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JULY 21 - JULY 29, 2015

Foreclosure, Attorney Sex Change; Jim Szwedo Just Can’t Catch a Break

By Mike Hudson

JULY 21, 2015

Before: Roberta Jean O'Toole was once (above) lawyer Robert O'Toole. She represents Jim Szwedo in his lawsuit against Niagara Falls.
After: Roberta Jean "Bobbi" O'- Toole.

Niagara Falls - The Republican primary election candidate for mayor, James Szwedo, had had a rash of publicity last week that would rival anything a Hollywood screenwriter could invent.

But they say all publicity is good publicity.

Things started going peculiar for Szwedo back in 2010, when two small vacant lots he owns on 24th Street were targeted by the city’s ZOOM Team for mowing and general cleanup. The outspoken radio and cable TV commentator was billed by the city for the work. He also fell behind in his property taxes for the lots.

Fast forward to 2015, when Szwedo announced his intention to take Mayor Paul Dyster’s job and was notified by the city that he owed $2,000 on the properties, for the cleanup, back taxes, penalties and fees. Unless the money was paid, he was informed, the city would foreclose.

Small, vacant lots such as those Szwedo owns are regularly sold at the city’s in rem auction for less than $1,000 apiece, and often for as little as $100.

Szwedo claimed that his longtime criticism of the sitting mayor had been responsible for his properties being targeted by the city in the first place, that their appearance on the city’s foreclosure list was prompted by his candidacy and that he would fight the whole thing in court.

To that end, he hired attorney Robert O’Toole, who had recently retired as Wheatfield Town Attorney and is well known in county Republican circles. O’Toole would argue that the $830 cleanup charge had been illegal to begin with, and that the city refused to accept money to cover the tax debt unless the cleanup was paid for.

Up to this point, the whole thing was a fairly typical Niagara Falls election year donnybrook, with charges, counter charges and a threatened lawsuit against the city.

But then everything changed. Well, just one thing changed, but it was a pretty big change.

Just weeks after former Olympic decathlon champion and star of the cancelled “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reality TV series, Bruce Jenner, changed his name to Caitlyn and announced to all the world that he was actually a she, having lived trapped inside the body of a man, Szwedo’s attorney, O’Toole, changed his name to Roberta and announced the same thing happened to her.

“I think it was an opportunity for me to sort of be myself,” she told the Buffalo News. “There are a number of places where I was able and willing and wanted to go in a female mode, but there were a number of places, especially in Niagara County, where I couldn’t go because I was and am fairly well known.”

O’Toole was married for 24 years until her divorce in 2001, and fathered two sons and two daughters. She said gender identity issues were not the reason for the divorce, and although she hasn’t discussed the transition with her ex-wife, O’Toole is sure she knows, at least through their adult children.

Topping it all off, O'Toole announced that it was Szwedo that was the catalyst that made her make the announcement.

According to the Buffalo News, O’Toole said the high profile lawsuit on behalf of Szwedo could lead to a lot of local publicity that might have resulted in the inadvertent revelation of her gender change.

After a Buffalo News reporter noticed her legal filing to change her name, she decided to go public.

As far as Szwedo is concerned, only one thing is for certain.

He will most likely get the vote of every Republican gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender voter in the city, as well as those of a number of GOP property owners teetering on the edge of foreclosure here.

Whether that will be enough to overcome the Republican frontrunner, former city councilman John Accardo, remains to be seen.

Only in Niagara Falls kids, only in Niagara Falls.






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