(Editor’s note: The role of the District Attorney is an important one and in Niagara County, residents have a new person in the position. Inasmuch as Niagara County DA Caroline Wojtaszek ran unopposed last year, residents perhaps had less exposure to her plans and ideals than they might have had there been a robust, competitive campaign. It strikes us as therefore fitting to present to readers her inaugural speech, with a few explanatory notes for clarity and context as needed. Wojtaszek delivered her speech at the Lockport Courthouse to a crowd of about 150 people.)
Wow what an amazing feeling it is to be surrounded by my family, friends and colleagues today. I truly feel your support and encouragement. It means so much to me- I am profoundly grateful and blessed.
First, I want to thank Pastor Celestine Booze of Potter’s House in Niagara Falls for her beautiful invocation. She and I go back 20 years when she was a detective with the Niagara Falls Police Department and we worked together on child abuse and sexual assault cases. She has quite a post-retirement life with her husband doing great work in Niagara Falls and around the world. I am honored to be back in this courtroom with you.
Thank you to my sons, Jack and Ryan for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and my daughter Katie for your beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
When the opportunity came to go for this position I sat down with each one of my children to talk about what this might entail. Nights away, sometimes long hours – a very serious job that requires serious attention. I am humbled to say that their immediate response was “Go for it, mom, this is what you have waited for, you got this.” I love you, I could not be prouder of each of you. In the end you three and your happiness are the most important report card that matters in my life.
I also want to thank [State Supreme Court] Judge [Richard] Kloch for your kind words today. As he mentioned he was with Henry [Wojtaszek, her husband] and me on our first date. It’s a good story and no one tells it like he does. So thank you for that and for your wisdom, guidance and support that you have always given me in abundance.
[State Supreme Court] Judge [Matthew] Murphy. The list is long of what you have given me in my life. You brought me to Niagara County. You gave me every opportunity to succeed right from the start. Every challenge you put in front of me I wanted to meet to make you proud. I always wanted you to know that the chance you took on me was the right one. You were a great District Attorney. You left the office a family, you initiated programs and policies that still guide the office today in the areas of domestic violence, in dealing with defendants suffering from mental health issues –the list could go on and on. I will protect, restore and build on your legacy.
[Niagara County] Judge [Sara] Sheldon- (deep breath) man it is much easier to talk policy and procedure but today is a day to reflect on those who have guided my career and you are certainly a big part of that. I did many trials in front of you- some of the biggest of my career. That was an honor. But the real honor has been to be your confidential law clerk for almost seven years. You have truly rounded out my legal education. You exemplify how to conduct yourself with grace, wisdom and compassion. Those lessons run deep. Boy am I going to miss our partnership. For Christmas you gave me a bracelet with one word inscribed – “Fearless.” Judge I will give it everything I’ve got. Thank you so very much!
I do also want to thank a few courageous leaders in our community who went out on a limb for me, believed in me and set political partisanship aside to support my candidacy. First and foremost Sue Eberwein, Chairwoman of the Independence Party, who came out in front for me without hesitation, Democratic Party Chairman Nick Forster, Republican Party Chairman Scott Kiedrowski and Conservative Party Chairman Dan Weiss. I promise to run my office as you have sent me here -in a bi-partisan way. It never mattered nor should it matter if the victim of a crime is a Republican or a Democrat. My office will fight for justice no matter who you are.
I want to point to our former Sheriff Tom Beilein who gave me my first job here in Niagara County as Domestic Violence Coordinator. I am so glad you are here. You were one of the first calls I made when I decided to run and you were right there with support and encouragement. Thank you.
I want to recognize our current Sheriff Jim Voutour who was on the campaign trail with me always setting up the room for me with his kind words and stamp of approval. Chief DalPorto from Niagara Falls. Chief Hall from North Tonawanda and Chief Niethe from Lockport, Chief Swick from Middleport, Chief Suitor from Town of Niagara and Chief Previte from Lewiston Police.
A prosecutor‘s relationship with law enforcement is an important one. One that should be based on respect, trust and a healthy give and take. We share the goal of achieving justice with an even hand and I could not be prouder to stand along side you.
I have said it many times that from the minute I started in the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office almost 20 years ago, I knew I had the best job in the world. It is a very tough job – don’t get me wrong. But when a child came to me and told me how they were abused, I knew that offender would never abuse that child again or any other child if I had anything to do with it. That motivated me every day.
I want to inspire the attorneys in the DA’s office to do their BEST work. The office is filled with dedicated, talented attorneys.
It was not been easy these last few years in the office but you have carried the torch through it all. You simply got up every day and did what needed to be done for the people of Niagara County. I want to stop for a moment and thank you for that. Please stand. [clap]. I want to introduce you to my 1st Assistant Holly Sloma and my second assistant Mary Jean Bowman. I often say it is as if you are getting three DAs for the price of one. I want to thank Ted Brenner for stepping up as Acting DA. It was not an easy task. Thank you for making the transition as smooth as possible.
Finally, to my family. You are the ones that really put up with me everyday. I have a special and blessed family. My husband is one of twelve children. Each one steps in at a moment‘s notice to help in any way they can. I walked right in to the Wojtaszek family and was met with open arms and lots of kisses. My mother and father-in law. It is so difficult to get here I know. Thank you for the effort and the limitless love and support you give me.
Thank you to my brother David. I love you and you have been the rock in my life. My mom and dad who believed in me and taught me the sky was the limit. Finally, my husband Henry—you simply believe I can do anything and you make me feel that way! Everyday you encourage me to be better, you are my sounding board, my partner…and boy do we have our morning school lunch making routine down to a science. Together I know we will never lose focus on the three most important people in our life- Jack, Katie and Ryan. We may be busy but never too busy for you.
I want to thank Jennifer Kobrin, my campaign treasurer, for keeping it all together and organized. It is not a glamorous position but it is an important one.
Thank you Dona Chase for literally everything today and what you have done to get the office ready for January 1st.
I want to thank the YWCA and Carolyn’s House for the amazing food you are about to eat. Carolyn’s House is a place near and dear to my heart. It is named after my friend Carolyn Van Schaik who was taken from us too soon but left a legacy of lifting women and children out of homelessness to be their best selves. The Catering Crew teaches the skills they need to head into the work force and be self-supporting. It is for those reasons I wanted to make sure to showcase their work here for you today.
I want to leave you today with the Closing Benediction and a song sung by Minister Cynthia Jones and the Potter’s House Daughters of Zion Praise and Worship Team and music conducted by Pastor Craig Cauley. The song is called “Rise Up” by Audra Day. I listen to it almost everyday on my ride into work. It epitomizes what means most to me as I step into this new responsibility. In the DA’s Office we ask crime victims to get up on that stand and face the person who hurt them. We ask them to face their ordeal in front of a room full of strangers. We ask them to Rise Up and they do!
Everyday I will ask our prosecutors to Rise Up and do Justice, to seek the right results on difficult cases and guide victims through the criminal justice system with compassion. I will ask them to Rise Up and strive for excellence each and everyday and I am confident they will!
I too will Rise Up to do my best work for the people of Niagara County. I tell my children “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I will strive to make you proud as the next Niagara County District Attorney. Thank you!