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By Mike Hudson

What's got Lewiston resident and disgraced former state assemblywoman Francine Del Monte so interested in the city of Niagara Falls lately?

At a recent event held at St. John De LaSalle church, Del Monte appeared alongside Mayor Paul Dyster, county Legislator Dennis Virtuoso and city Democratic Party Chairman David Houghton talking enthusiastically about the city she fled shortly after being elected to the state Assembly in 2000.

We're told by knowledgeable City Hall sources that a plan has been worked out under which Del Monte -- who lost all but two city voting districts in last year's unsuccessful primary against John Accardo -- would replace the incredibly unpopular City Administrator Donna Owens in January should Dyster win re-election.

Stranger things have happened. Former mayor and current federal convict Vince Anello showed that city department heads don't necessarily have to live in the city despite laws requiring residency. When he wasn't actually breaking laws he was skirting them, and by simply adding the word "acting" to the title of city corporation counsel he was able to appoint Lewiston attorney Damon DeCastro to the position.

Today, DeCastro must be justly proud of his service in the administration of the only Niagara Falls mayor in history to be indicted by the feds and sent to prison.

Del Monte's desperate pleas to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for employment have been spurned repeatedly over the past year. Democratic insiders in Albany say the governor considers Del Monte a loose cannon.

Owens, who came here from Atlanta, has never been happy in Niagara Falls. Widely despised by the city workers she's supposed to be overseeing, she has been all but invisible to the Niagara Falls residents who have paid her more than $500,000 in salary and benefits over the past four years.

Her departure, like her arrival, will not make one iota of difference to a beleaguered city populace who wouldn't recognize her unless she was wearing a nametag. But her replacement by the nasty and mean-spirited Del Monte might have us all wishing for good old Donna sometime before Easter.

The city streets are a disgrace. Dyster seems to have held off on most major repairs this year, only to start them all at once a few weeks before the election. He figures city voters are stupid to the point where they won't recognize the obvious ploy and -- who knows? -- maybe they are that stupid.

In any event, if you value your car's suspension, your tires, and your life if you're riding a bicycle, stay the heck away from Lewiston Road, Main Street, Pine Avenue, Niagara Street, Walnut Avenue, Portage Road, 10th Street and Ferry Avenue.

Wait a second, that's every main street in the city!

You've got to admire Dyster's chutzpah. He certainly knows that starting paving projects in late September and October virtually guarantees that they won't be completed this year. You can't pour asphalt when it's raining and snowing.

But his re-election is what's important to him, and an orgasmic pre-election orgy of streets projects may be just the ticket to convince the simple-minded that he's actually done anything during his four years in office.

Dyster has been a member of city government for eight of the past 12 years, first as former mayor Irene Elia's most trusted member of the city council and then as mayor. Over that same period, thousands of jobs have been lost, hundreds of homes and businesses have been abandoned, and 10,000 of the best and the brightest the city had to offer have voted with their feet and fled the scene.

That's the Dyster record of accomplishment.

Remember the big hoopla awhile back when the city police opened a substation at 19th Street and Ferry Avenue? The city was taking bold measures to combat the gangs, prostitutes, drug dealers and other vermin who had made 19th Street their own.

It was big news in the Niagara Gazette, which devoted a half-dozen front-page articles to it back in the autumn of 2009.

"What a beautiful day in the neighborhood," City Administrator Donna Owens said at the time. "This has been a long time coming and this community is the appropriate one for it.

"Highland Avenue was transformed beautifully (by the police substation located there) and we hope to do the same with 19th Street," she added.

Turns out the police department has neither the money nor the manpower to staff the substation on anything like a regular basis. Last week, a 47-year-old man was attacked by a bicycle-riding gang at the Valero mini-mart, just steps away from the substation. After being punched, kicked and stabbed, the man bled on the pavement as his attackers, who were unknown to him and didn't steal anything, rode away on their bicycles.

For the Dyster administration, opening the substation was a chance for a photo op, a bunch of headlines and an appearance on the 6 o'clock news. For the victim of last week's heinous attack and many others living in the blighted neighborhood, the locked and darkened substation was no help at all.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 25, 2011