Piccirillo Throws Dyster Under the Bus in Bid to Be Own Man

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By: Tony Farina

Analysis

Armed with a new job title in an attempt to avoid possible Hatch Act violations in his mayoral run in 2019, Seth Piccirillo, now the director of community development AND code enforcement (the new description) for Niagara Falls, apparently is also trying to shed his image as a puppet for his mentor, Mayor Paul Dyster.

Piccirillo did his best to distance himself from Dyster, who appointed him to his cushy job in 2012, during an interview last week with the Niagara Gazette as he trumpeted his efforts to be his own man, a perfectly understandable approach given the near-bankrupt state of the city under Dyster’s leadership.

In his own words, Piccirillo threw Dyster under the bus, telling the Gazette and voters, “I think what I have to make clear is that I am my own person. I have to show with actions that my administration would be mine and it would have differences.”

In other words, even though he’s been a top lieutenant to the commander in chief, he’s not committed to the Dyster doctrine that paid homage to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, not the taxpayers of Niagara Falls.

Take for example the current stalemate between the Senecas and the Cuomo Administration after the Senecas stopped paying the state casino money last year, citing the lack of any language in the gaming compact extension that requires any more payments.

The result of the impasse is Niagara Falls, with no casino money on the horizon, has a $13 million budget hole next year that has been plugged with a $12.3-million state loan and a tax increase.

Dyster’s position has been let’s wait and see what happens in the arbitration between the state and the Senecas set to begin next month, even as the city teeters on the edge of no-man’s land.

Piccirillo, after suddenly findinga voice, now says “we have to stop settling on this mentality that we are just waiting for the state to help us all the time.” Thereby suggesting the city should be talking to the Senecas, unlike the Dyster do-nothing approach as he continues his unwavering support of Cuomo.

It is a significant departure from Dyster, and another sign that Piccirillo is hoping the public does not view him as a Dyster clone even though it was Dyster that plucked him from relative obscurity six years ago and gave him a top job in his administration.

Even as Piccirillo runs away from Dyster, it would appear the mayor helped him by changing his job title after this newspaper raised questions about whether Piccirillo was in violation of the Hatch Act which bars employees from runningfor public office if most of their money is paid from federal sources.

Piccirillo says the Niagara Reporter’s story about possible Hatch Act violations was inaccurate because his salary was not fully covered by federal funds althoughf ederal officials gave the Gazette a “could not comment” response on any open or closed Hatch Act investigations, leaving the matter up in the air. In any event, the city changed Piccirillo’s title in an apparent effort to get around any possible violations.

Additionally, Piccirillo refuses to provide facts for any denial of a Hatch Act violation. Instead of answering the question, he seems to prefer mocking the Niagara Reporter for bringing the issue up in the first place. Thus raising the question, what does he have to hide?

We attempted to contact Piccirillo for comment on this story, but he did not return our call. As of now, he is the only announced candidate for mayor next year although Dyster has not said whether he will or will not seek a fourth term.

Piccirillo and Dyster, both Democrats, would face off in a primary next year if Dyster runs, a long shot possibility given the city’s crumbling financial situation.

Another possible Democratic hopeful, Niagara Falls School Board President Robert Restaino, has hinted strongly he is considering a run although, as yet, he is holding his cards close to the vest.

Restaino presides over a school district that recently received a significant bond upgrade from BBB+ to A- from Standard and Poor’s even as the city’s bonds were downgraded in July by Fitch Ratings fromBBB+ to BBB as the agency revised the city’s outlook from stable to negative. The BBB grade is the lowest rating in the “investment grade” category, a sign of the city’s dire financial state under Dyster.

As we have reported over the last several weeks, the Dyster Administration went against the advice of the state comptroller and continued to use casino cash and reserves to balance budgets from 2014 – 2017, creating the perfect storm of uncertainty over the city’s future which at this point is seemingly at the mercy of the gaming arbitration outcome.

Try as he might, Piccirillo may have a tough time distancing himself from Dyster given their close ties over the last six years and his top city position, mostly federally funded or not.

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