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By Mike Hudson

Mayor Paul Dyster's inability to hire competent people came to the fore again last week, as his hand-picked city Democratic Committee chairman, David Houghton, screwed up the challenge to the nominating petitions of mayoral candidates John Accardo and Carnell Burch.

Accompanied by Dyster, Houghton filed his challenges last Monday, Aug. 1. Unfortunately for him and the mayor, the deadline for filing was July 28. State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso followed the letter of the law, God bless him, with a ruling that sets the stage for a four-way Democratic mayoral primary that Dyster will be lucky to survive.

In addition to Accardo and Burch, the mayor will be facing Norton J. Douglas in the primary. The winner will go on to face local attorney and school board member Johnny Destino in November's general election.

After Caruso handed down his decision, Houghton was fuming. Dyster had already fled the scene.

"They won on a technicality," Houghton said, even though the real reason they won was because of his complete incompetence.

The Elections Commission still has to sign off on the nominating petitions. The commission consists of Democrat Nancy Smith and Republican Mary Ann Casamento. Under the law, if the two can't agree on whether or not to throw a petition out, it stands.

And the two are unlikely to agree about whether to toss the Accardo and Burch filings.

"I don't have confidence that politics won't get involved," Houghton sputtered.

Yes, David, politics will most definitely get involved. Politics, in fact, is the name of the game that the chairman of the city Democratic Committee is supposed to be playing. Just because you are not very good at it doesn't mean that everyone else should have to take their game down a notch or two to compensate for your utter incompetence. In his winning race against former state assemblywoman Francine Del Monte last September, Accardo won handily in all but two Niagara Falls election districts. And the historic presence of two black men, Burch and Douglas, on the ballot makes it highly unlikely that Dyster will get any significant support from the African-American community, which makes up around 20 percent of the vote.

Whoever wins, they will go into the general election having, at best, 40 percent of their own party's support behind them, and the field is so polarized that it is hard to imagine large numbers of, say, Accardo supporters throwing in with Dyster in the general election, or vice versa.

Houghton's pratfalls have become the topic of much humor around the city. He chose to serve Accardo court papers relating to the botched challenges on the steps of St. Joseph's as Accardo was leaving church. He called county Legislator Renae Kimble -- a 20-year Legislature veteran who has often battled civil rights issues there and in various courtrooms -- a "racist." He refused the Democratic endorsement to incumbent City Councilman Bob Anderson, a decorated Air Force veteran who has served eight years on the Council and donates every cent of his annual stipend to various city charities.

All of this, of course, says as much about Dyster as it does about Houghton, since it was Dyster and Del Monte who elevated the incompetent boob to the chairman's position in the first place.

The mayor's record on personnel decisions is abject and dismal. In addition to Houghton, he chose a man named Ali Marzban as city engineer, despite the fact that Marzban was unlicensed to practice engineering anywhere in the United States. Marzban was reluctantly let go, but not before signing off on the Lewiston Road reconstruction project, which is currently more than a year behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

Dyster also hired Peter Kay, who had zero experience in the tourism and hospitality industries, as his economic development director. After three years and no economic development whatsoever, the City Council was forced to strip funding for the position from the 2011 city budget. Kay cost city taxpayers $100,000 a year and oversaw a net loss of permanent living-wage jobs in the city.

And who can forget Roger Melchior, a chronically unemployed man with a serious medical condition whom Dyster hired as his fire chief. Melchior collapsed in the City Hall parking lot moments after his swearing-in ceremony, collapsed again as soon as he was released from the hospital and broke his ankle, and was finally let go after he posted racist comments on an online chat site.

But none of Dyster's catastrophic hiring decisions has hurt him as much as his choice of David Houghton for city committee chairman. People often say that Frank Parlato and I are largely responsible for Dyster's freefalling poll numbers over the past year, but never in our wildest imaginations could we have ever hurt the mayor's chances for re-election as badly as Houghton did through simple incompetence.

Like Dyster himself, Houghton will most likely be nothing more than an unpleasant memory come January, when Accardo or Burch or Destino or Douglas is sworn in as the city's new mayor. Maybe Dyster can get his old job back, saving the free world from utter destruction by negotiating strategic arms limitation agreements.

At least he won't be called upon to hire anybody.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 9, 2011