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By Mike Hudson

The reaction of Mayor Paul Dyster upon hearing of the death of a 44-year-old husband and father of two, Kevin Johnson, because of the absolutely wretched condition of the city streets was not dissimilar to his reaction to gay marriage becoming legal in New York state.

He said nothing, and then tried to deflect responsibility onto someone else.

Johnson's death was a tragedy, not only because it left a young widow and two fatherless children, but because it was so avoidable.

An up-and-coming chef who had just landed a new job at the Top of the Falls restaurant in the state park, Johnson was riding his bike home when he fell into an uncovered hole left there by a crew working for the city. Dyster has prided himself as the "Paving Mayor," and claims he's done a better job of paving the streets than any mayor we've ever had. It is the crowning achievement for which he demands credit on a near-constant basis.

I've been here since Jimmy Galie was mayor, and as bad as the condition of the streets ever was, I certainly can't remember anyone ever being killed as a result of it.

Johnson fell into Dyster's hole at 9:50 p.m. on Friday, July 8. Giving him the benefit of the doubt -- let's say he was resting blissfully at the time -- Dyster would have been informed of the tragedy early on Saturday morning.

He said nothing, and numerous sources have confirmed that the public police report -- issued on everything from minor shoplifting, drug and domestic incidents to bank robberies and murders -- was mysteriously missing from the pile made available to area journalists at police headquarters.

On that Saturday night, Dyster could be found boogying to the rocking rhythms of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the weekly, taxpayer-funded Hard Rock Cafe concert series. I'm pretty sure he didn't tell Ms. Jones about the city's culpability in the death of a proud young black man. She's no shrinking violet.

Sunday found the mayor somewhat befuddled, as usual, following his rock-star posturing late into the previous evening. He made no comment about Johnson's death, despite attempts by television and newspaper reporters to ask him about it. On the 11 o'clock news, WGRZ Channel 2 had a story about the tragedy, based upon calls the station received from horrified witnesses.

On Monday, the news broke for real, on the Niagara Falls Reporter website and elsewhere. The bootlicking Niagara Gazette noted only that the tragedy was "an accident," according to Niagara Falls City Police.

Dyster didn't know what to do, and made his first official statement on Johnson's death, telling a Buffalo News reporter late that afternoon that he had police working on a personal theory of his. He claimed that unknown "vandals" had tried to remove the heavy steelplate cover that was supposed to have been put over the hole, gave up on the effort, and left a dangerous situation.

This idiotic and self-serving account was directly and immediately contradicted by numerous residents, who told the News that workers had left the cover off the death hole for three full nights prior to the accident as well.

Dyster said nothing about how his heart went out to Johnson's widow, Rachaeal, or their young children. He has no heart. He didn't mention the victim at all. The statement represented the brutal worldview expressed by a callous politician for whom getting re-elected in November overrides even simple humanity when tragedy strikes.

The Johnson family has already retained an attorney. The taxpayers will be on the hook for the mega-millions the city will have to pay for its culpability in a man's senseless death.

And Dyster will continue to "rock on" at the parties he holds for himself at our expense every Saturday night at the Hard Rock Cafe.

In much the same way Dyster wants to pretend the Johnson tragedy didn't occur, he took a week to acknowledge that same-sex marriage is now the law here. He didn't say one word about it, and chose to hide behind a skirt and put Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti in charge of performing same-sex weddings.

Dyster was worried about losing the votes of the conservative Catholic and Baptist church members who believe being queer is tantamount to committing murder.

He was pandering, in other words, going against his own personal beliefs for political purposes. While real men and women -- like our own state Sen. Mark Grisanti and Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- looked into their hearts and made a tough choice, Dyster took the easy way out, saying nothing and doing nothing. But after an editorial appeared in this paper calling him out on his spinelessness, he changed his mind. He would perform the marriages after all.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the mayor. Maybe it's just that, in the case of Kevin Johnson's death and the passage of same-sex marriage, attorney Craig Touma and public relations whiz kid Earl Wells simply hadn't told him what to say yet.

Maybe, all along, he's wanted to stand up on his hind legs and assert himself.


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