Open Primary for Dem Council Leaves Party Split
Niagara Falls Democratic City Committee Chairman Alicia Laible presided over a contentious meeting last week at the Earl Brydges Library in which the party decided not to endorse any of its candidates for council, leaving six candidates to compete on a level playing field in the primary this fall.
According to witnesses, about 30 city Democratic committeemen gathered to hash out their differences and try to find consensus moving forward toward September’s election.
The six Democratic candidates who are running for city council are incumbents Kristen Grandinetti, Charles Walker and Sam Fruscione, along with Andrew Touma, Robert Elder and Joseph Swartz.
After the meeting was called to order by Laible, local businessman James Page made a motion to endorse the three incumbent council members.
This sparked debate among the committeemen. Ida Massaro and Susan Macri wished to divide the motion to avoid having to support Councilman Fruscione, while supporting Grandinetti and Walker.
Massaro read a prepared statement with a litany of grievances against Fruscione.
"Ida Massaro read a three page letter she put together just criticizing Sam Fruscione. About 90 percent of it was straight out lies,” one committeeperson told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “Everybody was just in awe that she would start a meeting off like that. They were trying hard to get Grandinetti, Walker and Touma (endorsed)."
After her speech, Massaro continued to interrupt committeemen who voiced support for Fruscione. The meeting had to be called to order several times by the sergeant at arms reminding Massaro to not speak out of turn.
Massaro said that Fruscione was not, in his failure to follow the Democrat leadership of Mayor Paul Dyster, being a true Democrat.
A motion to support the three incumbents failed by a two-to-one margin.
Several voices rose above the now warring factions.
Election Commissioner Lora Allen said the committee's function should be to get Democrats elected. She told the committee they needed to put their personal issues aside and help the candidates most likely to win.
Johnny Destino said it was inevitable that Fruscione, always the highest vote getter in every election, would win, so why not endorse him and ensure the election of Democrats?
Destino was chided by several Dyster supporters.
Macri moved to endorse Walker, Grandinetti and Touma.
Destino argued that it was a mistake to endorse Touma. In fact, he said, it would be doing Touma a disservice since he would be coupled with two well known Dyster go-alongs, Grandinetti and Walker.
Since Touma's last name is the same as Dyster's campaign manager, Craig, it would appear that the committee was only interested in electing a rubber stamp council.
Macri’s motion failed to garner five votes in support of endorsing Walker, Grandinetti and Touma.
At the end of the meeting, it appeared that the mood of the divided Democrats was sour, as both camps - team Dyster and the independent Democrats - trudged out to collect signatures for their personally chosen candidates.
Meantime, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to the Niagara Falls Conference and Events center last Thursday to announce the settlement of the Seneca impasse, Dyster was handed the opportunity to extend invitations for local Democrats.
Dyster didn’t invite any local elected officials except his known supporters and staff members. He didn’t invite, for example, Niagara County Minority Leader and Acting Code Enforcement Director Dennis Virtuoso, yet he had other department heads in attendance.
He invited Alicia Laible, who is a vice chairman of the Democratic Party, but not Nick Forster, who is the county chairman. Grandinetti and Walker were invited but not the council majority of Fruscione, Glenn Choolokian and Robert Anderson.
Ironically, Dyster shunned endorsement of the then-Democratic establishment when he first ran for mayor in 2007, not showing up for an interview with the then-Democratic committee, which endorsed Lewis “Babe” Rotella as the party’s mayoral candidate.
Dyster defeated Rotella in the primary that year, and went on to beat Republican Candra Thomason by the largest margin of any mayoral contest in memory.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
JUN 18, 2013