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By Mike Hudson

Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble on Friday called upon federal and state officials, along with the top brass of the NAACP and the Democratic Party, to look into possible civil rights violations connected to local Democratic Chairman David Houghton's attempt to have four black candidates for local office thrown off the September primary ballot.

Further, Kimble charged, the administration of Mayor Paul Dyster has shown a "frightening disregard for the minority community in Niagara Falls," and has the support of Houghton's Democratic committee.

"It is clear to me that Mr. Houghton is attempting to deny the people of Niagara Falls their basic rights by eliminating their right to choose a candidate for elected office, and in doing so, he specifically targeted African-American candidates in the city," Kimble wrote. "It is unfathomable and an affront to all African-Americans that, in this day and age, the Democratic Party would resort to challenging the petitions of minority candidates from its own party, especially when you look at the fact that minorities are already under-represented in public office and have historically been the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party."

Kimble, who is black and a Democrat, has been a champion of civil rights here since her teens. Twenty years ago, she went to court to battle for the creation of a minority district legislative seat representing the city's North End. She won the fight, and has held the seat ever since.

Earlier this year, she announced that she would not be seeking re-election, and so has nothing to gain, politically, by her condemnation of Houghton, Dyster and the committee.

Dyster, she said, has been the worst mayor in regard to minority issues that she can remember. She called his record in connection with the city's substantial African-American community "abysmal."

"As a member of the Niagara Falls City Council, Mr. Dyster voted to abolish the Niagara Falls Human Rights Commission and eliminate the position of director of Human Rights," she said. "Due to numerous complaints related to the lack of minority hiring and promotions under Dyster's mayoral administration, the New York State Attorney General's office entered into an agreement with the city to monitor minority hiring."

For his part, Dyster has attempted to pander to the black community with his idea for a museum dedicated to the history of the Underground Railroad here, a history largely invented by Dyster appointee Kevin Cottrell, who founded a private company to capitalize on it. Many African-American leaders, including Kimble, have found the irony of spending millions to celebrate that questionable history while continuing to ignore the needs of the substantial black population here today appalling.

She was particularly astonished that Houghton and Dyster attempted to have eight-year incumbent Councilman Bob Anderson thrown off the ballot.

"The failure of the city's Democratic Committee to endorse incumbent Councilman Bob Anderson is a travesty," she said. "He is a decorated and disabled veteran who donates all of his Council salary to charities and not-for-profits in the city."

Kimble said she recognizes the fact that the officials addressed in the letter may not be able to do anything legally about the situation, but asked them to support the black community in a way that would punish Houghton and Dyster.

"I will ask you to refrain from participating in any political activities in support of the Niagara Falls and Niagara County Democratic Committees until the matter is resolved in a manner that is acceptable to the African-American community," Kimble wrote.

For his part, Houghton denied that trying to get the black candidates thrown off the ballot was racially motivated, pointing out the fact that he tried to have white candidates thrown off the ballot as well, and called Kimble a racist.

Houghton bungled the attempt entirely, however, by missing the deadline for filing his objections, leaving both him and Dyster looking foolish.

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