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Sandonato Enters Council Fray

By Craig Tretiak

Former Niagara County Legislator, now candidate for Niagara Falls City Council, Vincent M. Sandonato (2nd from left), at the Niagara Falls International Airport. With Sandonato are (left - right) Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards, County Legislator Pete Smolinski and Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert Cliffe.

Former Niagara County Legislator Vincent M. Sandonato has entered the fray as a candidate for Niagara Falls City Council, circulating third party petitions to secure a line on the ballot this November in an already-crowded field.

Sandonatos entry makes him the ninth candidate to announce in the race to fill three seats on the council — and, with last weeks departure of Democrat Joe Swartz, the eighth currently running.

Sandonato — a Republican — pulled a stunning upset when he defeated Nick Melson, a staffer to former Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, winning the Legislature seat centered in LaSalle in a heavily Democratic district.

“I am circulating petitions to seek the nomination of the Independence Party, Sandonato said.  “Thats my focus right now.

The Republicans already are fielding three candidates: Hutchins, political newcomer and champion martial artist Russ Vesci, and Democrat Robert Elder who is seeking the Republican line.  Democratic incumbents Sam Fruscione, Kristen M Grandinetti, Charles Walker are seeking their partys nomination. as well as candidate Andrew Touma.

Sandonatos candidacy throws a curveball into this falls election. Given the heavy Democratic enrollment in Niagara Falls, any Republican candidate faces a steep climb, and without the GOPs backing, Sandonatos climb is steeper.  However, more than one political handicapper contacted Sunday afternoon pointed to the potential weakness of two of the three Democratic incumbents.

While Fruscione was universally regarded as likely to retain his seat, a series of missteps on Grandinettis part — as well as the perception that she is not functioning as a true council member — but rather as a one-woman echo chamber for spendthrift Mayor Paul Dyster — and a lackluster, low-visibility term in office by Walker leave both exposed.

That gives Sandonato a chance, according to the former chairman of Niagara Countys Republican Party, Henry F. Wojtaszek.

“Ive heard the Niagara Falls political scene described as not just a steep hill for Republicans, but a mountain, Wojtaszek told us.  “But I got to know Vince pretty well and if anyone can climb that mountain, its him.

Wojtaszek is modest in his assertion, as insiders say he essentially recruited a 23-year-old Sandonato to face a 24-year-old Melson — and mentored the talented young politician to a shocking election victory in the 2009 elections.

Despite a roughly 5 to 2 Democratic enrollment edge, Sandonato upset DelMontes staffer by 56 percent to 43 percent.

“Vince was one of the hardest working people running for office Ive ever come across, Wojtaszek said.  “He hustled.  He knocked on doors.  He talked to people.  He tried to help people who had problems.  Dont count him out by a long-shot.

The Democratic line has not been the guarantee of victory it once was, either.  In 2011, Democratic Mayor Paul A. Dyster succeeded in winning a second term, but by fewer than 700 votes out of nearly 9,500 cast citywide.  In that same election, Dyster and DelMonte foe, Robert Anderson, denied the Democratic line on the ballot, took more than 7,200 votes citywide and ran on the Republican line while Republican-backed Glenn A. Choolokian skunked Dyster-acolyte Alicia M. Laible.

Sandonato sees an opportunity for the Cataract City to change course with a strong majority for change on the City Council.

“With three seats — and the majority — on the council on the line, what better election to take an independent stand and put Niagara Falls first? Sandonato asked before launching into his three-point plan to address the citys woes.

Sandonatos platform:  “[E]liminating lifetime healthcare for elected officials in the city, stabilizing and reducing overall tax rates for both residents and businesses and restructuring the citys budget process to generate cuts and return surpluses to the taxpayers.

Sandonato also vowed to make economic development a top priority.

“I will focus on fostering an environment that grows good-paying private-sector jobs and broadens the citys tax base, Sandonato said.  “Thats how you pay for a tax cut.

With just the backing of the Independence Party, Sandonato will be at a competitive disadvantage against those candidates backed by the major parties, particularly the Democratic machine that has long dominated Falls politics — something he readily acknowledges.  However, the 27-year-old whose sunny optimism is nearly contagious dismisses naysayers.

“This election should be less about party politics than results, Sandonato said.  He then vowed to work with colleagues of all political stripes to advance “the goal of effective change for Niagara Falls.

“Ive worked as a county legislator.  Ive worked with our state delegation, Republicans and Democrats.  Ive reached across the aisle and worked with political rivals.  Ive worked with virtually every community that makes up this great and vibrant city, Sandonato said.  “Now I want to offer solutions.  Others look at our city and see our problems.  I see opportunity.

Whether voters will see the same opportunity remains to be seen.



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

JUL 09, 2013