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MAR 17 - MAR 24, 2015

Loser Maybe, Quitter Never; Accardo Campaign Gears Up

By Mike Hudson

March 17, 2015

He ran against Mayor Paul Dyster and lost. If John Accardo and Dyster win their primaries, a matchup will be on.
Irene Elia faced Accardo in a pitched race for mayor and won.
John Ceretto defeated Accardo in a three way race for state assembly.
Mayor Paul Dyster
Francine DelMonte lost in a bruising Democratic primary to John Accardo for state assembly. She stayed in the race on the minor party,. Working Families line, split the Democratic vote between her and Accardo and the Republican John Ceretto was elected in a traditionally Democratic district.

Should someone ever write a book on the history of politics in Niagara Falls around the turn of the 21st Century, the name of John Accardo would loom large. For the past 25 years, Accardo has variously played the roles of popular public official, Election Day spoiler, Democrat, Republican, upset victim and successful Pine Avenue businessman.

Last month, he announced his intention to run for mayor on the Republican ticket, in the hope of preventing incumbent Paul Dyster from being elected to an unprecedented third term. It will be Accardo's third run for the position.

His first came in 1999. As a city Council member, Accardo often found himself at odds with former mayor James Galie. Antipathy between the two men boiled over, and Accardo announced he would challenge Galie in that year's Democratic primary.

As popular as he was, nobody gave Accardo much of a chance at first. To challenge a sitting mayor with no major scandal or other problem looming was unheard of. But, with the help of his politically savvy father, Frank Accardo, the candidate began pulling together backing from business circles and the media. The candidacy began to take off.

It was widely assumed that whoever won the primary would be the city's next mayor. The Republicans had trouble finding anyone who even wanted to run and, when a diminutive former nun named Irene Elia entered the race flush with cash from her family's construction empire, GOP leaders wished her well and told her to go for it.

Over the following months, Galie and Accardo beat on each other mercilessly in the pages of the Niagara Gazette and on local radio and television. It was a dirty campaign even but Niagara Falls standards. Elia sat by the sidelines and watched, offering the occasional tsk tsk but little else.

On primary day, Accardo cruised to victory on the Democratic line, upsetting the incumbent and all but certain, everyone thought, to be the city's next mayor.

Irene Elia had her own ideas. She appealed to the kinder, gentler side of the electorate, many of whom found and still find the sharp elbowed brand of political campaigning generally practiced here to be in extremely poor taste. And she had a PhD, which impressed the often poorly educated Niagara Falls voters to all get out.

When Accardo attempted to attack, the consensus was that he was picking on a little, old ex-nun. And Elia had her own media clout. Her attorney, Patrick Berrigan, also represented the Niagara Gazette. His father, for many years, had been the newspaper's publisher.

To make matters worse, while Accardo had knocked Galie off the Democratic line, the incumbent retained his position as a minor party candidate, siphoning away even more votes.

Election night was an early one. It wasn't even close. Elia won by a landslide.

Much the same scenario played itself out in 2010, when Accardo challenged five term incumbent Francine DelMonte in the Democratic primary for her 138thDistrict state Assembly seat. Running as an underdog for the entire campaign, Accardo eked out a narrow victory and ended DelMonte's political career.

He went on to face John Ceretto, an affable but fairly anonymous member of the county Legislature, in what was thought to be a "can't lose" campaign. But, come the day after the election, Ceretto emerged as the clear victor in a triumph that still has some pundits scratching their heads.

In 2011, Accardo entered the Democratic primary in an attempt to unseat Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, whose first term in office resulted in seriously mixed reviews. Would the third time be the charm for Accardo?

It wasn't. He was defeated on the Democratic line and chose not to campaign on the minor party lines he represented. Dyster went on to run against Republican School Board Member Johnny Destino in the general election, eking out a slender 7-point victory.

Interestingly, both Accardo and Destino switched party affiliations following the race, with Accardo becoming a Republican and Destino going Democrat. Each man cited a lack of party support as the reason behind his switch.

Accardo will face community activist James Szwedo in this year's Republican Party primary while Dyster will go up against city Councilman Glenn Choolokian on the Democratic side. The winners of those races will square off in November's general election.

For Accardo, it will mark his third attempt to occupy that big corner office at City Hall, the one with the fabulous Main Street view. Maybe this time, the third time will be the charm.





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