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By Mike Hudson

Niagara Falls is often a city of unfortunate truths. Many here do not like facing those truths, and sometimes people lie about them.

Take for example the number of registered sex offenders living here. There are 126 of them, which means there is one for every 407 residents in the city. This is the highest proportion of sex offenders in the state.

When this was pointed out to Mayor Paul Dyster in 2008, after it was learned that as many as 25 deviates were living in a flophouse less than 1,000 feet from Niagara Street School, he was unconcerned.

"They have to live somewhere," he said famously.

So right there you have two unfortunate truths. A ridiculous number of sex offenders living here, and a mayor who doesn't give a damn. He couldn't, really, since the watered-down civil confinement legislation that brought them here was sponsored by his strongest political ally, former state representative Francine Del Monte.

Another unfortunate truth is the housing market in Niagara Falls. You can buy a lot of perfectly livable houses here for $15,000, and some pretty decent ones for $30,000. That low housing prices and rents go a long way toward attracting an undesirable element is simply common sense, and helps explain why the Niagara Falls page in the Buffalo News every day reads like a police blotter.

On April 3, state Sen. George Maziarz made some remarks about the new census numbers and the fact that Niagara Falls barely eked out the 50,000 population number needed to qualify for certain government funding.

"When you look at the final numbers, the number of registered sex offenders in the city could have helped put the city over the top," he said, adding that "the underlying problem of Niagara Falls is the housing market."

Love him or hate him, in this particular case Maziarz spoke the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, unfortunate as it may be.

Enter Niagara Falls City Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, who apparently has no stomach for the truth. She introduced a resolution chastising Maziarz for his remarks.

"The constant negative attention brought onto the City of Niagara Falls is detrimental to the progress of our community (and) these remarks are not only offensive and hurtful to the children and families of this fine city, who are struggling to thrive in these difficult times, but actually discourage developers and other people from considering relocation and return to our city."

It then goes on to call Maziarz a liar and blame him for the sex offender problem here. Maziarz, by the way, has sought for years to have registered sex offenders housed in unused state prisons, far away from children or anyone else.

Be that as it may, Grandinetti's resolution is troubling. In her view, the fact that there is a disproportionate number of registered sex offenders here, and the additional fact that the housing market in the city has gone down the tubes, do not constitute problems. The real problem, in her view, is that someone would talk about them.

Grandinetti is, of course, the mayor's neighbor and staunch ally. The fact that, in his nearly four years in office, Dyster has done absolutely nothing to address these problems means that any discussion of them could be construed as criticism of his administration during this election year.

What her resolution seems to be saying, in other words, is "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

Will Dyster's new train station do anything to lower the number of registered sex offenders here? Will his Underground Railroad interpretive center boost the housing market?

Dyster's lone accomplishment as mayor would seem to be the creation of the most extravagantly expensive administration in the city's history, one loaded down with six-figure salaries and incompetent hires.

Numerous developers have complained that they can't get a meeting, or even a return phone call from the mayor. But never mind. In Grandinetti's world, it is Maziarz's truthful assessment of the city that discourages development.

What does she want? For everyone to lie about conditions here in order to fool people into coming? For information about registered sex offenders to be suppressed, so that parents of young children could be lulled into a false sense of security? For realtors to slap $50,000 price tags on $15,000 houses to create the appearance of a thriving housing market?

The very fact that a City Council member -- an alleged leader -- would waste everyone's time dealing with trivialities like this, given the absolutely dire condition of this city, speaks volumes about why things are like they are.

Civic boosterism is all well and good, but what is needed here is real leadership. Niagara Falls cries out for officials who will deal with the problems of crime, poverty and development, instead of worrying about something someone says or thinks.

Grandinetti's silly resolution is a slap in the face to those who voted for her -- and Dyster -- thinking that they would elect responsible adults capable of addressing the many serious problems this city faces. It is an insult to those who would like to see the city made better.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com April 19, 2011