With most of the attention being paid to the Democratic primary race between incumbent Mayor Paul Dyster and city Councilman Glenn Choolokian, the Republican primary, which pits Pine Avenue businessman and veteran politico John Accardo against Jim Szwedo and landlord activist Robert Pascoal, sometimes seemingly gets lost in the shuffle.
Accardo served nine years on the City Council, including three as Council chairman. He also ran for mayor in 1999 losing to Irene Elia after defeating incumbent James Galie in the Democratic primary, and then losing to Dyster in the Democratic primary of 2011. He switched his party affiliation to Republican following that loss, saying he was ill treated by the Democratic Party leadership
In 2010, Accardo defeated New York State Assembly woman Francine Del Monte in the Democratic primary and was seen as a favorite to win the largely Democratic 138th district in the general election. Del Monte remained in the race on a minor party line, splitting the Democratic votes and Republican John Ceretto was elected.
He says he is running for mayor this year because the Dyster administration has led the city into financial disaster.
"With $20 million a year coming into this city in casino funds, where are the results? Instead, our mayor proposed a 7.8 percent tax hike on local mom-and-pop businesses this year and a three percent tax increase on property owners," Accardo said.
"Government should be living within its means, presenting a balanced and timely budget, and improving the quality of life for each and every resident," Accardo said. "This current business model of giving money away a la carte is not working," he added.
Watching the city he loves deteriorate in front of his eyes has not been a pleasant experience. Watching young, educated and hardworking people leave in droves is bad for both business and moral, he said.
"I love this city, and always have," Accardo said. "I believe we can do better, we can do more, but first, we need to just do."
Szwedo is president of the Niagara Street Area Business & Professional Association, owns multiple properties in the city and operates a commercial cleaning business. This is his first run for political office and is considered something of a longshot.
Vowing to become the “People’s Candidate” and waging a guerilla style campaign consisting largely of op-ed pieces in area newspapers, and door to door visits, Szwedo has focused on the Dyster administration’s failings far more than on his opponents in the primary.
“In my mind, the number one issue is public safety,” he told the Niagara Falls Reporter in a recent interview. “People do not feel safe in this city and we have places like the City Market where things close up early because people don’t want to go there. We need to reallocate our police resources and start by freeing up officers from the overwhelming paperwork involved in the oversight agreement with the attorney general and the state.”
Szwedo has put out a 12-point plan to help Niagara Falls recover and the father of three sons has continued to push his campaign right up until the primary, hoping that his voice is being heard not only by the voting public but by the politicians who are running things and who need to change their methods if Niagara Falls is to recover.
If Szwedo is a longshot, Robert Pascoal must be regarded as the darkest of horses in the race.
As recently as July, it appeared that no one was 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.
If voter turnout is as low as has been predicted by a number of Republican political observers, the winner of this Republican primary – where only registered Republicans can vote for their candidate - could capture as few as 400 votes in this three way race.