The one big question in Niagara Falls is whether Mayor Robert Restaino merely snapped – when he placed his hand in front of a camera – or whether he is unraveling and headed for another mental health breakdown.
His history of suspected mental illness is not new.
On March 11, 2005, when he was a city court judge, he jailed 46 people in his courtroom when a cell phone call interrupted proceedings.
As a result, he was removed from his $113,900-per-year judgeship by a state commission.
Yes, a phone rang while Restaino heard the cases of domestic violence offenders, who had been ordered to appear weekly to update the judge on their counseling.
A sign in the courthouse warns that cell phones and pagers must be turned off.
“Everyone is going to jail,” a madly furious Restaino proclaimed.
“Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I’m kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going.”
A security officer was posted at the door while other officers tried to find the phone but failed.
When no one came forward, Restaino ordered the group into custody, and they were taken to jail, where they were searched and packed into crowded cells. Fourteen people could not post bail and were shackled and bused to another jail.
One man told the judge: “This is not fair to the rest of us.”
To which the judge replied: “I know it isn’t.”
Restaino ordered the prisoners released later that afternoon. He had calmed down to some sanity by then – perhaps prompted to more rational thoughts by the sobering fact that the local news media called for details.
Restaino told the state panel he had been under stress in his personal life.
The media called him the “crazy judge” then.
Yes, Restaino, then 46, “snapped” and – according to a review of his actions – “engaged in what can only be described as two hours of inexplicable madness.”
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruled he acted “without any semblance of a lawful basis” and behaved like a “petty tyrant.”
Restaino told the commission he knew he had no legal basis for his actions and that they had been “improper and inexcusable,” but he sought to excuse his actions by saying he had been under stress in his personal life at the time of the incident. In short, he blamed his wife and lack of marital congress.
Fast forward to this year. Last month – on June 29 — after securing a victory in the Democratic primary for reelection as Mayor – once again Restaino snapped.
Before polls closed, Restaino interviewed with WGRZ-TV news cameraman Ben Read. Read asked Restaino, “How would you grade the city?”
After seemingly scoffing at the question, Restaino said he’d give the “city an “A,” then turned the questions around on Read.
“I don’t even understand that question quite frankly,” he said. “Why would I grade the city any way different?”
Restaino then asked Read: “How would you grade the city?”
“I don’t live here. I don’t know,” Read responded, then Read noted that Restaino is running again and asked the mayor if he was trying to improve.
“Well, there’s always work to be done. Don’t you think? I mean, I would think,” Restaino responded.
At that point, Restaino seemed to retreat to an unknown place in his head. His eyes glassy and red, he said, “I think I’m done.”
Then he thought he could end the interview by simply putting his right hand over the camera lens, grabbing it briefly, then letting it go. Then he turned and walked away.
On the day of his victory, when he should have felt the warm glow of success, the world saw an ugly sight – the real, tormented, paranoid Robert Restaino.
The video of the troubled mayor garnered more than 100,000 views on Twitter within a day – the day after Restaino defeated challengers Glenn Choolokian and Demetreus Nix to secure the Democratic ballot line on the November general election for mayor.
Council member Donta Myles said, “It shows his level of aggression… It definitely is not the conduct of a mayor.”
Yes, a levee somewhere inside Restaino’s brain collapsed.
The next day, WGRZ asked Restaino why he reacted the way he did to Read’s simple question.
Restaino blamed Read and the fact that WGRZ questioned his conduct. Restaino said, “It’s just unfortunate that this channel decided to conduct themselves in that manner.”
If he had been a judge, I think he would have jailed Ben Read and the entire staff at WGRZ until they admitted they were wrong to put their camera in front of his moving hand.
Now this may be amusing to some – perhaps those who do not live in the city. But I can assure you, mental illness is no joke.
There are scores of stories of the mayor’s losing control, of his “snapping.”
It is an open secret that he is ill.
And instead of our populace trying to urge him to get the therapy or psychiatric treatment he needs, some people laugh, and others try to defend his passive-aggressive conduct and say mental illness is a reason to vote for him.
For years, this mentally disturbed man, bright, at times engaging, but beset with a ticking time bomb in his head and full of paranoid delusions, lives in a world where he thinks he is always right and at every moment he is trying to control the seething rage in his head.
In his paranoia he thinks people are against him.
His mad holding on to spending all the city’s reserves to take a property unsuited for his planned arena – which he cannot fund – is part of the same psychosis that put 46 people in jail for a purported cell phone that possibly never existed or to cover a camera because of an innocuous question by a professional reporter.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.
Individuals with NPD often have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they deserve special treatment. They may exhibit a sense of entitlement and have an exaggerated sense of their achievements and abilities.
The paranoia and belief that the world is against him could indicate a paranoid subtype of NPD. This subtype involves the individual harboring suspicions and unfounded beliefs that others are plotting against them or trying to undermine their success. This can lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and a desire to punish those who they perceive as threats.
Furthermore, the inability to admit being wrong and the tendency to blame innocent people align with the characteristic lack of empathy and difficulty accepting criticism or responsibility commonly seen in individuals with NPD. They may struggle with taking accountability for their actions and instead redirect blame onto others, even when evidence suggests otherwise.
Of course, diagnosing mental illness requires a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional, and Mayor Restaino should be approached with care and sensitivity. Mental illnesses are complex and can manifest differently in each individual.