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OCT 15 - OCT 22, 2015

Virtuoso Jumps the Shark

Calls for Restricting Public Access to Board of Elections

By Deborah Eddel

OCT 15, 2015

The interior of the Niagara County Board of Elections. What do you think, is security needed?
Henry Wojtszek
Vince Sandonato

Dennis Virtuoso jumped the shark this week, submitting legislation to lock the public out of the county Board of Elections.  Few politicians have ever had the absolute knack for grabbing headlines that Virtuoso, the Democratic minority leader of the Niagara County Legislature, has demonstrated over the years. And in many cases, Virtuoso has highlighted issues that deserved highlighting.

But not this time.

In a blatantly partisan hit piece aimed at discrediting the September primaries after a particularly bad performance by the Niagara County Democrats, Virtuoso—apparently along with fellow Democratic Legislators Jason Zona, Mark Grozio, and Owen Steed—has submitted a resolution attacking the former chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party, Henry Wojtaszek, and Vincent Sandonato, the head of the Niagara Falls GOP.

Virtuoso’s resolution, titled simply “To Improve Security at the Niagara County Board of Elections,” attacks Sandonato and Wojtaszek for “entering through the gated front entrance of the Niagara County Board of Elections office without proper supervision or escort … prior to ballots being counted” on Sept. 18.

The resolution then veered into the absurd, calling for adding security card readers to the doors to the Board’s office to control access by the public—not just strengthening procedures for proceeding past the “gated entrance” at the front counter.

GOP sources called the charges “absurd” and added that a prominent Democratic operative was also inside the security barrier without an escort on the date in question.

The Niagara Falls Reporter reached out to GOP Elections Commissioner Jennifer Fronczak and asked her about Virtuoso’s charges.

“That is absolutely false,” Fronczak told us, after we read Virtuoso’s resolution to her. Sandonato, meanwhile, offered up a one-word assessment of Virtuoso’s resolution: “Bullshit.”

Both parties noted that Wojtaszek and Sandonato were never alone with unsecured ballots—a key insinuation in Virtuoso’s legislation. Fronczak was also troubled by Virtuoso’s call for adding security card readers to the Board’s doors.

 “We want to encourage people to take part in the democratic process,” she said drily. “Locking the doors and controlling who can and can’t come in kind of undermines that.”

This is no doubt Virtuoso’s effort to muddy up his political opponents just days before the November elections, and to cast doubt on the outcome of September’s primary—which saw a host of Democrat-backed GOP candidates running in GOP primaries upended, and often by wide margins.

The resolution goes on to bemoan that this “call[s] into question the integrity of the election process in Niagara County.”

A quick inspection of the Board of Elections offices, however, shows how specious Virtuoso’s attack really is.

The “gated front entrance” virtuoso describes is a low swing gate built into a counter that comes up, roughly, to belly height.  There is nothing high-security about it.

So, what was waiting for Virtuoso and Wojtaszek on the other side of this impenetrable barrier? Roughly a dozen elections clerks, with equal numbers from both parties. Behind a few rows of desks and workstations is the door to Fronczak’s office on the left and her Democratic counterpart Lora Allen on the right.

Fronczak and Deputy GOP Commissioner Mike Carney also confirmed to us that Wojtaszek and Sandonato weren’t the only individuals to arrive early and enter the Board’s large, open office unaccompanied.

“[Dyster Administration employee] Johnny Destino was here early and no one was ‘escorting’ him either,” said Fronczak.  In fact, Fronczak and Carney charged, Destino even entered Allen’s office while she wasn’t present and closed the door.

“Dennis Virtuoso loves cheap political gimmicks and it’s an election year,” Carney told us. “For him to try to bring into question the integrity of our elections, though, is a new low.”

Wojtaszek could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the former chairman said he dismissed Virtuoso as a “knucklehead” when told about the resolution.   Virtuoso’s attack resolution, which when submitted listed the entire Democratic caucus as co-sponsors, also came in for criticism from several GOP legislative candidates here in Niagara Falls.

Virtuoso’s opponent, David Zajac, meanwhile, was philosophical.

“Apparently Dennis Virtuoso thinks that posting armed guards at the entrance to the Board of Elections will encourage more people to exercise their right to vote,” Zajac said after reading Virtuoso’s resolution. “I’m curious to see who else in the County Legislature feels the same way.”






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