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ANALYSIS By Mike Hudson

When he was running for office in 2007, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster was fond of reminding voters that he didn't have any family members who needed jobs. The often repeated remark, always delivered with a smirk, was a none-too-subtle jab at his predecessor, Vince Anello, who had hired his daughter and sister to work with him at City Hall.

While it is true he hasn't hired any of his blood relatives in his three years as mayor, Dyster has repeatedly hired -- and spent millions of your tax dollars on -- any number of high-priced engineering firms that donated heavily to his campaign war chest. Furthermore, he has rewarded city employees who have donated to his campaigns, as well as local developers who have seen fit to send money.

Asked recently why some of these individuals and companies would want to donate to his campaigns, Dyster was circumspect.

"Maybe they're just interested in good government," he said.

That could be. Or maybe they're interested in something else.

Consider the case of Mark Storch. Why would a guy from Williamsville be interested in giving money to the mayor of Niagara Falls? An interest in good government?

Between September 2007 and June 2010, Storch gave Dyster $3,635. Storch's company, Foit-Albert Associates, received three city contracts over those same years -- a $535,412 job to study 10th Street, a $1.2 million job to draw up plans for the construction of new fuel dispensing facilities at the city corporation yard, and $266,464 to design improvements for handicapped access at various facilities around the city.

In all, Storch's Foit-Albert Associates has received more than $2 million from the city. Although he tries hard to present the image that he isn't in it for the money, Dyster has managed to put together a campaign war chest that dwarfs those of his predecessors at City Hall. According to Niagara Falls Politics, a political blog maintained by the loathsome county Democratic Committee Chairman Dan Rivera, Dyster has amassed $135,000, an amount in excess of what most candidates for the state Assembly are likely to spend during a campaign.

In City Hall itself, the Brown family has been enthusiastic in its support of Dyster. City Comptroller Maria Brown has gifted her boss to the tune of $200, while her husband Pat's business, Brown and Company Accountants, has kicked in another $500, and Steve Brown has himself given $300.

While Maria Brown audits the city's finances, hubby Pat performs a similar service for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., a quasi-governmental agency that receives millions of dollars annually from the city in the form of bed tax revenue paid by local hoteliers, along with a sizable chunk of the of the city's share of the profits generated at the Seneca Niagara Casino here.

While this apparent conflict of interest has been going on for years, neither the mayor nor the City Council has ever said a word about it. The local media have likewise ignored the situation.

In addition, Dyster awarded a no-bid contract to Jeannine Brown Miller, a human resources consultant who runs her own firm, JBM Consulting, and is Maria Brown's sister-in-law. The amount of the contract, to conduct seminars for city employees on racial sensitivity, has never been disclosed.

Other city employees who have given generously to Dyster's political campaigns include Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson; City Attorney Richard Zucco and his brother, Robert; former economic development director Peter Kay; Director of Business Development Fran Iusi; Building Inspector Dennis Virtuoso; and DPW Director Dave Kinney.

Local developers have likewise found it prudent to hand Dyster cash. Craig Avery got $350,000 from the city and the state's USA Niagara Development Corp. for a proposed bar on Third Street that was supposed to open last October but remains a pipe dream today.

Avery has given the mayor $1,100 in recent years.

Other developers and corporations that have received favorable treatment from the Dyster administration in the form of contracts, grants and low-interest loans include mega-millionaire Jimmy Glynn's Maid of the Mist Corp., Norampac, Urban Engineers, Girasole Appraisal, and the Lewiston Insurance Agency.

Clearly, developers and engineers who have donated to Dyster have received grants and contracts from the city. And municipal employees who donated have received pay increases and promotions.

Dyster was apparently telling the truth back in 2007 when he told voters that none of his relatives needed jobs. He was less than forthcoming, however, when suggesting that the patronage and graft the city has become famous for would come to a sudden end with his election.

In this respect, he resembles his colorful predecessor, Jake Palillo, who -- when being criticized for the favoritism he showed his many friends -- said "What am I supposed to do? You want me to hire my enemies?"

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Jan. 25, 2011