‘Comeback Kid’ Gawel to Run for Council As Politics Heat Up Early in Falls

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By: Tony Farina

Even at this early stage, and it is not as early as usual because of the changes in state election law, the air is ripe with politics in Niagara Falls, mingling with the lingering bad taste of the gaming war between the state and the Seneca Nation and the uncertainty of when–or even if–the slot payments will begin flowing again after an arbitration panel’s ruling in favor of the state.

A new face has entered the political arena, although he’s been there before, and while he is an official with the city Republican Committee, former Councilman Michael Gawel is an early public supporter of Democrat Robert Restaino for mayor even as he tosses his hat into the ring for council.

Gawel, a CPA who served as a councilman back in the 1990’s, made his announcement for one of two council seats up for election this year at last Thursday’s Republican Committee meeting at the Niagara Falls Ice Pavilion.  He was warmly received by Committee Chairman Bill Carroll and the others on hand, including previously announced council hopeful Candace Corsaro.

“We need a council that can work with the mayor and make the budget numbers work for residents and businesses,” said Gawel, stressing his background as a certified public accountant (CPA) and small business owner.

Gawel is a magna cum laude graduate of Niagara University with a degree in accounting and he also earned a law degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.  Gawel signaled his intentions to back Restaino for mayor this year in November when he attended the former judge’s formal announcement of his candidacy at the Como Restaurant.

In a letter to this newspaper, Gawel stated “as a taxpayer who owns a number of properties in Niagara Falls, I am looking forward to the city taking a more business approach to government, and Robert Restaino, regardless of political affiliation, is the kind of leader we need to change the city’s direction.  I look forward to having the opportunity to work with him at City Hall and get Niagara Falls moving forward again.  It is time for change.”

Gawel went on to say he believes Restaino will bring together Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, and others in the best interest of the city.   Restaino has not sought Republican support at this time.

As things stand now, Restaino and Seth Piccirillo, a top aide to Mayor Paul Dyster, could square off in a Democratic primary for mayor in June now that the state has consolidated state and federal primary elections as part of a package of election reforms, including early voting.  Dyster, also a Democrat, has not committed to seeking a fourth term, perhaps waiting to see what the Senecas do now that they have lost the arbitration with the state.

Under Dyster, the city has used casino cash to balance the budget for the last several years, and even if the city receives the back payments this year, severe challenges remain to fix the structural deficits the city faces every year.

Gawel says his experience as a tax accountant and small business owner give him the background to help the city regain its financial footing, including finding new revenue sources.  Gawel is CFO of Perfection Vapes, Inc., part owner of Dino’s Tires and Service Center, and has served as an election inspector in Niagara Falls for more than 30 years.

Some friends are hailing Gawel’s return to politics as a candidate for the title “the Comeback Kid,” given some past personal problems that he has long overcome.

“I guess Bob Restaino and I have a lot in common,” says Gawel.  “He had problem with the telephone in the courtroom and I made some mistakes a long time ago.  Both of us have overcome our problems with him now serving our city as president of the school board, and we are committed to helping Niagara Falls make a comeback, too.  I’m looking forward to this race and plan to work hard to win the support of the people who share my determination to get Niagara Falls back on its feet.”

Gawel was born in Niagara Falls, the son of Chester Gawel, 96, and Mary Gawel, 88, who will likely make as many appearances as possible with their son in his comeback campaign for council.    

As for the casino cash, still no word from the Seneca Nation on when or if they are going to write a check for about $200 million to New York State, the estimated amount they owe after stopping the revenue sharing payments after 2016 because that’s when the payments ended under the compact.

A gaming arbitration panel has ruled 2 to 1 against the Senecas, saying the payments to the state must continue even without language in the compact.  The Senecas have been silent since the ruling, and sources say they are continuing to look at their options.  

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