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SEP 15 - SEP 22, 2015

Choolokian Campaign a Cut Above the Rest

By Matt Cole

SEP 15, 2015

Glenn Choolokian
Matt Cole

Having grown up in Niagara Falls and worked many years in cities like Los Angeles and New York, coming home to the Falls was, immediately, a heartwarming experience.

Being 5th generation Niagara Falls with the members of my family on my Italian side having settled in the Cataract City shortly after the city was incorporated, I grew up hearing about what it was like to Iive here, when this was a prosperous and thriving city. Main Street, the city market, Pine Avenue, and Buffalo Ave all bustling with people, everyone had jobs, worked hard, and the success of shops and businesses reflected this.

Whether they were drawn by globally renowned construction projects like Robert

Moses Hydro Electric Plant, Bell Aerospace, or the tourism industry that served as the

Honeymoon Capitol of the World there was an influx of people moving to Niagara Falls, often to join family that had already settled here, just as mine had.

Moving back home as I did, that heartwarming feeling turned to anger to see what had become of this once great city. The decaying infrastructure, the blight, the once thriving business districts boarded up in many place, neighborhoods that were once impeccably manicured, now  run down.

It soon became clear that a very small group of people were profiting off of the decline of a community.   The most eye-opening lesson I gained is the lengths people will go to in order to hold on to even a very small amount of power. It seems as if there is no lie they will not tell, no song they will not sing, and no depth to which they will not sink in order to see to their own personal gain.

The other thing that stood out along the many campaign trails is how the majority of residents are so disenfranchised that they do not bother to try to change anything. The pot holes are so deep, the taxes are so high, the buildings so decrepit, and the politicians so corrupt that most feel the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us; there is no point in trying to fight it.

In a city of 50,000 people only 5,000 come out to vote in the typical primary election.

But every once in a while, a person comes along whose actions and involvement and integrity serve as a beacon of light.

This campaign season, for me, was just that.

When Glenn Choolokian decided to run in the Democratic Primary for mayor, I knew I was in.

I had seen him as a member of city council stand up to power, to his own personal detriment for what he knew was right. When even the high and mighty Governor of New York State bullied the City of Niagara Falls to give one their most valuable remaining assets to his buddy and local developer, Choolokian said ‘you have to get through me first’.

The integrity that it took to put the best interest of the community first, on this issue and others, is something that seemed to rally even the most disenfranchised people to support him.

I spent this primary season personally knocking on 2,000 doors across the city. I saw people that never worked on a campaign before asking what they could do, former die hard supporters of his opponent calling to help or asking for lawn signs, and when we ran out of signs residents made their own.

This past Thursday, on primary day, there were people Choolokian himself had never met calling or coming by wanting to help. Many of them spending the entire day and night working for a cause and a person they could believe in. 

As we stood outside the polls waiving signs and greeting voters, elderly ladies and lifelong party line Democrats would give us a thumbs up or a wink and nod when seeing us. Even neighbors and longtime family friends of the opponent would stop to tell us their story and express their support. It was clear this was a city ready for a change.

As the votes were totaled that Thursday night, it became clear just how close this was going to be. As the tension rose and the terrain of the uphill battle became clear, the most positive person in the jammed packed building was the one that had the most at stake. Choolokian himself was the most positive and optimistic of all of us.

Down by just 73 votes out of over 4,100 cast and with possibly 200 absentee and affidavit ballots still to be counted Choolokian still thinks he is in this fight.

Even now as I sit here writing this, the message I receive from him says “Let’s win this!” 

Like him or not, it is about the resurrection of the city he loves for his family, and mine, and yours too. As crazy as it sounds, with him it is not about jobs for this friend or that one and it really isn’t about personal gain.

You see, I think a fight is exactly what he was looking for from the beginning.

 In his 1997 "Think Different" campaign, Apple Computers founder Steve Jobs said “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.”  I don’t think I’ll ever change the world, and I certainly cannot save it. But, because of people like Glenn Choolokian, I know that we can save this city.

So, here’s to the crazy ones.






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