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Analysis By Frank Parlato Jr.

It is peculiar. From the evidence of his disclosure filings, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster may have more campaign contributors from Buffalo than Niagara Falls.

Many of these donors have gotten something in return.

It is interesting how high a rate of return one can get through a simple donation to the campaign fund of Paul Dyster.

For instance, Dan Oliverio, attorney for Hudgson Russ of Buffalo, donated $1,000 to Dyster and got $149,000 in legal work from the taxpayers of this city.

What stock, bond or real estate investment could yield old Dan that kind of return?

Then there are Urban Engineers of N.Y., which got lucrative work at the city's Rainbow ramp; Clinton Brown, who got a nice gig making the mayor's own street and house a historic district; and LiRo Engineering, which got more than $450,000 after Dyster fired in succession city engineers Bob Curtis, Ali Marzban and Tom Radomski. In fact, the city has spent more time without an engineer than with one -- happily for LiRo and other engineering firms that donate and then happen to get work from Dyster because the city happens not to have an engineer.

Mark Storch, of Buffalo's Foit Albert, is one of the smarter ones. He invested a little more in Dyster -- $3,600 -- and got his company $535,412 to study 10th Street, $1.2 million to draw plans for fuel-dispensing facilities, and $266,464 to design improvements for handicap access at various facilities.

In contrast, developer Craig Avery got a $200,000 grant from the city for a proposed bar on Third Street. Avery gave Dyster a donation of $1,100.

Still, had you purchased AT & T when it was young or IBM when it was a penny stock, you would have received a return similar to what Dyster provides -- only the stocks take longer.

Clough Harbour and Associates of Buffalo was off to a slow start, donating $1,250 in several installments, before Dyster finally got them a $7,500 gig earlier this month, work necessitated by the fact that the city has no engineer. Buffalo lawyers are another group interested in Dyster. Ever since Dyster selected Buffalo lawyer Craig Johnson to be the city's chief attorney, ignoring a slew of Niagara Falls lawyers who wanted the newly raised to $93,000 ($130,000 with benefits) job, the city has done little of its own legal work, preferring to sub out work to outside Buffalo lawyers who bill the city starting at $200 per hour.

Here are a few Buffalo law firms or lawyers that contributed to Dyster: Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel; Cantor Lukasik Dolce & Panepinto; Earl Key, Francis Letro, Magavern Magavern & Grimm; Dan Oliverio of Hudgson Russ; and a spate of Philips Lytle attorneys, who in fact held a fundraiser at their headquarters in Buffalo at $250 a ticket.

Why would the mayor of Niagara Falls have a fundraiser in Buffalo attended by dozens of high-priced Buffalo attorneys who spent $250 each to attend his party?

Why do you think?

During Dyster's administration, not much actual development work has been done, with Dyster focusing mainly on legal work and design drawings. One development team, however, has supported Dyster generously. They are the builders of the courthouse, CLP 3 LLC, a partnership of Ciminelli Construction and financier Gary Coscia of Amherst.

Dyster presided over the courthouse construction after he fired city engineer Bob Curtis on day one of his administration. Curtis was a vocal critic of Ciminelli and Coscia.

Dyster allowed the developers to start to build a $45 million courthouse without a city engineer to monitor the work.

After costs, through change orders, brought the price dramatically upward, Dyster secured what we might call a "two-fer," and hired an outside engineering firm to "monitor" the work.

A campaign contributor from Buffalo, LiRo Engineering, was hired and paid $356,000 to monitor the courthouse, as costs went up by millions and materials were downgraded.

Curtis would have, as part of his normal duties, monitored the courthouse and would have been paid $68,000 annually. Dyster did not hire another city engineer until after the courthouse was finished, more than one year and four months into his administration.

Dyster campaign contributors both built the courthouse and inspected the work. The project came in about $5 million over budget. The taxpayers got a significantly lower-quality building than what they contracted for.

Dyster suggests it is coincidental.

"All the recommendations are made by professional staff -- engineering, planning, legal, etc.," Dyster told the Reporter. "I certainly never tried to influence or overrule their recommendations. When there is a relationship, when somebody is politically tied to me in any way, I recuse myself and make the public aware of the relationship.

"Naturally, every politician solicits campaign donations. Your hope is that the people who donate won't expect special favors from you, but (will donate) to get good government."

Ciminelli and Coscia got what they might call "good government." They got a return of perhaps $20,000 or more in change orders on the courthouse for every dollar donated.

Of course, not all investors in Dyster are from Buffalo.

There are local men like Michael Lewis, who both contributed to Dyster's campaign and was city chairman of the Democratic Committee. He got $20,000 in grants for a wellness spa.

Local lawyer Craig Touma, Dyster's campaign manager, donated generously in time and money. Touma's wife was appointed city court judge by Dyster, an appointment that helped her secure more than $1 million in income for her 10-year term.

When he ran for office, Dyster promised he would make all appointments absolutely free of politics. But his first appointment was his campaign manager's wife for judge, without interviewing dozens of local lawyers who wanted the position.

Space does not permit printing the entire list of Buffalo donors who got work from the Dyster pay-off machine. You can see them on the state Board of Elections website.

Dyster clearly is an old-style politician with a coalition of Buffalo interests backing him. He faces a stiff challenge in the primary against the extremely popular John Accardo.

If only the election could be restricted to Buffalo engineers, lawyers and developers, Dyster would win in a landslide.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 21, 2011