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By Mike Hudson

Nick Forster, chairman of the Niagara County Democratic Committee during the party's dominant 1990-2002 era, today announced he'd like his old job back, despite challenges the Dems face today.

"What we're looking at now is a time of rebuilding," Forster told the Niagara Falls Reporter. "It will be an uphill battle to regain the party's former position in Niagara County." Despite a huge majority in the number of registered Democrats, Niagara County has increasingly been voting Republican. Maverick GOP candidate Carl Paladino carried the county overwhelmingly in the 2010 gubernatorial race here, a fact that many believe has hurt the area since Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011.

And while both the state Senate and Assembly offices were held by Democrats at the time of Forster's departure, today two Republicans -- Mark Grisanti and John Ceretto -- hold the seats in Albany.

More to the point, Democrats in the county Legislature held 11 seats back in 2002, as opposed to the three they hold today.

Thus far, Forster has the backing of most Democratic elected officials in Niagara County, including county Legislators Jason Zona and Dennis Virtuoso. Others in the Forster camp include former City Court Judge and likely future state Assembly candidate Robert Restaino and former county Coroner James Joyce, who until recently was considered to be a top candidate for the chairman's job himself.

Restaino's support is particularly key since, if he decides to run against Republican incumbent Ceretto for the Assembly seat, he'll want a party chairman he thinks he can work with.

Last week, he won the support of the Niagara Building Trades Council, the Niagara CSEA and the Niagara County Building Trades organization.

"Since I left office, a huge disconnect has developed between organized labor and the Democratic Party in Niagara County, and that's something I think needs to be taken care of right away," Forster said. "We plan on changing the makeup of the current executive board to include representatives from both the municipal unions and the building trades going forward."

Richard Palladino, business agent for Laborers Local 91, met with Forster last week. Both the union's membership and its own executive board will consider endorsing a candidate in the race for chairman later this week, he said.

"I've been approached by a couple of candidates now and still haven't made up my mind," the savvy political thinker told the Reporter. "The great likelihood is that we will endorse someone, but who that might be I can't say right now."

The coming battle is the result of the January resignation of former chairman Dan Rivera, a hapless soul whose vision of starting up his own private detective agency became clouded when the media started reporting on his record of ineptitude and ethically questionable tactics over the years.

Forster will face opposition from Jeremy Schnurr, the North Tonawanda nobody who had his hat handed to him by Kathleen Wojtaszek-Gariano in last year's race for Niagara County Family Court Judge. Schnurr works for the Panepinto law firm in Buffalo, which also employed his predecessor Rivera, and was appointed to the chairmanship once his friend resigned.

And Gary Parenti, a one-time candidate for state Assembly who works closely with Buffalo-based political consultant Steve Pigeon, has hinted that he may throw his hat into the ring as well. An e-mail received at this office last week stated that Parenti is "seriously weighing his options" regarding the race.

Parenti would have the backing of Democratic powerhouses like city Councilman Sam Fruscione, Niagara Falls Landlord Licensing Program Clerk Randy Ubriaco and Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board member Gerry Genova. Should he decide to take the plunge, such support would undoubtedly provide Parenti with just the sort of political zeitgeist that often smells of success here in the city.

But what of those lonely Dems out in Barker, Appleton, Gasport and Burt's Dam? Would they prefer a Parenti regime or a return to the Forster years, now viewed by some with dewey-eyed nostalgia?

Winnie Mae Alcott, of the tiny Niagara County village of Rapids, says she voted Democratic in every race from 1932 to 1976, when -- she said -- the disastrous presidency of Jimmy Carter turned her off the electoral process altogether. She hasn't voted since, she said. A former Democratic committeewoman, Alcott said she still has strong feelings about the party.

"I voted for Truman twice and Franklin Delano Roosevelt three times, and this one has me stumped," she said. "One things for sure, I ain't supporting Schnurr!"

A big wildcard in all this is Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who has yet to endorse anyone in the race. This conforms to the mayor's usual practice. When he's not trying to get the FBI to investigate people, he's sticking a wet finger into the air in order to see which way the wind is blowing.

Comically, Rivera's disastrous years in office have made Dyster -- who is a Democrat in name only -- the highest-ranking officeholder Niagara County has. His endorsement, or lack of one, will mean absolutely nothing other than to serve as a reminder to the small number of dummy Democrats who re-elected him in last year's election what a disservice they did for the city they pretend to care about.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 7 2012