletter, Palmer writes how the town council "adjusted our New York Power Authority power credit... as a $20 credit on all water bills every two months;" "the nearly 40 year old Water Treatment Plant [is] being upgraded;" "The Town Master Plan and Code [are being] updated for the first time since the 1960's," and an issue that is "of most importance to many, including myself, the 2014 Town of Lewiston budget."

Of the latter, Palmer writes, "The Town is on solid financial footing as the fund balance over the past four years has increased 20 percent from $5 Million to $6 Million and we have continued to have no town tax. Both of these trends will continue next year."

He also wrote, that "It is with the hard work and cooperation of the Town Board and Department Heads that these accomplishments were possible."

Ernie Palmer, a former City of Niagara Falls police superintendent who retired and ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2008, has been a Lewiston town councilman for seven years and has known Town Supervisor Steven Reiter for years.

Reiter is under investigation by the FBI and the State Attorney General's office for the possible misuse of town resources including gasoline, picnic tables, use of town equipment on town property and removal of scrap iron at the Joseph Davis State Park, operated by the town.

Palmer said he doesn’t believe the supervisor had any criminal intent.

“I don’t believe Steve Reiter would do anything to profit from his position,” Palmer said.

Speaking about the gasoline, Palmer said, “My understanding is that, for whatever reason, [Reiter] never filled out the mileage vouchers you get when you use your own vehicle on township business. So, rather than getting the fifty-five cents a mile, he would just fill up his tank once a month or whatever. The town probably saved money.”

Palmer is a professional guitarist and, since his retirement from the police departmenthas been performing regularly with different bands at venues across the Niagara Frontier.

It’s what he really enjoys, he said.

“If I win (the race for supervisor) I’ll be happy to serve,” he said. “If I lose, I’ll be just as happy, maybe happier.”



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

OCT 29, 2013