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JULY 21 - JULY 29, 2015

Possibility of Election Fraud Raised In Dyster Petition Challenges

By Mike Hudson

JULY 21, 2015

While Paul Dyster was busy being mayor, he failed to find the time to gather enough petition signatures and his team had to scramble to get last minute signatures. But are there enough?

On behalf of the public, the Reporter will watch closely the process of ruling on the petition challenge of Paul Dyster. Democratic Elections Commissioner Lora Allen (above) will rule on such items as legibility of signatures, addresses and dates of signatures.

Many of the Dyster petition signatures are readable - like Ida Massaro, but others are clearly illegible. Time will tell if the elections commissioner Lora Allen will be able to decipher them.

Incumbent Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster may find himself not having to worry about his Republican opponent in the general election, or even about the challenge posed by Glenn Choolokian in the rapidly approaching Democratic primary.

If hundreds of objections filed against his nominating petitions on behalf of the Choolokian campaign by Niagara Falls businessman Sam Archie are upheld, Dyster may find himself thrown off the ballot.

Allegations of fraud are presented, specifically naming Beverly Barthel, Brook D’Angelo and Richard Kellick as having “knowingly signed numerous times on Paul Dyster’s petitions,” and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, who signed the petition as a “witness” prior to the date on when some of the signatures it contained were dated.

Dyster hired D’Angelo late last year to oversee enforcement of the city’s new trash program. Some have seen the program as disastrous and her hire as payback for her help in unseating formerly popular incumbent councilman Sam Fruscione in the 2013 council race, which tipped the council majority to one that near blindly supports Mayor Dyster’s spending initiatives.

Her salary and benefits package total $43,000 a year.

Barthel is an author, environmentalist and longtime Dyster supporter.

Kellick was the owner of the former Kellick’s Printing, where the Dyster campaign had campaign printing work done in the past.

Kellick told the Niagara Falls Reporter that while he recalled signing at least one Dyster petition he could not be certain if he accidentally signed the Dyster petitions more than once.

Barthel did not return a call from the Reporter.

D’Angelo’s multiple signatures is particularly intriguing since she carried Dyster petitions and witnessed a page of Dyster signatures suggesting she should have known that only one signature per customer is permissible.

Grandinetti, who lives down the street from Dyster on Orchard Parkway, is his staunchest ally on the city Council and is often chosen to be the point person on many of his initiatives.

Grandinetti clearly “witnessed” a page of the petition. Her signature is dated July 5. At least one signature on the petition page is dated July 13.

Under state election law, witnessing a petition like that could invalidate every signature it contains on the page.

According to election law attorney Peter Reese, “Sloppy work and mistakes are not usually evidence of fraud. Unless the fraud alleged actually touches on the candidate, only individual signatures or petition pages will be invalidated. Under New York law, many errors of this ilk are correctable on three day notice.”

But there are other problems as well, Archie said. Cross checking addresses turned up dozens of signatures signed by residents of houses with no registered Democrats living in them. A number of the signatures were printed, an automatic disqualification. Illegible names, those signed with first or last name only and altered dates are a few of the other problems.

But Reese cautions that local partisan elections commissioners are sometimes not above cheating when it comes to helping certain candidates.

“Local boards of elections are devilishly clever at finding purportedly unregistered voters or sloppy, hard to read, signatures, especially for endorsed candidates,” Reese said. “Many objections of this type will not be sustained.”

The largest single category of bad signatures though come from those Democrats who already signed Glenn Choolokian’s petitions. A total of 99 voters who had already signed Choolokian petitions later signed Dyster’s, and are invalid. 

Vince Anello is the only sitting mayor in the city’s history to be thrown off the ballot in a reelection bid for bad petition signatures. And he was otherwise preoccupied with an FBI investigation that saw him indicted shortly after the election he was unable to participate in.

Dyster submitted 1,355 signatures to the county Board of Elections, and needs 765 of those to be valid in order to secure a spot on the Democratic primary ballot.

In total, Archie has challenged more than 590 of Dyster’s petition signatures, which would effectively eliminate him from the ballot, should those challenges be upheld.

Sources close to the Dyster campaign said that the petition drive got off to a good start, but then the man in charge, Dyster himself, took his eye off the ball.

He walked the first week himself, collecting signatures, then stopped and assigned all city Democratic committee members – more than 80 people - to collect 25 signatures each. 

He also asked other endorsed Democrats to carry his petitions.

Four separate candidates told the Reporter that they encountered resistance in getting Dyster signatures. About 40 percent of the homes they contacted, while willing to sign their petitions, refused to sign Dyster’s.

In the interim Dyster expected he would have more than sufficient signatures from his committee members.

But they ran into the same resistance and dozens of them – getting rebuffed at door after door – gave up getting Dyster signatures and most of them turned in far fewer than the requested 25 signatures.

This dizzying news became evident when the Dyster team started gathering pages of petitions to get ready to submit to the Board of Elections.

It was then – one week before signatures were due - that they realized they had nowhere near enough signatures and Dyster called an emergency meeting and ordered a blitz to get last minute signatures.

Dyster himself began walking during the final week.

The mayor apparently had more important things to do, what with kayak launch openings, coming up with financing to purchase a Highland Avenue building for twice its’ assessed value and undertaking yet another study to find out why the residents of 72nd Street in LaSalle don’t have running water when it snows outside.

 “This does sound like unprofessional work which I would not expect from a Democratic headquarters endorsed candidate,” Reese said. “Furthermore, the number of signatures Dyster obtained is surprisingly low and it is baffling that he did not head a single petition with the two endorsed council candidates (Alicia Laible and Ezra Scott.)  Since they all run citywide, I would have bet money that they would all be on the same petition.   Apparently the two endorsed council candidates want to establish some distance between themselves and the Mayor.

“In the City of Buffalo we have enjoyed running water piped into our homes year round for well over 100 years.”

While Dyster with all his committee members collected a somewhat dubious 1355 signatures, Choolokian collected 1,738 petition signatures, most of those using his own shoe leather.

None were contested, and therefore all are valid.

“We’re hopeful,” Archie said of his effort to unseat the mayor prior to the election. “We found quite a few, an awful lot really, that were just no good.”

Another name associated with the petitions is that of Nick Melson, Dyster’s recently hired secretary at City Hall.

 Melson first became involved in politics here when he was 18 with an unsuccessful run for city Council. He later met then state Rep. Francine Del Monte and went to work for her as a political aide. In 2009, he ran unsuccessfully against Vincent Sandonato for the LaSalle seat in the county Legislature.

Melson’s typing skills were not a factor in the hire as Dyster’s new secretary.

Like other Dyster diehards, Melson went door to door trying to get an increasingly unwilling populace to sign the mayor’s nominating petitions.

Both Melson and D’Angelo, hired by Dyster in the runup to the election, suggest the Niagara Falls Reporter was correct in its prediction that Dyster handed out paid City Hall positions to political operatives to assist him not with the work at City Hall but in what increasingly appears to be a desperate reelection bid.








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