|Vince Anello with grandchildren.|
Last week, rumors surfaced of a possible challenge to Mayor Paul Dyster in the 2015 election by a candidate whose name recognition is at least as great as the incumbent's; radio talk show host and former Mayor Vince Anello.
"There's fire in the belly," Anello, 68, told the Niagara Falls Reporter in an exclusive interview. "Have I thought about it? Of course."
While he wasn't prepared to announce his candidacy over the weekend, Anello said he has retained an attorney to look into the legality of running. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to charges of submitting false claims of pension benefits through his union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 237.
In return, prosecutors agreed to drop a separate charge that Anello had engaged in influence-peddling on behalf of a local businessman Joseph 'Smokin' Joe' Anderson in return for $40,000 in kickbacks. The case was local yet it had national implications in the wake of the Supreme Court's interpretation of a federal law making it a crime for public or private officials to deprive constituents of "honest services."
To this day he maintains his innocence, and says that he never would have been convicted on the public corruption charges.
"I contracted to do some electrical work and was paid in advance. I had already filed permits at City Hall to do the work." he said. "Then I was elected mayor, and couldn't perform the work. But I also didn't have the money to give back."
He said the pension benefits' case boiled down to paperwork errors that the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office seized on because they knew the public corruption case was unwinnable.
"I think I'm the only person in the country who ever did time over something like this," he said. "Basically, I'd run out of money and could no longer afford a defense. My family was suffering terribly. By that point I just wanted to end the whole thing."
The federal investigation lasted five years and Anello served a sentence of 10 months and paid restitution.
"They (the FBI) couldn't figure out how a mayor who was making $30,000 a year could afford to do anything without being on the take," he said with a laugh.
Today, Anello says he realizes the painful episode taught him a lesson and allowed him to grow as a human being. It was the beginning of what he calls the road to redemption.
"Making amends for past mistakes is part of life," he said, "whether those mistakes harmed family, friends or the community as a whole."
Anello's very public life has come naturally to him.
"I'm not exaggerating. Ever since I was a kid, I loved the idea of public service. I know that, with the radio show I do, I won't get any credit but we can have an effect on public policy just by the things we choose to talk about. It feels good."
One subject he talks about a lot is the fiscal policy of the current mayor. It is a disaster, he maintains.
"When I took office there was a $3.5 million deficit. When I left, there was an $8.5 million surplus plus $38 million in casino money in the bank," he said. "It's revenue in, revenue out. You can't spend more than you are taking in."
Not everyone thinks the idea of an Anello candidacy is a good one. Former City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Candra Thomason said Anello shouldn't run.
"Really, Vince Anello?" Thomason asked. "Now to be honest, I enjoy being a guest on his radio Show and talk with the guy. But as far as him and politics don't you think he record proves they don't mix?"
What is worse, she added, is that an Anello candidacy would be doomed from the start.
"Anello can't help but get himself into trouble," she said.. "He doesn't mean to hurt anyone by it, but he certainly means to help himself. Seriously, no one will vote Anello over Dyster."
Niagara Falls resident Mike Stella agreed.
"If you endorse that particular candidate, you open the Pandora's box," he said. "There's lots of baggage there. Do you really want to have an open and honest discussion about all that baggage? It won't be pretty."
Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nick Forster had praise for Anello but stopped short of endorsing his candidacy, especially since rumors are swirling he might run as a Republican.
But it didn't stop Forster from praising Anello's dynamism.
"I worked with him when he was city chairman, county chairman and city councilman," Forster said. "He always has his finger on the pulse; he generates interest; he gets people involved. I think he is doing a fine job on the radio. But to return as mayor that's a whole different story."
On the other hand, Anello certainly has his avid supporters. And they're not shy about expressing their views.
The Reporter received messages from a number of people who expressed genuine excitement about Anello returning to city hall in the top position.
"I'd vote for Vince in a heartbeat," said Niagara Falls beautician JoAnn Abbo-Bradley. "He's always been a man of the people, and he's certainly better than what we've got now."
Linda Ralston said, "There was normalcy when Vince Anello was mayor. He was a straight shooter and you could approach him. He was approachable. I'd vote for him any day. If he had been left alone, he would have done so much for the city by now."
These days, aside from his radio show, Anello spends as much time as he can with his family. He and his wife Linda often play host to their grandchildren.
"I feel blessed," he said. "Five grandkids, they keep me focused. It's all good. I feel we're living the good life."