If the primary results hold up after the all the absentee ballots are counted, it will be Paul Dyster against John Accardo in the general election Nov. 3 for mayor of Niagara Falls.
Dyster narrowly defeated his Democratic primary challenger Glenn Choolokian by 73 votes with 168 absentee ballots still to be counted and Accardo also won a narrow victory in a three-way Republican primary over Robert Pascoal and Jim Szwedo, a count that won’t be final—like the Democratic results-- until the absentee ballots are counted on Friday.
But political observers, like former Niagara Falls Councilman Michael Gawel, believe Dyster and Accardo will likely survive the absentee count and go on to face each other in November in what will likely be a spirited, hard-hitting contest.
“Accardo will need to get voters energized about the issues, like tax increases under Dyster, the city’s finances, and things like the frozen water pipes,” said Gawel who is also a Republican election inspector. “There are a lot of people unhappy with Dyster,” said Gawel, noting the strong showing by Councilman Choolokian in the primary in winning 49 percent of the Democratic vote.
“I’m looking forward to November,” said a beaming Accardo after his GOP primary win. The former councilman plans to knock on doors and take his campaign to the people in his bid to unseat the two-term incumbent who will likely have a money edge in the election, a factor that Gawel says will be aided by Dyster’s support from Buffalo interests.
For his part, Dyster said he wants to finish the work he has started over the last eight years, much of it still in the unfinished category like the much-hyped Hamister Hotel and the new train station. But Dyster has been a prolific fundraiser, tapping into his many business and legal supporters in Buffalo who have fared well under his eight years as mayor.
But the city he has led for the last years is not faring nearly as well if you look at the finances as Fitch’s Ratings pointed out in its recent review of the city’s creditworthiness.
The Wall Street ratings agency cited the city’s “diverse but volatile revenue stream,” and said the large decline in revenues due to the withholding of casino funds largely was not offset by a reduction in expenses, which led to fund balance dropping to very low levels.” That same assessment was made in the most recent state audit of city finances which criticized the Dyster administration for its budget practices and poor long-term planning, especially with respect to the lengthy impasse over the casino payments.
In his primary campaign against Dyster, Choolokian hit hard at Dyster’s spending practices in the face of the casino crisis and his lack of discipline in doling out taxpayer money for what Choolokian suggested were projects that yielded little in return.
Choolokian’s strong showing suggests Dyster is vulnerable although Accardo—lacking Choolokian’s council pulpit-- will have to take to the streets and to the airwaves to convince voters he is ready to lead a city that he said during his campaign is on the verge of insolvency with a projected budget shortfall of more than $7 million.
Observers expect Dyster to pull out all the stops in his bid for a third term, with likely endorsements from political movers and shakers and more rhetoric about finishing what he has started although recent poll numbers in both parties say Dyster may have a lot of selling to do to convince voters he deserves four more years.
In its review, Fitch Ratings noted “the city remains dotted with poverty and empty homes, hurting its assessed value levels. Unemployment rates for the city have historically been well above the state and national rates and remain so in May 2014 at 8.2% compared to the state’s 6.4% and the nation’s6.1%. Employment levels have been trending down. Wealth levels are low, with per capita and median household income levels far below state and national averages, and educational attainment levels also well below national norms.”
If Dyster is going to run on his record, he’s going to have to also explain the city’s serious budget crisis, widespread poverty levels, and high unemployment rates which haven’t been helped much so far by his downtown development initiatives and public money handouts to outside interests.
For his part, Accardo will have to convince voters he’s a better choice to lead the city to a brighter future and has a plan to reverse the many years of decline that are cited in report after report about the City of Niagara Falls, a top world tourist destination that pales in comparison to its neighboring city across the mighty Niagara.