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Incumbent Anderson's independence leads Dyster regime to deny endorsement

Niagara Falls Repoerter

May 17, 2011

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Many of our readers found it interesting that the Niagara Falls City Democratic Committee did not endorse incumbent Democrat Council member Robert Anderson, possibly the most popular Council member in recent history.

Incumbents like county Legislator Dennis Virtuoso and Mayor Paul A. Dyster of Niagara Falls easily won endorsements, but oddly, Anderson did not.

It was also odd that the committee invited former assemblywoman Francine Del Monte to run the endorsement meeting. She does not live in the city but in a mansion in Lewiston.

Some candidates, including Anderson, were asked in effect if they would pledge allegiance to Mayor Dyster, not say a word of negativity against the current leadership of Mayor Dyster, support the candidacy of Mayor Dyster, and vote, if they were elected as Council members, for the agenda of Mayor Dyster.

"It was like being asked to join the Gestapo or Mussolini's forces," said Anderson, who apparently declined to walk in goosestep with the current regime.

This shows how much the committee has come under the control of Dyster and his campaign manager, Craig Touma, who have recruited many candidates for the committee since Dyster became mayor in 2008.

Dyster's wife, Rebecca, ran as a committee person in a neighborhood where she does not live.

And Dyster does not mind paying for good help. Mike Lewis, for instance, the former committee chairman, got two grants from the city for a spa for his wife after delivering endorsements to Dyster-friendly candidates in 2009.

This year the city committee decided to endorse 27-year-old Alicia Liable and longtime Falls' resident and businessman Don Zambotti for Council. Former Council member Glenn Choolokian -- who, like Anderson, could not pledge fealty to Dyster -- was not endorsed.

"Frankly, I was surprised to see Del Monte and Craig Touma running the meeting," Choolokian said. "They stacked the committee with Dyster people."

Choolokian said he was asked how he would vote on certain issues where the current Council had handed Dyster a "no" vote.

One such posed by Del Monte concerned the Council 's decision to fire Peter Kay, the $100,000-per-year economic development director from Ohio who, the Council said, had failed to create a single private sector job.

Choolokian responded, "The Council is supposed to provide checks and balances, a separation of power from the mayor."

It was not what they wanted to hear.

Choolokian sealed his fate when he politely reminded the committee that even if they were determined to endorse a Dyster-regime Council, it is possible Dyster might lose and it is always good governance to have an independent Council.

Choolokian suggested, "To insist that a Council blindly support a mayor is to make that Council useless."

That the litmus test for Democratic Party endorsement is a pledge to support Dyster really says more about Dyster than the city committee.

Dyster's public persona is that he came to change "politics as usual," that he walked seven miles in the snow to return a penny when someone gave him too much change.

Readers might care to remember the payoff -- and it was more than a penny -- Dyster made to his campaign manager Touma after the last election for a hint at how Dyster is not entirely what he pretends to be.

Touma, a busy, successful lawyer, with a wife who is also a lawyer, worked tirelessly for Dyster in 2007. Touma worked so hard people thought he was working for himself.

Why would a giant in the legal field spend so much time campaigning for a mayor of a small city? It was known during the campaign that there was likely to be a vacancy in one of the city's four judgeship positions. The next mayor would get to make the appointment.

Dyster campaigned on a promise he would make all appointments free of politics. After he was elected, without interviewing any of dozens of lawyers interested in the coveted judicial seat, Dyster appointed Touma's wife, calling her his "first, last and only choice."

Politics as usual, you say? OK, but then at least show us the respect of not lying about changing politics as usual.

Speaking of lying, in a Niagara Gazette story last week, Democratic City Chairman David Houghton said of his committee, "Unlike the local GOP, city Democrats are free to endorse the candidates they see fit and don't rely on direction from the higher-ups at the county and local level."

Sometimes we all need a good laugh, and even Houghton must have snickered at that whopper.

But it is no laughing matter to the Dyster regime that their fair-haired child faces stiff competition in a three-way mayoral primary.

The popular John Accardo and -- we mention race only because it may be relevant -- African-American Carnell Burch will seek to dethrone the crafty actor.

Dyster's scandalous, publicly staged, brutal surprise arrest of city employee Clarence Bradley -- who should have gotten only an appearance ticket -- has had interesting reverberations.

If public sentiment in the black community for Bradley and against Dyster is an indicator, Dyster hurt himself more by needlessly lynching Bradley's career than he helped himself by pandering to blacks with his promise to spend millions in taxpayer money to build an Underground Railroad museum.

That is not the point. Nor is it that Bob Anderson is black himself -- one of a few black elected officials in Niagara -- and was denied the endorsement.

The point is that Anderson would not endorse Dyster.

In any event, let no one feel bad for Anderson for running afoul of the Dyster regime.

The city committee endorsed Nick Melson for county legislator. He was beaten by Republican Nick Sandonato, in spite of the fact that the district is heavily Democratic. It was the first time in 40 years a Republican got the seat.

Melson, who was an aide to Del Monte, foreshadowed what Del Monte -- once a simple hometown girl, who rose to wealth and success through politics while her city grew poorer -- could expect.

The following year, the committee endorsed Del Monte. In the primary, she was beaten by John Accardo, one of the few times an incumbent state Assembly member lost.

Republican John Ceretto won the general election in the heavily Democratic district partly because Del Monte stayed on the ballot on the obscure Working Families Party line, splitting the Democratic vote.

The city Democratic Committee, rather than help Accardo, tacitly supported Del Monte and, ironically, helped a Republican win the seat.

To round out a track record of failure, the committee endorsed Antoine Thompson for state Senate. Republican Mark Grisanti beat him -- again in a heavily Democratic district.

The Dyster machine's Niagara Falls City Democratic Committee did not endorse Bob Anderson, an incumbent, an African American with a distinguished war record, a disabled veteran.

Given their history, it was a lucky break for Anderson.

 

 

 
 
 
  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.