HAMILTON: Will Steed’s Tail Wag the Niagara County Dog?

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By: Ken Hamilton

It is as if the Titanic is looking for a new post-iceberg collision captain, it is possible for the unopposed Legislator Owen Steed to soon become the Minority Leader of that already small group of Democrats of Niagara County’s Legislature.

All of the county’s Democrats are from the city of Niagara Falls. The only thing that could likely change those numbers is if city residents act in the upcoming election to elect a real Republican Party member to join the county’s strong Majority Caucus, though reducing the Democrats embarrassing mere soft whispers of power to 3, but at least gives the city some voice in the Legislature, instead of just Steed’s whimpers of going along with the majority caucus to get along, and likely to get complimentary tickets to their dinners as well.

Undoubtedly, Legislator Dennis Virtuoso has been one of the strongest Democratic voices in Niagara County in recent years.  As Minority Leader of a very small group of legislators, he has also been the hardest fighter for the city. The outgoing and relatively cub Legislator Jason Zona, young and enthusiastic, may have been even a much harder fighter for the city than the older lion-like Virtuoso; but as it were, unlike Virtuoso’s legislative district being fully-contained within the city limits, a portion of Zona’s district stretches out into Lewiston and into the Town of Niagara.

Virtuoso will likely be retiring from the fight sometime in the future. Zona has already chosen not to run for reelection.  With the 2020 decennial census coming up, the current 4th District Legislator Owen Steed could become the tail that wags Niagara County Democratic’s dog, but still be impotent in the Legislature.

Sadly, it would mean that Steed may get to keep the gerrymandered legislative district lines that also keep him comfortably seated and pleasing the county’s Republicans in having a passive Democratic legislator in their petting zoo of poverty. Through the 4th District’s bad habit of electing and then demonstrating a tendency to perpetually stick with incompetency, Steed’s rise is seemingly inevitable; however, it would be due more to the apathy of his constituents and less to his ability to govern. And if we even could measure the strength of the four-member Democratic Minority Caucus to being a dog at all, then it would be one of those foo-foo little lap dogs, compared to the Rottweilers and Dobermans that the eleven-member Republicans can easily, if needed, sic on foo-foos.

Sadly again, even with Virtuoso’s years of experience in the legislature, likely being one of the longest serving Democrats in that august body since the change in the reduction of the legislature from 19 to 15 members, he has been unable to institute much for the city of Niagara Falls. The biggest insult came when the county denied Niagara Falls a part of its own Seneca Casino money share, suggesting that we already got our share within the city’s funds.  Despite Virtuoso’s valiant efforts, the money was split up eleven ways instead of 15, with each of the non Niagara Falls legislators getting an equal share, plus a share of that which should have gone to the Falls’ Four Democrats.

In essence, legislators outside of the city got a Rottweiler’s-share of the meaty green in the doggy dish, while the foo-foos sat in the corner, each raising one of their legs and grooming themselves; this, despite off the top portions of Niagara Falls share had already gone to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s (NFTA) new airport terminal in the Town of Wheatfield and to the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp (NTCC) that supports tourism throughout the entire county.

According to a report in the Buffalo News’ April 2, 2018 edition, the state law covering the city’s share of casino revenue requires 26.5% of the city’s share to go not only to local agencies like NFTA and NTCC, but also to organizations “such as Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center …” Both the hospital and airport are regional assets, with the hospital being the county’s mental health facility and the airport serving western NY and southern Ontario.  It would seem reasonable that the city had already surrendered enough to the county in a way that each county legislator should have been, by law, treated equally.

Let’s face it; Steed cannot lead the charge to anything.  An observer said that with Steed’s inability to even walk for very long, he was seen as having to be driven door to door to get his own petitions signed. How then could he be a healthy legislative choice for the city and all of its citizens?

Can Steed’s tail wag the Niagara County Republican Caucus dog? The answer is simply “no.” The city Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for supporting him, while the city Republicans and Democrats should be ashamed for not finding someone to run against him! Have both parties written off the inner city?

Seems so; and will always be – as long as the inner-city keeps voting like they always had!


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