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By David Staba

As she seeks a third term, Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte holds just about every conceivable advantage over challenger Paula Banks Dahlke.

The makeup of the 138th District she's represented since 2001 is heavily Democratic. Thanks to her faithful service as a rubber stamp for Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, no matter how much his agenda ignores or hurts Western New York, she enjoys the generous support of the statewide party.

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That cash stream funds the radio ads running on a number of local radio stations, spots in which she takes credit for the Seneca Niagara Casino and the "2,200 jobs" it provides.

The notion that she had anything to do with the arrival of the casino is pretty interesting, especially considering that Silver thoroughly ignored her while dragging the approval process out for as long as politically possible. But considering that politicians gladly grab credit for everything from the dawn to the sunset, the boast isn't nearly as notable as what she doesn't say.

What Del Monte doesn't mention, ever, is that those 2,200 jobs are located in as close to an all-smoking environment as you'll find in New York State.

Like her colleagues in the state Senate, Republican George Maziarz and Democrat Byron Brown, Del Monte defended her vote in favor of the nation's most restrictive smoking ban by saying that it was meant to protect the state's bartenders, waitresses and busboys. She also parroted the line scripted by Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, which claimed the ban would actually help business.

It has. For the casino, at least.

Walk into the Seneca Niagara Casino, and you'll see people smoking from the moment you set foot inside. In the hallways, in the restaurants, on the gaming floor, in the areas where passengers on bus tours wait to be picked up.

About the only place you don't see people lighting up is the small non-smoking section. Of course, you don't see anyone else there, either.

Meanwhile, back in the area Del Monte supposedly represents, dozens of the jobs she's allegedly protecting have already vanished, with hundreds more to follow as one small entrepreneur after another inevitably surrenders.

At least one group of proprietors isn't giving up that easily, though. Organized by Joe Casale of Casale's Tavern, Kathy and Rick Lewis of Kelly's Korner and Vince Gervasi of Gervasi's Bar and Grill, this consortium of local bar and restaurant owners has launched a grassroots campaign to make sure people don't forget the ban's impact on their bottom lines.

On Saturday, the group distributed coasters and matchbooks emblazoned with the slogan "Tell Francine to Butt Out."

The flip side of the coaster carries a message from the challenger.

"The smoking prohibition is just plain wrong," the coaster reads. "Reducing cigarette smoking in this fashion is not a good law! The issue is not about smoking cigarettes -- it's about government believing it can interfere where it does not belong. If you agree, vote for Paula Banks Dahlke Assembly District 138 (on) Tuesday, November 2."

Some kits, which include coasters, matchbooks and a container for donations, are available by calling 868-4993.

Meanwhile, Del Monte's ads offer a vision of a Western New York swelling with new jobs and hope.

Funny, but while driving through the Southern Tier last week, Citycide happened upon a radio spot for Susan John, Del Monte's fellow assemblywoman from Rochester.

The ads were clearly produced by the same people hired by the state Democratic Party.

Same narrator, same message, same bizarre tagline -- something along the lines of, "Sometimes it seems like things will never get better, but I'll never stop working."

Translation: We're not very good at what we do, but you should let us keep doing it anyway.

Andrew Rudnick, Chief Executive Moustache of the Greater Niagara Partnership, having failed to wield any influence on how local government operates -- other than funding a successful effort to get rid of former Buffalo Common Council President James Pitts -- is now weighing in on the city's public schools.

He bemoaned a study showing that 28 percent of the city's teachers send their kids to private schools and that half live in the suburbs.

Rudnick's wail, which is consistent with the Partnership's fondest wish of breaking every union in the region, alleges one hypocrisy while ignoring another.

The Partnership's favorite elected official, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, infamously admitted pulling his children out of a city elementary school because he was afraid of black kids, then, in a clumsy effort to clarify his blunder, said he was afraid his kids were becoming afraid of black kids.

And while the Partnership praises the concept of charter schools, one of its most powerful members, M and T Bank President Robert Wilmers, effectively snuffed a plan to place one next door to his downtown headquarters. It would have served a student population comprised primarily of -- you guessed it -- black kids.

Since Rudnick is so eager to tell other people how to raise their children, maybe he should survey the Partnership's executive board to see how many of those rich white guys send their own offspring to Buffalo's public schools.

Last week's article by Sean O'Neil, a reporter recently paroled from the Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. minimum-security facility known as the Tonawanda News, drew a firestorm of reaction from both readers and the subjects of the piece.

Feedback from David Sokolowski, with whom I had the pleasure of working at the Niagara Gazette back in the days when The Other Paper was owned by a company that didn't have the unsettling word "Holding" in its title, can be seen in our Letters to the Editor section.

Sokolowski's letter nicely sums up the feelings expressed by a number of ex-CNHI employees who had the dubious pleasure of doing their time under the paranoid watch of deposed "cluster" editor Terry Shaw, now reduced to the role of associate publisher, whatever that means, at the lowly News.

Always eager to exercise whatever trace of power he still has, when word of O'Neil's piece started spreading through the newsroom, sources told Citycide, Shaw became particularly red-faced and took bold action:

He ordered the Niagara Falls Reporter's site blocked from the computers in the building with Internet access, the sources said.

We're certainly impressed with such mastery of technology by a company that spent more than half a decade hoping the World Wide Web would just go away before finally creating sporadically updated cookie-cutter sites for its newspapers.

A few words of advice to our friends in the newsrooms in North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls, Lockport and Medina: Read the Reporter at home, whether online or in print. That way, you don't have to worry about who might be looking over your shoulder.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 19 2004