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By Mike Hudson

It has now been six weeks since Mayor Paul Dyster and Code Enforcement Director Dennis Virtuoso announced on the front page of the Niagara Gazette they were going to sue the Niagara Falls Reporter over a story I wrote.

Guess what? They never did sue us, nor did they take any of the necessary steps required under New York state law in order to sue. They never demanded a specific retraction of whatever it was in the article they thought was wrong, instead throwing out the red herring that the entire story was "completely untrue."

I'd written that the FBI was investigating allegations that a partner in Regional Environmental Demolitions -- the company that has received nearly all of the city's demolition contract work since last August -- was attempting to intimidate members of Laborers Local 91 here, which was true.

I'd written that Dennis Virtuoso, who awarded the contracts personally, had accepted campaign contributions from one of the company's principals, and that his son, Vincent Virtuoso, had once been employed by the company. Both of those things are true as well.

I wrote that one of the company's two principals, Rico Liberale, had been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a 2005 federal racketeering case, and that the other, Chuck Van Epps, had four outstanding arrest warrants on file with the city police at the time. True and true again.

In a subsequent article, I wrote that the Dyster administration was indeed under investigation, by the state Department of Labor, for allegedly withholding payroll documents related to demolition work performed by the company for the city. I even included the names of the investigators, just in case anyone wanted to call them.

Neither Dyster nor Virtuoso have ever said any of those specific facts were untrue. Instead, they accused me of writing something I never wrote -- that they themselves were in fact under investigation by the FBI. Had I written that, it wouldn't have been true -- so I didn't write it.

What's going on here is an attempt by the Dyster administration to make the Reporter the issue in the upcoming mayoral election. They'd much prefer talking about this newspaper to having to talk about Dyster's dismal record.

They're telling voters we're in the pocket of "a handful of powerful and wealthy people." But ask the mayor to tell you who the wealthy and powerful people were behind the Building A Better Niagara Fund, which was prepared to hand Dyster $1 million a year in order to import administration officials from outside Niagara Falls. Their identities have never been revealed, and Dyster himself hangs on to the absurd claim that he has no idea who was prepared to lavish such generosity on him.

Another thing the mayor doesn't want to talk about is the Lewiston Road project. Original estimates called for a $7.7 million, 24-month resurfacing of the roadway, a project signed off on by then-city engineer Ali Marzban, one of Dyster's key hires.

Marzban, of course, was unlicensed to practice engineering anywhere in the country and, 23 months later, the project is millions over budget and only about 25 percent complete.

And unless you're asking for a dirty look, don't ask Dyster about economic development, either. Another key hire, former economic development czar Peter Kay, was fired from his $100,000-a-year position by the City Council for having accomplished exactly no economic development after nearly three years on the job.

Another thing the mayor doesn't like talking about is his pick for fire chief, a chronically unemployed Floridian named Roger Melchior.

Melchior collapsed in the parking lot of City Hall following his swearing-in ceremony, collapsed again a few days later and broke his ankle, and then had to be let go when it became known he'd written a racist diatribe on an Internet chat site. No, better not to bring up personnel issues altogether.

There are other things as well. Like Dyster's plan to have his own street named as a city historic district over the objections of nearly every one of his neighbors, or his plan to pave over bucolic Jayne Park on Cayuga Island, again despite the protests of an overwhelming majority of island residents.

The fact that he raised property taxes here this year, even as most in the city struggled to make ends meet, is probably also best not mentioned, and concerns about his hand-picked city Democratic Committee's racist refusal to endorse the wildly popular incumbent City Councilman Bob Anderson would be best not voiced.

No, the real issue in the upcoming election is clearly the Reporter. Our coverage of the above-mentioned issues and many more is obviously an affront to right-thinking people everywhere, our status as one of the most successful start-up businesses to open here since the turn of the century is strictly due to our control by "a handful of powerful and wealthy people."

If you believe that, of course, there's a bridge that Harriet Tubman used to lead 300 escaped slaves over the Niagara River to freedom in Canada that Kevin Cottrell would like to sell you.


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