|The genesis of Dyster's disdain: Walenda's (c) taking help from George Maziarz (L). John Ceretto (R).
|While Dyster gave Wallenda a symbolic key to the city, privately he barred every window and door.
|While the mayor sent a bill to Wallenda, he paid Didier Pasquette with the people's money to do a wirewalk in 2011.
|While Wallenda walked 1800 feet across the falls, Dyster's choice, Pasquette, walked 200 feet and about 45 feet high.
(The Niagara Falls Reporter is presenting its first in a series called 'Your Mayor in Action" where we review the leadership of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster.
We hope, since your mayor has announced he is running for a third term, that residents of this city will take to this series kindly and do their civic duty and judge whether he is fit for the office he wishes to keep. This week we review the mayor's role in the historic high wire walk of Nik Wallenda and the unsuccessful efforts at securing a Wallenda attraction in Niagara Falls. )
Aerialist Nik Wallenda has slipped away.
At one time some in this city had hopes he would settle here and create an attraction in a city short on attractions outside the Niagara Falls State Park.
This year Wallenda is planning an April 29 climb atop the 400-foot high Orlando Eye "observation" wheel. And on Aug. 11 he will wire walk across 1,560 feet of cable at the Wisconsin State Fair.
Last year he appeared all summer at Darien Lake.
His efforts to set up a circus tent in Niagara Falls and build an attraction were thwarted.
It is time to find out why.
In the Niagara Gazette's often humorous and ironic, "Cheers and Jeers" column, a hint is delivered as we recently read under the category of "jeers": "It seems a little strange that Mayor Paul Dyster recently went out of his way to award a Key to the City to Will Gadd, the 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. As you might remember, Gadd climbed up the ice of the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls State Park on Jan. 27 for Red Bull and the resulting video became an internet sensation. As we recall, Dyster was an opponent of 'stunting' at the Falls when Nik Wallenda made his wire walk across the gorge. Why is he giving a key to the city to a different guy who performed a different stunt near the same place?"
The Niagara Falls Reporter will attempt to answer this pertinent question.
To be fair, and note this well for we will return to this topic: Dyster was in favor of stunting before Wallenda came to town.
And judging by his fulsome praise of Gadd, he favors stunting since Wallenda left town.
But during the time Wallenda hoped to be a part of Niagara Falls - Dyster was against stunting.
Sometime in 2011, a year before Wallenda made his famous high wire walk - June 15, 2012 - he approached Mayor Dyster to get - not taxpayer money- but support for his plan to walk across Niagara Falls on a high wire.
Wallenda described to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune what the mayor told him at that first meeting.
"(Dyster) said, 'I'm an environmentalist, and I can't politically agree to allow this to happen'," Wallenda said. "But he was very nice about it. He was very cordial and said, 'I'm not your enemy.'"
Dyster, the newspaper noted, "did not return calls for comment for this article."
NY State Senator George Maziarz had taken up Wallenda and sponsored a bill that gave Wallenda permission to perform his stunt in the Niagara Falls State Park.
The Senate passed it 62-0. NYS Assemblyman John Ceretto took it to the assembly and it passed 149-1.
Don Glynn, for the Niagara Gazette (June 17, 2011) reported the high wire plan passed in the Senate and the Wallenda walk " moved a step closer to reality … That comes as a surprise to Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster... who reportedly (was) never informed of the plan... Dyster said the city was not consulted before the bill was submitted to the Legislature."
A few days later, news spread that this might really happen.
CKTB News (June 23, 2011) in Ontario learned only one public official on both sides of the border had misgivings.
They reported that Mayor Dyster "is on the fence about" Wallenda
"Dyster says respect must also be paid to the Falls themselves. He doesn't want a 'sideshow' over them that he worries would take away from their elegance & beauty," CKTB reported.
Across the river, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Mayor Jim Diodati endorsed Wallenda calling it an opportunity for the Falls' tourism sector.
John Percy, president of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., called the Wallenda walk, "a wonderful idea."
Niagara Falls Council members Robert Anderson, Glenn Choolokian, Sam Fruscione and Charles Walker voted to endorse Wallenda.
Only Kristen Grandinetti opposed.
As the media announced Wallenda, there was a man in almost every story criticizing the plan.
The New York Post reported (July 5, 2011) that Dyster feels "his economically struggling city needs to take into account concerns that the event could be perceived as a 'sideshow' to the falls."
The LA Times wrote (July 27, 2011), "Skeptics such as Mayor Paul Dyster of Niagara Falls, N.Y., worry about copycats."
"We're concerned about that, but we're also concerned about our first responders who would have to go and rescue people," Dyster told the LA Times.
Dyster posted on his Facebook, "I want to make sure that this event does not create profits for a select few, while the costs are borne by our working families. We were told security costs would be paid by the organizers, not the taxpayers."
