No fewer than nine contenders will vie for three open seats on the Niagara Falls City Council this autumn, making the September primaries an “anything can happen” affair in which the job status of the two incumbents seeking re-election is anything but secure.
Council members Kristen Grandinetti and Andrew Touma – along with Charles Walker, who decided not to run amidst a flurry of ethics allegations — have been seen largely as a rubber stamp, approving the programs and policies of Mayor Paul Dyster, rarely questioning his decisions. This has led to fiascos such as the city’s overbuilt and underutilized new train station and the 72nd Street water main that left residents without water for two winters in a row.
This will of course present a conundrum for the steadily diminishing number of Niagara Falls voters who swept Mr. Dyster into office in 2007 and put him back there twice when he ran for reelection.
The candidates will be wearing out shoe leather and knocking on stranger’s doors between now and September and, with so many to choose from, how’s a person to make a decision?
The newest entries in the race are Democratic newcomers Bill Kennedy, Amber S. Hill-Donhauser and Lakea Perry.
Mr. Kennedy, an actor and producer best known for his remake of the cult classic horror film “Attack of the Killer Shrews,” (2016) is also a vocal opponent of commercial development in Niagara Falls State Park and the Niagara River gorge.
Mr. Kennedy recently spoke at a city Council meeting regarding park and gorge development.
“Many Niagarans stood up against the idea of a lodge on Goat Island and we won that fight by using our voices and passion, along with the love for our city and the beauty that surrounds it,” he said. “New York State will soon start taking bids for a proposal to set up zip-lining, rappelling and possibly other tourist-aimed recreations in the Niagara Gorge. The Niagara Gorge needs to be preserved, not commercialized.”
Ms. Hill-Donhauser may be the first Native American, and is certainly the first Native American woman, ever to seek election to the City Council in Niagara Falls.
She is the President of The Hill Financial Group and volunteers throughout the community in her capacity as a financial advisor by teaching financial literacy seminars at the Niagara Falls Public Library and hosting open hours at the Doris Jones Resource Center to empower the residents in the local communities.
Ms. Hill-Donhauser also coaches youth lacrosse, and continues to volunteer at the Local 9 Union hall, teaching financial literacy classes to incoming apprentices. She is also a four time Federation of International Lacrosse Captain for the Haudenosaunee Nationals.
Lakea Perry, a mother of six, worked for 15 years at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center as an operations supervisor. She is a graduate of Leadership Niagara and has served on the Board of Directors of the Legend’s Park Board. She also serves as executive secretary for the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH), where she worked with Rev. Joanne Scott on city issues concerning workforce development and employment equality, especially in minority communities.
Ms. Perry graduated from LaSalle Senior High School and earned an Associate degree in Business Administration Management from NCCC.
“I believe my gifts and talent that I have obtained throughout the years of my life can be of great benefit to the city and the people of Niagara Falls… I will work for you every day that I am on City Council… I will have you in mind every time I make a decision for the city of Niagara Falls,” she states in a campaign video available on Youtube.
On the Republican side, Candra Thomason, Chris Voccio, Sam Archie and Robert Pascoal have announced their intention to run.
Ms. Thomason, a Republican who served on the Council from 2002-05 and ran for mayor in 2007, said she wants to speak up for residents who feel ignored or forgotten by City Hall. “They’ve had it. They’re fed up,” she said.
“As a former member of the Council, I worked hard to cut unnecessary spending while fighting for quality of life services, and I now feel I need to roll up my sleeves and get back to public service,” she told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “I hope to use the knowledge I have of business management, accounting, public relations, marketing and organization building in the public and private sector to help fix the fiscal crises we are in, and the multitude of problems facing our city.”
Mr. Voccio recently retired as publisher of the Niagara Gazette following a nearly three year tenure. He also stepped down from the boards of the Niagara USA Chamber and the United Way of Greater Niagara. In his announcement, Mr. Voccio described himself as “a lifelong arch-conservative – limited government, free enterprise, law and order.”
Mr. Pascoal, president of the Landlords’ Association of Greater Niagara, was a surprise, dark horse candidate for mayor in 2015. He left the race after losing to John Accardo in the primary.
His view of the Dyster administration remains unchanged, however.
“I continue to watch this administration set forth unmeasurable and costly programs and policies without proper checks and balances from certain members of the current council,” Mr. Pascoal said. “We have two separate governing bodies in City Hall. If one fails to act responsibly to ensure the best interests of residents and businesses are met, then it is the sworn duty of the other to protect constituents.”
Mr. Archie, a former vice chairman of the city GOP committee, managed the unsuccessful mayoral bid of Glenn A. Choolokian two years ago. Mr. Archie lost Council races in 1993 and 1995.
With the 2015 election of freshman Councilman Ken Tompkins, a Republican, November’s election presents a chance for residents to elect a GOP majority on the City Council, a makeup which has not occurred in decades.
City Republican Committee Chairman William Carroll called the November election “the most critical” the city has faced in years. He said he’d like to see an expanded focus placed on the city’s business culture. It presents an opportunity to confront what Mr. Carroll sees as problematic visions in the Falls, one of which he described as an “industry of poverty” through the proliferation of subsidized housing.
“That vision, in my opinion, has to change,” he said.