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Déjà vu: GOP Robocalls Again Target Virtuoso, Zona Over Smith

By Johnny Destino

John Ottaviano has worked assiduously to maintain the fiction that a man can legally live in Niagara Falls if he has paperwork that says he does, even if he doesn't physically live there.
"Pardon me ma'am. This is the Republican County Legislature. We are calling you up to tell you some lies about your Democratic County Legislator,
Dennis Virtuoso. We trust you won't check any facts."
Pulling back the curtains on the
duplicitous and anonymous
robocalls made by who knows
who? Well, who has the motive?

It was déjà vu all over again.

Another blitz of robocalls - where auto-dialers are used to call thousands of phone numbers and play a recorded message- have rained down upon the legislative districts of Niagara County Democratic legislators Dennis Virtuoso and Jason Zona last week (curiously, just after the Reporter went to print). Zona and Virtuoso represent districts located largely in Niagara Falls.

In true "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" fashion, the unidentified female voice repeated the already discredited story that Virtuoso and Zona were responsible for protecting former Democratic Election Commissioner Nancy Smith's benefits' package by arranging for her to stay on as a deputy commissioner, despite newly appointed commissioner, Lora Allen, saying it was her decision to keep Smith onboard.

The new recording states that a Buffalo News article on March 9 proves the two legislators lied about their involvement. The proof however is kind of hazy.

Nowhere in the Buffalo News article does it mention Virtuoso or Zona.

As readers may recall, this began weeks ago when the Democratic Party nominated Allen as the new Democratic election commissioner to replace Smith.

Allen, in turn, said she asked Smith to stay on as deputy and Smith agreed to stay until she was able to retire and begin collecting her pension, a pension, by state law, that she would get regardless of whether she retired immediately or in April when she turned 55.

According to Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nick Forster, whose role it is to appoint the commissioner for his party, Smith wasn't being terminated and could have remained in the position indefinitely.

"These (Republican) legislators should know by now that they can't control when someone chooses to retire. It was Nancy's decision," said Forster.

In addition to the anonymous robocalls, there is a coordinated effort by Niagara County Republican Majority Leader Rick Updegrove (R-Lockport) and Legislator Paul Wojtaszek (R-North Tonawanda) to keep this issue burning and are prepared to vote tonight (March 19) on a resolution they co-sponsored chastising Commissioner Allen for her decision to keep Smith on as deputy commissioner.

Updegrove told the Buffalo News that he didn't believe he had the authority to do anything about Allen's decision, but he wants the legislature on record as opposing it. Wojtaszek, for his part, claims that the move is going to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Updegrove and Wojtaszek want Smith to retire immediately because they say that staying an additional two months will afford her lifetime health care she would otherwise not be entitled to if she retired before turning 55. Smith is 54 years and 11 months old.

Virtuoso, who is the Democratic Minority Leader, believes the Republicans are setting a dangerous precedent that borders on attempting to intimidate an appointed official.

Pointing out, for obvious reasons, that elected officials cannot and should not dictate who the staff of election commissioners are because they are responsible for tabulating the very votes these politicians are seeking for their elections.

"According to NYS Election law, legislators have no say in who the commissioners appoint for their staff. Nor can we interfere with the selection of their staff. This resolution looks an awful lot like Rick [Updegrove] and Paul [Wojtaszek] are trying to intimidate Lora for her selection and they are bullying her to take Nancy Smith out," said Virtuoso. "As a legislator, I would never think of going to the Republican commissioner and telling her who to select or hire for her staff– nor could I." This continued line of attack by the Republicans increasingly appears to be a desperate attempt to bloody Virtuoso and Zona - two of Niagara Falls' most prominent citizens – in the run-up to this year's election. Last week, Zona, a fire fighter, was given a citation by State Assemblyman John Ceretto for performing several acts of heroism last year, one of which was a daring rescue upon the frozen waters of Hyde Park creek. Coincidentally, Zona also saved the life of another man during an event honoring Virtuoso as the recipient of the Columbian award, the Cristoforo Colombo Society's highest honor given to prominent Italian-Americans. Meantime Legislator Zona believes that these types of calls are insulting to voters.

"If you want to come at me, at least be truthful in what you're saying. I never voted on any of this nor was I consulted with on the election commissioner's decision. This may be reaction to Dennis and myself questioning the Republicans excessive spending and certain questionable deals they made with GOP contributors," said Zona.

Forster agreed. "The one thing this GOP majority over the past decade has been known for is larding the county payroll with useless patronage jobs costing taxpayers millions of dollars in salaries and benefits. Yet somehow they try to deflect their poor record on Dennis and Jason who have been trying to fight this every year at budget time and worse target Nancy Smith and Lora Allen."

Niagara Falls resident Deborah Perricelli received the robocall attacking Legislator Jason Zona. Commenting on Facebook, she said that "Once again I got a robocall regarding Jay Zona. Who is sending these recordings? Who makes and pays for these calls and why don't they have the courage to identify themselves? The call starts out 'a few weeks ago WE told you...' WHO IS'WE?'"



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

Mar19 , 2013