When Gov Cuomo signed the Wallenda bill into law on Sept 23, 2011, Wallenda said, "I'd like to express my greatest thanks to Senator George Maziarz... and Gov. Cuomo, of course."
Senator Mark Grisanti said "The whole world will be watching—what better way to draw positive attention to Niagara Falls."
Ceretto said, " This event will bring global attention to Niagara Falls."
Dyster said to the Buffalo News (Oct. 28, 2011) that if Wallenda was the only tightrope walker allowed to walk across the falls there could be a lawsuit from other stunters who were denied the right.
"You just want to be careful there's not a conflict of interest here," Dyster warned.
But this objection lasted only a moment. He soon went back to the risk of too many wire walkers, not too few.
"If this occurs often, it cheapens the real attraction," Dyster told the News on Feb. 19, 2012.
And when the date was set for Wallenda - June 15, 2012 - Dyster protested and wanted it changed to the off season.
"If we don't have rooms to sell to people, then the benefit is less. To us, to do it off of peak helps us," Dyster told WIVB News.
Funny, Dyster's taxpayer funded Hard Rock concerts were scheduled on Saturdays in July and August - the peak season. In fact Dyster justified using bed tax money - because the concerts would bring in people to fill up hotel rooms.
Despite Dyster's criticism, Wallenda was going forward and the press was increasingly attentive.
Dyster did not appear at the press conferences and it was reported that he loved the pristine purity of the Olmsted inspired Niagara Falls State Park too much to allow it to be desecrated by a high wire walk.
The Niagara Gazette's (May 3, 2012) Don Glynn wrote, "it shouldn't have come as any surprise that Mayor Paul A. Dyster was missing from VIPs at the press session. It is common knowledge that Dyster was opposed to the Wallenda walk from the outset. The mayor, a staunch preservationist, is a firm advocate of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect whose 1880's plan was to preserve the beauty of the falls and surrounding parklands."
As the date for the walk drew closer, Dyster raised another specter: Wallenda falling to his death. Dyster told the Buffalo News, "I think the story line is man versus Mother Nature. If Mother Nature wins, maybe, in a way, that heightens the mystery of the falls… I'm not suggesting I'm rooting against him."
On June 15, 2012, Nik Wallenda walked on a high wire across the gorge above the falls.
ABC's live television broadcast attracted 11 million viewers from 9–11 p.m. making it the most watched non-sports summertime major telecast since 2006.
The Associated Press, The New York Times, Fox News, the Washington Examiner, London Times, and media from all over the world covered the event.
The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Wallenda's 1,800-foot crossing transfixed a national television audience and generated a wave of publicity that the falls had not experienced in decades. It seemed like a particular coup for the economically depressed American side of the falls, creating an instant hero and a point of pride for a city that has lost more than half its population in the last half century."
Mayor Diodati said, "The media coverage is miraculous."
NPC Chairwoman Janice Thomson said, "The elation everyone felt after it was over is not measurable. The positive light Niagara Falls was shown in through that event is worth it."
Dyster's reaction was to send Wallenda a bill for $25,000 for overtime for police including a "Crime Analyst" and firemen including two trainers.
"A month after his stunt, Mr. Wallenda and the mayor of Niagara Falls are locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over whether Mr. Wallenda, a seventh-generation circus performer, owes money to the city that he had said his high-wire act would help revitalize," The New York Times reported (July 20, 2012).
The overtime bill and its subsequent debate published in newspapers across the nation tended to take the luster away.
"'I'm the mayor of a poor city," Dyster told the Times. "We have tried to be very patient (with Wallenda)".
Wallenda told the Times, "It's either politics, or he doesn't care about the city…. In my heart of hearts, I go, 'Who cares about the mayor?' because this is about Nik Wallenda doing something good for the area. But it irks me, for sure."
"This was not a charitable enterprise; it was a private business venture," Dyster told the Times. "I cannot gift taxpayer money to people."
But Niagara Falls, Ontario Mayor Jim Diodati weighed in saying his city had costs too stemming from Wallenda's walk, but it was not looking for money from him.
"I see it as an investment," Diodati told the Times. "It's like the goose that lays the golden egg. You don't want to put too much stress on that goose."
Wallenda had once hoped to open a Wallenda-themed exhibition in Niagara Falls, N.Y. "It definitely makes me go, 'Well, why would I want to give back to the city if the mayor is so arrogant?", Wallenda said. "That's why New York looks the way it does and Canada looks the way it does. Because of that attitude."
Sen. Maziarz came to Wallenda's defense, saying there was no agreement between the City and Wallenda, and added Dyster was being "short-sighted," since Wallenda wants to build an attraction at the Falls, either on the U.S. or Canadian side.
"We want Nik Wallenda to be a permanent part of Niagara Falls, New York, not Ontario," said Maziarz, " I don't think this helps our cause."
The city council stepped in. Led by Glenn Choolokian, they passed a resolution, 4-1 - Grandinetti opposing - directing the mayor to stop his collection efforts.
