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GOP Robo Calls Target Outgoing Commissioner

By Johnny Destino

Nancy Smith, the victim of a ruthless GOP witchhunt, will be retiring in two months. Contrary to what the robo calls told voters, Smith will not be receiving an
enhanced pension because she will work an additional two months.
Dennis Virtuoso says, “These robo calls are illegal, unless they I.D. themselves. We are dealing with a bunch of cowards who are trying to ruin good people’s reputations.”
Jazon Zona was out of town when decisions were made regarding the new election commissioner.

Your political opponents will always let you know who they fear.

In what appears to be a severe case of premature prevarication, county Republicans are blowing up the answering machines of Niagara Falls and Town of Niagara residents represented by Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso and Legislator Jason Zona.

Fresh off the Democratic committee’s decision elevating Lora Allen to be the first African-American Commissioner of the Niagara County Board of Elections, Republicans are crying foul into the phones of area voters with a series of robo calls chastising Virtuoso and Zona for the move they had virtually nothing to do with.

Unsuspecting voters were treated to the following nasally noisome message:
“As the City of Niagara Falls teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, county legislator Dennis Virtuoso continues to give away our tax dollars to his political cronies. Just this week Virtuoso supported giving outgoing scandal clad democratic election commissioner Nancy Smith four more months on the job, even though she’s already been replaced. This four months will give Smith the time she needs for an enhanced pension and lifetime health insurance- all funded by you and me. Does a political operative really deserve taxpayers footing the bill for 75 percent of her health insurance for the rest of her life, especially as we all struggle to make ends meet?

Apparently Dennis Virtuoso thinks so. Call Dennis and tell him no more sweetheart deals for his friends and family.”
The fact is the robo call was dishonest and unfair. Lora Allen said she received the call herself and that it was an “outright lie.” “Dennis and Jason had nothing to do with my decision to have Nancy stay at the Board of Elections,” said Allen.

The truth is that Smith is already vested and her staying on for an additional two months will not change her pension or health insurance one iota. She will stay on both to help Allen with the transition and because Smith, who will be 55 in four months, will then be eligible to begin drawing her pension. Her being laid off immediately would not have changed anything except deny a woman with a long career in county government the chance to retire gracefully.

If she has bona fide work to do during that time, it does not seem particularly egregious. But you would not know it based on the robo calls.

A similar robo call message was sent to voters in Zona’s district, despite the fact that Zona was not present at both the Democratic committee meeting and the legislative meeting where the decision to appoint Allen to her new post was made.

The robo call accusing Virtuoso and Zona of giving a sweetheart deal to “friends and family” members left Virtuoso shaking his head. “This decision to select Lora for commissioner was made by the committee and [Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nick] Forster – not the legislative caucus.

It’s funny that the Republicans were complaining about the fact that we nominated Nancy in the first place and now, after appointing the first African-American ever to the post, they’re still not happy,” said Virtuoso.

Last November, just after the elections, the embattled Smith was nominated by the newly elected Democratic Chairman Nick Forster to continue as commissioner for another two-year term. In a move that Virtuoso said was virtually “unprecedented,” Legislator Paul Wojtaszek and the Republican majority caucus halted the political appointment.

It is unprecedented because by custom, tradition, and law, each party gets to appoint its own election commissioner and the other party is all but powerless to prevent the party chairman from installing the appointment of their choice.

However, that didn’t stop Wojtaszek from motioning to table the reappointment of Smith at the November meeting, complaining that her office mishandled the voting results on election night, and that she improperly handled an internal personnel matter. Wojtaszek’s motion to interfere with what is normally a ceremonial matter for the legislature, given that the appointments are ultimately made by the county chairmen, passed along party lines.

The slander against Smith by the Republicans - who at times do appear to deserve the nickname the "Dirty Dozen" - is, like the robo calls, patently unfair.

After questioning Smith and her counterpart, Republican Election Commissioner Maryann Casamento about the problems delaying last November's election night results from being reported, it became clear that the problem lay not with Smith, but with the newly implemented computer system.

“It was the first time this car was taken out of the garage and given a real ride,” said Larry L. Helwig to the Buffalo News. Helwig, appointed by the republican majority, is the county’s information technology director.

It was the computer not the woman, but that did not stop the Republicans from blaming her.

After that, the focus of the republican attacks on Smith shifted to the abrupt termination of Larry Soos, an at-will employee and Democratic political appointee working at the board of elections, following Forster’s election as party chairman. Soos had worked vigorously to defeat Forster and it is the prerogative of the county chairman to appoint his own.

The resulting delay by the legislature placed Smith into holdover status as her two-year term expired at the end of 2012.
While being sympathetic to Smith for being the subject of a vicious and very ungallant attack, Zona was otherwise amused by the attack on him.

“I think they [county Republicans] must be losing their minds to accuse me of this knowing full well that I wasn’t even in town. I’m amazed that they are starting this early. I must be doing something right,” said Zona.

Democratic Chairman Forster said it was absolutely the committee’s call to appoint Lora Allen to the commissioner job.
“The committee met the night before the appointment and we decided to go with Lora. This was the committee’s decision to make; not the legislators,” said Forster. “Nancy and Lora have worked together for a long time. If Lora wanted Nancy to stay on to help with the transition, then we support her decision. The idea that this was a scandalous decision exists only in the minds of the people who wanted Nancy out no matter what.”

“These robo calls are obviously at the hands of the Grand Old Party. Let’s all keep in mind that for the past twelve years, the Dirty Dozen have misled and misinformed this county on numerous occasions, and here they go again,” continued Forster.

One voter who received the call and alerted Virtuoso was LaSalle resident Dorothy West, a registered Republican who is heavily involved in the local community’s school parents group.

“I thought the call was very ignorant and disrespectful to those of us who pay attention to what our elected officials are doing. It was an outright lie,” said West. “This type of dishonest and underhanded style of politics needs to stop, it’s insulting.”

The Reporter has received a copy of the robo call message and the "voice talent" who recorded the robo call never mentions her name and there is no disclaimer stating who paid for the call.

In fact, you could tend to put it down as a Republican nuisance call. Expect to see more of the same this election season.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 26 , 2013