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By Mike Hudson

The fact that Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is just one of four announced candidates for the Democratic mayoral primary could endanger the party's standing in Niagara County even further.

Over the past few years, former state senator Antoine Thompson, former state assemblywoman Francine Del Monte, former Lewiston supervisor Fred Newlin and former North Tonawanda mayor Larry Soos have been among Dyster's Democratic allies booted out of office by a fed-up electorate.

Dyster will face popular insurance executive and former city councilman John Accardo -- the man responsible for Del Monte's defeat -- along with Carnell Burch and union leader Jim Anthony in the race.

Burch is CEO of a youth mentoring program at Harry F. Abate Elementary School. A lifelong resident of Niagara Falls, he holds a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in executive leadership from Daemen College, and an associate's degree in criminal justice from Niagara County Community College.

In the wake of Dyster's mishandling of the recent arrest and suspension of Department of Public Works Supervisor Clarence Bradley, Burch is expected to do well among black city voters, who overwhelmingly went for Dyster in 2003.

Anthony, supervisor of heating, ventilating and air conditioning for the city of Niagara Falls, also is a lifelong resident of the city. He has served as president of Local 9434, United Steelworkers, since 2001, representing civil service and hourly city employees.

Unionized city employees have been grumbling for years about their treatment by the Dyster administration, particularly at the hands of City Administrator Donna Owens, a former garbage department bureaucrat from Atlanta, Ga. Undoubtedly, many will vote for Anthony, as will many union members in the building trades.

Accardo gave up his seat to run against incumbent mayor James Galie in 1999. While he won the primary handily, he lost to Irene Elia in the general election. During his primary bid against Del Monte last year, he won at all but one of the city's 39 polling places. He can be expected to draw away votes from all constituencies, especially the city's strong Italian voting block.

Dyster seems to be running on his record, which is lackluster at best. His major construction project -- the reconstruction of Lewiston Road -- has turned into a debacle. His personnel decisions have included the hiring of a city engineer who wasn't licensed to practice engineering anywhere in the United States and a chronically unemployed fire chief who suffered from ill health and was prone to racist diatribes.

And Dyster's choice for the city's economic development director was booted by City Council after three years and zero development.

Asked recently what he considered his biggest accomplishment during the more than three years he's been in office, Dyster claimed that no scandal had marked his tenure, a boast that began to crumble the very next week.

All this makes for an interesting race, one in which a winner will emerge with just over 30 percent of the vote and a lot of bad feeling from those who backed one of his opponents. Which is another way of saying the Republicans really have a shot at this thing.

Attorney and school board member Johnny Destino is widely expected to announce his candidacy on the GOP ticket before the end of the month. He's a proven vote-getter, upsetting a strong field of better-known candidates in last year's school board race.

Young, serious and articulate, Destino will present a real challenge for the survivor of the tangled Democratic field.

The Niagara Falls Water Board turned off the water at 2,408 homes and businesses last week, a barbarous action perpetrated by Water Director Paul Drof, who was hired at the urging of Francine Del Monte and Paul Dyster last year.

With the primary just four months away, Drof just gave at least 2,408 city residents another reason not to vote for Dyster, who also raised city property taxes this year.

Finally, a word or two about the fabulous new culinary center Dyster's building downtown.

Last July, the City Council authorized $175,000 to Urban Engineers for an "architectural assessment" of the old Rainbow Centre mall and the parking ramp attached to it. Now Dyster has given Urban the go-ahead to design the thing and act as project manager, and costs have ballooned to $577,820.

What started out as an $8 million cooking school will end up costing the taxpayers of Niagara Falls many times that, if Dyster's handling of the Main Street courthouse construction is any indication. In that debacle, endless change orders submitted by Ciminelli Construction and blindly approved by City Hall drove the cost of what was to have been a $14 million courthouse to nearly $90 million.

Under the awful agreement negotiated by Dyster with the county Legislature and Niagara County Community College, the city is responsible for all costs associated with turning the former mall into a college campus, totally renovating the crumbling parking ramp, and then providing for maintenance until the end of time.

The county will own half of the culinary institute, and what has been described as the most valuable piece of property in Niagara Falls will be taken off the tax rolls forever.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 10, 2011