Niagara Falls City Councilman Glenn Choolokian, who is running against two-term incumbent Mayor Paul Dyster for the Democratic nomination this September, has launched his official campaign website.
Type www.your-next-mayor.com into your computer and you’ll be suddenly transported to a place where Dooley Wilson’s version of “As Time Goes By” from the 1942 Humphrey Bogart classic “Casablanca” gives way only to the Chairman of the Board, Francis Albert Sinatra, and his definitive 1965 rendition of “Summer Wind.”
The nostalgia invoked by the music gives way to images of the city as it exists today.
Main Street, with the long vacant Jenss building dominating a thoroughfare so devastated and plywood covered it would be easy to imagine that a hurricane, flood or other natural catastrophe occurred when actually only poor and corrupt leadership caused the destruction.
A photo of the $46.5 million city courthouse and police station complex, which Dyster said would act as a catalyst for the revitalization of Main Street, has served instead as a monument to poor planning, wasteful government spending and stupefying and hideous architecture.
Not a single vacant property was developed in the wake of the building’s opening, the Choolokian website points out, and a number of struggling businesses in the neighborhood were forced to close to make way for construction. None reopened.
Pointing out that passenger train travel to and from Niagara Falls has been a money losing proposition for at least the past half century, Choolokian states the great untold truth about Dyster’s expensive project.
"The desire to build a train station ignores present travel habits of those coming to Niagara Falls - which is automobile and airplane," he said. "Was it something that was needed right now?”
Accusing Dyster of squandering more than $175 million in revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino, more than $100 million of which was on projects Dyster himself proposed, Choolokian questions the need for layoffs and tax increases the mayor has proposed year after year.
“How, with an average of $20 million a year coming into the city treasury from the Seneca Niagara casino, can the city of Niagara Falls be called a distressed city?” Choolokian asks. “We are not a distressed city, we are a mismanaged city.”
From trash plans, to suppressing critical documents that showed the solution to the water line freeze problems in LaSalle were known for months and long before the pipes froze a second time, to not hiring a city engineer but hiring Buffalo engineering consultants for treble the price, to hiring outside Buffalo lawyers at quadruple the price, and more and more Buffalo consultants - never in the history of the city was the gargantuan, casino cash driven giveaway to Buffalo interest ever greater and the basic services to residents ever poorer.
A search of recent New York State Board of Elections records show that Dyster raised more than $200,000 during his last two campaigns. About half the donors were from outside the city, mostly from Buffalo.
A recent check of the campaign filings of Dyster since his first fund raiser about a year ago for this year's campaign shows 40 donations,
20 donors lived outside Niagara Falls.
Dyster once told the Reporter that an individual or company that makes a contribution to his campaign has no better chance of getting work with the city than a company that does not.
"Naturally, every politician solicits campaign donations," Dyster said. "Your hope is that the people who donate won't expect special favors from you, but (will donate) to get good government."
Choolokian said. "So why would someone who does not live in Niagara Falls care about how good the government is in Niagara Falls?"
A check of Choolokian's most recent campaign disclosures shows that of his last 30 donors, 28 were from Niagara Falls.
Whatever else it succeeds in doing, the Choolokian for mayor website clearly establishes the issues over which the coming campaign will be fought.
His underdog status doesn’t mean he’s not right.