BIn Niagara Falls, no sooner are pre-primary nominating petitions filed than they are routinely challenged by opponents. It’s a grand part of the tradition that makes politics in the city the grand spectator sport that it is.
This year, incumbent Mayor Paul Dyster’s petitions are being challenged by Niagara Falls businessman Sam Archie on behalf of mayoral candidate and city Councilman Glenn Choolokian on the Democratic side, while in the Republican race, veteran politico Paul Colangelo is challenging the nominating petitions of Robert Pascoal, a political unknown who entered the race just three weeks ago. Colangelo is working for the campaign of local businessman Jim Szwedo.
“We’re not challenging (Accardo’s) petitions as they were gathered by the committee and are probably pretty tight,” Colangelo told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “But Mr. Pascoal came into this very late and came up with what we think are a huge number of signatures in a very short period of time.”
Pascoal submitted 470 signatures on his petitions, Colangelo said. Accardo had 640 and Szwedo came in with 671. A Republican mayoral candidate needs 230 valid signatures to get on the primary ballot.
“What we think may have happened is that, not knowing New York election law, he may have just got copies of Jim’s and John’s petitions and went to the same people,” he added. “It just seems as though he got too many signatures too quickly.”
Once a party member signs one petition for a particular office, he or she cannot sign on behalf of another candidate for that same office. Other errors that can cause a signature to be rejected include illegible handwriting, a wrong address or even the fact that the person circulating the petition isn’t registered to vote.
Archie said there is nothing he’d rather see than Dyster getting thrown off the ballot, though he admits that doing so through a petition challenge may be an uphill struggle. The city Democratic Committee collected 1,355 signatures for Dyster, nearly double the 765 needed to have his name on the ballot.
“We are working diligently on them, and we’re finding quite a few that don’t look right,” Archie said. “So it looks good, but I don’t want to be 100 percent confident on it.”
The Dyster campaign did not file any challenges to Choolokian’s 1,738 signatures, Archie said.
The last time an incumbent mayor was unseated due to nominating petition challenges was in 2007, when former mayor Vince Anello, besieged by a federal investigation, failed to muster the required number of signatures. Dyster ended up with the democratic nomination, and the rest is history.
In the case of Pascoal, no one is even certain that he even lives in the city. Legal documents relating to numerous rental properties he owns in Niagara Falls give a San Diego, CA, address.
Pascoal has been a property owner and landlord in the Falls for the last 12 years and was instrumental in forming the landlord association several years ago. He said his goal is to focus attention on solutions to help revitalize the city.
“I realize that I’m a latecomer to a field of strong contenders. However, this is where my heart is,” said Pascoal. “Sometimes you need a new pair of eyes with a fresh perspective to solve old problems.”
Pascoal, who is married to Niagara Falls native Andrea Morello, has built a number of successful businesses, he said. He became interested in investing in Niagara Falls in 2003 after visiting his wife’s relatives and realizing there was a great deal of potential and opportunity for serious small investors with vision.
A technical challenge has also been made on the petitions of council candidates Alicia Laible and Ezra Scott who turned in more than 2000 signatures in a joint effort.
As of press time it is not known whether or not challenges to the petitions of Robert Anderson and Rick Smith - who each turned in about 1100 signatures - will be made.