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By Mike Hudson and Dr. Chitra Selvaraj

To John Accardo, nothing points up the backwardness of Mayor Paul Dyster's administration like Niagara Falls International Airport. Traffic at the facility has grown by leaps and bounds since its opening in December 2009, and it now services regular passenger flights by three different airlines, along with increasing charter and cargo traffic.

"The airport, more than any other development here in recent years, is the key to this city's future. It's bringing tourism here and, as it continues to grow, will provide badly needed jobs." he said. "But the current administration has all but ignored it, instead focusing of a $31 million train station that brings an average of 12 people a day to the city."

Dyster wants to move the train station from its current location on Lockport Road to a remote spot on Whirlpool Street in one of the city's most blighted areas.

"Even if you wanted a new train station, it should be downtown, near the falls and the casino, which is where people want to go," he said.

Accardo said that Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials have told him Amtrak is considering ending service to Niagara Falls altogether.

"There are so few passengers coming here by train that they'd like to make Depew the last American stop on the line," he said. "That's how bad it is. That's the reality."

Accardo said the airport is just one example of the Dyster administration's aimlessness.

"There hasn't been a new, private sector job created in going on four years here," he said. "Relations with the business and development community are at an all-time low point. We've got to work with what we have and do things to encourage business to create jobs, but this administration seems more interested in attacking people in the press."

The ongoing battle with the owners of One Niagara and constant criticism of Niagara Falls Redevelopment have achieved nothing, and actually discourage development, he added.

"When you've got to pay your lawyers a million dollars because the city's constantly hauling you into court, that's a million less you have available to get anything done," he said. "We need to be active partners in development here rather than an impediment, which is what this administration has been."

The problem has been exacerbated by Dyster's complete failure in filling key positions, he added.

"I think the plan to bring in the best and brightest from throughout the entire country has been an absolute and total disaster, and I think it has already cost the citizens of Niagara Falls lots and lots of money," he said. "Decisions that are being made and have been made, that will affect the future of the city for many years to come, by people who have no stake in Niagara Falls whatsoever, other than to just receive a paycheck here."

The most egregious example is the Lewiston Road project, Accardo said. It was Dyster's pick for city engineer, Ali Marzban, who signed off on the project, which was supposed to have taken 24 months and cost $7.7 million.

Dyster's search for the best engineer he could find lasted nearly a year. Marzban was fired following a series of articles in this newspaper that showed he was unlicensed to practice engineering in New York state and was, in fact, unlicensed to practice engineering anywhere in the country.

Currently, the project is less than 25 percent complete and more than $1.4 million over budget after 22 months. According to the contractor doing the work, the project will end up costing city taxpayers upwards of $16 million.

"Based on the OK being given by an unqualified city engineer, the cost to taxpayers here is going to be tremendous," Accardo said

In addition to Marzban, Dyster's pick for fire chief, Roger Melchior, lasted less than a month on the job, and his economic director, Peter Kay, was let go by the City Council after three years and no economic development.

"For a long time now, it has been an administration spinning out of control," Accardo said. "I don't think they have shown any leadership in any area."

Accardo said Dyster's choice for city administrator, Donna Owens, has hurt the city in many ways. Brought in for $110,000 a year after a stint in the Atlanta, Ga., garbage department, she has alienated city workers and failed miserably at becoming a part of the community.

"The whole argument about raising the mayor's salary was to attract top people to run for the office and have someone who would do more than appear at ribbon cuttings," he said. "But then he turns around and hires the most expensive administrator in the city's history, and devotes much of his time to parties at the Hard Rock Cafe and elsewhere."

Owens, he added, doesn't even know the names of the streets here.

"Nobody in Niagara Falls even knows who she is," he said. "You could show her picture to people all day long at the corner of Portage and Pine and not find anybody who recognizes her."

That disconnect, he said, has led to a fortress mentality at City Hall that prevents anything from happening here. It's also insulting to the many talented professionals living here.

"Dyster's basically said that the people around here are crooks, and that's why he has to hire people from Georgia or California or Florida," he said. "He's created a whole new reason for competent, educated people to leave the city."

In last year's state Assembly race, Accardo trounced former Rep. Francine Del Monte, winning in every Niagara Falls voting district except one in the North End. He said he expects the same kind of result in the upcoming September primary.

"Francine had been in office for a decade. She'd never even had a serious challenge before," he said. "Certainly, her base was a lot stronger than Paul Dyster's."

The city has suffered through the administrations of four one-term mayors over the past 16 years. They've been, by turns, inept, corrupt or a combination of both.

All across the city, people are saying that a strong run by Accardo will raise the number to five come September.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 24, 2011