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June Primary Looms Close for Niagara Falls Mayoral Candidates

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By: Tona Farina

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, the summer tourist season is officially under way in Niagara Falls and with the primary election just around the corner (June 25), the race for mayor will begin to come into focus as the candidates make their case in print and across the airwaves.

The big race, of course, is the Democratic primary for mayor with the winner becoming an odds-on favorite to defeat Republican candidate Glenn Choolokian in November and become the next chief executive of the city after 12 years of Paul Dyster.

In one corner in the Democratic primary is Seth Piccirillo, a top-level aide to Dyster for the last six years who currently serves as the city’s director of community development and code enforcement officer.  Piccirillo admitted early on in his campaign that one of his biggest challenges will be convincing voters he is not an extension of Dyster.  Given the city’s financial problems and the roller coaster years under Dyster, it is plain to see why Piccirillo is trying to escape Dyster’s shadow.

Looking to put an end to the Dyster hold on the city by knocking out Piccirillo is Niagara Falls School Board President Robert Restaino.  A lawyer and former city judge, Restaino told this newspaper more than two years ago that he had been thinking about a mayoral run for a long time and this year he is making that run.

Restaino said during that January 2017 interview that he didn’t have a crystal ball when it comes to the future, but that he believes that people need to come together and work together to re-energize the city.

Restaino says cooperation has worked for the school board and that it can work for the city, pulling in ideas and new energy from a variety of sources to get the city moving again.

The former judge also believes there is still outstanding development potential to be harvested, thanks in part to state-driven dollars, and that the city “must court the industries of the day, be in the hunt” to bring those opportunities to life and help create jobs and the seeds for a new beginning.

As for Piccirillo, he’s been busy in recent days defending his development actions as a city official, particularly his effort to have the former Johnnie Ryan building saved from the bulldozer by designating it as a landmark after the owner and would-be developer had already obtained a demolition permit.  Wisely, the council rebuffed Piccirillo’s designation and the developer can move forward as he sees fit.

No matter who wins the mayoral primary and who eventually becomes mayor, there will be no easy road ahead with many challenges to be overcome.  The casino cash from the Seneca Nation is still not flowing despite last January’s arbitration panel ruling, and the Senecas are still fighting that decision.

In a column in the Buffalo News last Friday, Seneca President Rickey Armstrong summed up the Nation’s position in seeking a federal review of the arbitration panel’s decision, writing “the Seneca Nation is simply trying to hold New York State to the deal that they made,” a reference to the operation of state-operated video lottery terminals within the nation’s exclusivity area.  In effect, the Senecas claim the state has diminished the exclusivity value written in the compact while the Senecas have honored their compact obligations.

So, as of this writing, there is still no certainty when or if the revenue-sharing payments will begin to flow again, leaving Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca, the three host casino cities, out of a limb.

To make matters worse for Niagara Falls, the city is still waiting for the $12 million the state promised to loan the city if the Seneca money didn’t materialize to plug the current budget.  How all of it will be eventually resolved, and what will happen after the compact expires in the not-too-distant future will fall into the lap of the next mayor.

Some might say, who would want the job?  Well, there are three candidates out there who want it, and on June 25, the Democratic primary winner will have time to get ready for November and get his team organized to take the reins of government from Dyster in January.  We wish all the candidates the best and urge voters to listen to what they have to say as we approach decision time.


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