Chairman charade: Touma becomes Chairman as Scott bows out

By Nicholas D. D’Angelo

Managing Editor

As friends, family, and elected officials walked into the City Council chambers on New Year’s Day awaiting the swearing-in ceremony for Bill Kennedy, Chris Voccio, Andy Touma, Owen Steed, Mark Grozio, and Dennis Virtuoso to begin, those who frequently attend council meetings noticed something different about the name plates for the councilman. That the names, from left to right, read “Kennedy,” “Scott,” “Tompkins,” “Touma,” and “Voccio.”

Whispers could be heard throughout the crowd trying to understand what it meant. “Does that mean Ken is the new chairman?” someone from the crowd was overheard asking. There is no doubt some cruel irony was at play as it had been widely reported that Councilman Tompkins was vying for the position. As it turns out, and perhaps unfortunately for him, they were just placed alphabetically.

As the ceremony for Bill Kennedy, Chris Voccio, and Andy Touma was underway at City Hall, excitement was turning to anticipation to see who would be chosen as the next Chairman of the City Council. In the days leading up to the ceremony, many had speculated as to who would take the reins. Rumors of backroom deals, pleading, and, in some cases, begging, were reported by sources familiar with the situation. The only councilmen not reported to have sought the position were Councilmen Kennedy and Voccio.

 

Councilman Scott was reported to be pressing hard for the seat along with Councilmen Tompkins and Touma. Mr. Touma had already served two years as Chairman during his first term as councilman in 2015 and 2016. Mr. Tompkins, similarly to Mr. Scott, were both beginning their third year on the council. Unsurprisingly, all of the wheeling and dealing took place behind closed doors.

According to a source close to Councilman Scott, the Chairmanship was his going in to the swearing-in ceremony. However, before any councilman was able to make a nomination for the position, and in what sounded like a concession speech, Mr. Scott addressed the crowd, saying,

“With the situation that happened earlier this year, I would like to publicly again apologize to the people of Niagara Falls. What I think is best is for me to focus on this next year. Redeveloping and regaining the trust of the people of Niagara Falls who put me in office. I don’t take the position as chairman lightly and I don’t take the position as city councilman lightly either. I am very passionate about this and I really want to focus on rebuilding the trust. Therefore, I would like to nominate Andrew Touma as Chairman.”

          Council Chair Andrew Touma

Councilman Scott’s speech sounded as though it was his position to give away, which corroborates the source who said it was his to lose going into the ceremony. The only question then is, what changed?

It is no secret that Councilman Scott had a tumultuous 2017. On March 11th, he was charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor offense, stemming from an accident on Hyde Park Blvd. which resulted in property damage. He also refused a breathalyzer test at the scene, but later agreed to a blood test after being taken into custody. The results of the blood test were never made public.

Mr. Scott accepted a plea deal and was sentenced on December 20th in Lockport, resulting in the suspension of his license for 90 days and a one-year conditional discharge. Additionally, he will have to pay a $300 fine and $250 surcharge by February 20th.

A source familiar with the situation has told the Niagara Reporter that he was counseled at the last minute not to take the position over concerns of negative stories being published mentioning or referencing the arrest. In a true “lose the battle to win the war” moment, Councilman Scott forfeited the chairmanship to Councilman Touma to live to fight another day; for now, at least.

              Councilman Ezra P. Scott, Jr.

 

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