Dyster said he didn't know if the council could stop him.
"Maybe it would be useful to get an opinion from the state comptroller's office," Dyster said.
Choolokian pointed out that Dyster used $707,000 of taxpayer money to put on Hard Rock concerts and threw in police overtime.
Dyster argued - all of it reported in the press - that the city was a cosponsor for Hard Rock, that's why he threw in police overtime, but Wallenda "(n)ever came to the city of Niagara Falls to ask us to be a sponsor."
Then, in what appeared to be a stroke of saintliness or madness, Dyster said, "I really enjoyed the time I spent with Nik Wallenda. I think he's a warm and genuine person. I know he said some things that were not too flattering about me but I don't have a bad word to say about him."
The matter cooled down.
In the January 2013 edition of Buffalo Spree Magazine, Dyster boasted about how he and Wallenda succeeded.
"I think we scored one of the biggest public relations triumphs in the history of Niagara Falls," Dyster said. " … Somewhere between 13 million and 16 million people watched it on ABC that night."
He tried to take credit for assisting Wallenda to settle here. "There's an effort underway to develop a longer-term attraction, based upon Nik's desire to do something here, … with big-top style tents that would house performances by Wallenda and perhaps other circus-type performers."
But when Wallenda came on August 23, 2012, looking for a temporary site for the summer season, Maziarz suggested the city owned site where the Hamister Group was trying to get the money to build a taxpayer subsidized hotel - and were years away from needing the land.
Maziarz told the Reporter. "(the site) would be perfect and is only 300 feet from the entrance to the park."
Dyster opposed it. He held a press conference - with the candidate who was running against Maziarz - to blast him for trying to substitute a Wallenda for the marvelous Hamister Hotel and jeopardizing the hotel project that was to be the tipping point for Niagara Falls.
Maziarz and Wallenda backed off.
By 2014, Wallenda gave up and announced that Darien Lake would be his summer home, and his act appropriately-named "Nik Wallenda: Beyond Niagara Falls."
Maziarz told the Buffalo News that Dyster killed the plan to bring Wallenda here.
Dyster blamed it on Maziarz saying the senator was "transmitting … negativity about Niagara Falls."
But Dyster won. He had failed to stop Wallenda's wire walk and failed to collect the $25,000.
But he kept Wallenda out of Niagara Falls.
Now that being said, readers should not think that Dyster is against stunters or high wire walkers.
Or even using taxpayer money to fund them.
We alluded in the beginning of our story that Dyster praised Gadd, the frozen falls climber - who did his stunt almost three years after Wallenda.
But few people know that a year before Wallenda, Dyster praised another stunter - and got him $14,000 of taxpayer money to hold a wire walk event.
City hall records show that on Aug. 27, 2010, Mayor Dyster brought a funding request to the City Council that read: "The Buffalo Arts Studio has requested a grant of $14,000 to help pay Didier Pasquette's Wire Walk in Niagara Falls, New York.....
"This Wire walk will take place at a location to be mutually agreed upon date between September 24, 2010 and January 16, 2010. Funding is available from Tourism Fund balance.
"Will the Council so approve and authorize the Mayor to execute the same?
"Paul A Dyster."
The Niagara Gazette (September 7, 2010) confirms that the council "Agreed to honor a request …. for a $14,000 grant to help pay Didier Pasquette's 'Wire Walk' in Niagara Falls."
Dyster told the Buffalo News how important wire walks are to Niagara Falls.
In an article published on Sept. 23, 2010, a year before Wallenda announced his plans for his wire walk, Dyster, supporting the unknown Didier Pasquette, not worrying about copycats or cheapening the falls, said, "We have a very long history of tightrope walking in Niagara Falls, and we hope it causes people to take a new look at the history of it and that it reawakens interest in Niagara Falls as a backdrop for visual and performance art."
The Pasquette wire walk actually did occur.
He did not walk across the gorge like Wallenda.
And he did not get the attention Wallenda got.
A Google search did not uncover a single news report about the wire walk of Didier Pasquette in Niagara Falls.
But happily a YouTube video captured it for posterity. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCg3sqa9nOA)
The video, viewed by about 4,877 people, proves that on Old Falls Street, on Sept. 26, 2011, Didiet Pasquette climbed a ladder to a platform and walked on a wire some 200 feet for about three minutes then climbed down a second ladder.
He was 45 feet in the air. 63 people attended.
Mayor Dyster spent $14,000.
A Google search of the words "Wallenda" and "Niagara Falls," reports 805,000 websites mention of these two.
A search for "Didier Pasquette" and "Niagara Falls" shows five.
Dyster saw $14,000 in value for Pasquette, and billed Wallenda $25,000.
And Wallenda is gone.
Dyster is not.
And this report on your mayor - and how he handled the single biggest PR event in recent memory in Niagara Falls - should give you a clue on how he handles many other things.
|If there was one man who the mayor could not tolerate success from, it was Wallenda