It is now 2011, and many of the people who overwhelmingly elected Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster in 2007 have had four years to contemplate his words versus his record.
"It's pretty obvious something big is happening on the streets of Niagara Falls," Dyster told the Buffalo News last week.
That is true, of course. There is something big on the streets -- crime, for instance.
In spite of the fact that the mayor said crime is down, the nightly sound of gunfire and the amazing rash of burglaries and other crimes have made this statement dubious.
Most residents I spoke to think crime is up and nighttime streets decidedly unsafe.
Another big thing on the streets is potholes.
It is a basic function of municipal government -- not an achievement -- to keep streets properly maintained. Dyster calls himself the "paving mayor," yet streets seem worse to me than before he was mayor. What do you think? Are streets better? Enough to label Dyster the paving mayor?
Dyster said, "My basic campaign strategy is to (ask the voters to make their decision) on the record of the last four years."
In my mind, his record is one of rising taxes, rising crime, a culture of rewarding Buffalo campaign contributors, and one of taking credit for anything good that happens, even if he had nothing to do with it, while, when anything bad occurs, saying it was beyond his control.
Last week, the Buffalo News made an amazing statement about Dyster. It was this: "His largest (campaign) donors have been unions and local companies with business before the city."
Perhaps you, the voter, might care to ask why companies, most of them located in Buffalo, would make large donations to a mayor in Niagara Falls.
Mayoral challenger Johnny Destino answered this question: "Almost every decision Dyster has made since being in office can be traced back to a campaign contributor benefiting or advancing his own personal interests."
Perhaps people simply do not believe this. Where Dyster shows true originality is in his ability to act as if he is above political considerations while being a total political insider.
Of course, his audience -- the average Niagara Falls voters -- often are called "fools," since they continue to elect leaders who created the sad state the city is in.
While playing to that arguably "foolish" audience, Dyster said his record shows he created "industrial job growth, a sustained road-paving plan and the start of downtown development."
Dyster told the gullible, "You can see a lot has changed already, but we're not yet done. I have this sense of sort of building on a foundation."
Let's examine that part of the foundation called jobs.
Dyster took credit in campaign mailers for creating 300 industrial jobs (about 75 per year). A little investigation shows he had nothing to do with most of them. Meanwhile, the city lost perhaps 10 times as many jobs, as local businesses failed during his tenure, a tenure that also saw a drop in population of about 5,000 -- many of whom left the city because they could not find jobs.
New York State Department of Labor statistics do not back up what Dyster says about creating jobs. Niagara Falls' 12 percent unemployment rate is the highest in New York state, worse than the New York state average of 7.7 percent and the U.S. average of 9.1 percent.
In 2007, the year before Dyster took office, unemployment was 6.8 percent in Niagara Falls. Now it's almost double after four years.
How much of that is Dyster's fault?
Unifrax, the maker of high-temperature insulation products, and their plan to move their Whirlpool Street headquarters to Tonawanda, resulting in 96 jobs lost, illustrate the possibility that some of the jobs being lost are due to acts of both commission and omission in the Dyster administration.
Dyster argues that over at Unifrax the job loss is minuscule, noting that only 15 of 96 Unifrax employees are Falls residents.
The fact that employees are living in Lewiston, Amherst and the Tonawandas does not mean the loss of these jobs is insignificant.
People coming from other communities to work here is an advantage. They go to restaurants, and buy gas and other items. They may bank here. Jobs or employment within a city help make a city feel alive.
Mayoral challenger Destino suggested the real reason Unifrax is leaving is because Dyster needed them to move in order to use their parking lot to develop and expand his train station project.
Dyster said that is ridiculous. He said he was helpless in the matter. Unifrax officials discussed their move under a confidentiality agreement with the state agency that gave them $700,000 to move to Tonawanda, Dyster said. The city was not involved in these negotiations.
"The company held the state to confidentiality," Dyster said, "In the end, (the state) managed to save the headquarters for Western New York. The alternative was not Niagara Falls vs. Tonawanda, the alternative was Tonawanda vs. Indiana."
Peeling back the onion, and supportive of Destino's argument, one might note that Dyster received the political endorsement of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and donations from its Political Action Committee. The Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP) and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (BNE) that worked on the Unifrax deal are affiliate organizations and share office space on the same floor. Its CEOs serve on each other's boards. Is it possible that this backroom/confidential deal cooked up by the BNE did not include input from Dyster?
Was Dyster helpless in the loss of these jobs, or instrumental because he wanted the Unifrax parking lot and real estate that abuts his train station project?
Either way, it says little about his ability as a jobs-creating mayor.
As for other accomplishments, this mayor boasts of the construction of the culinary institute, the demolition of the Wintergarden, rebuilding of Old Falls Street, the Hard Rock Cafe concert series, and the NORAMPAC and airport expansions.
The demolition of the Wintergarden and the repaving of Old Falls Street were paid for by USA Niagara and were not his doing.
Dyster had nothing to with NORAMPAC, other than attending the ceremonial groundbreaking.
Dyster touts on his Facebook page that he and his administration are bringing jobs to Niagara Falls because of the airport, even specifying the excitement of having 747s and Airbuses there.
It is true, the city provided casino funds, but these were part of an agreement arranged during the Anello administration. Dyster had nothing to do with airport expansion.
Airport operations are run by the NFTA and serviced under agreement by the Fixed Base Operation, NFA, owned by its parent company, Niagara Falls Redevelopment.
The Culinary Institute project at the Rainbow Mall was negotiated mainly by Dr. James Klyczek, president of Niagara County Community College, with the assistance of USA Niagara and Niagara County representatives.
The Hard Rock Cafe concert series is, however, something Dyster definitely accomplished. He spearheaded the handing out to Hard Rock Cafe of around $600,000 in public money to put on free concerts on Old Falls Street.
Hard Rock is a billion-dollar corporation owned by the Seminole Nation of Indians. They keep the profits from concessions and probably make a profit just out of the public money they get for putting on the concerts. It is fact they get close to $30,000 per concert and have regularly booked acts that cost about $10,000 per show.
While anybody but a tax-and-spend liberal would argue that a billion-dollar corporation should pay for its own concerts, it may also be true that favoring one company with tax dollars has hurt other local businesses.
As Destino pointed out, "Dyster's concert series has had direct negative impacts on several local businesses during the height of the tourist season. This series has done nothing to generate any additional revenue for the city and has produced no long-term benefits."
Meantime, speaking of downtown, the bulk of the Rainbow Mall remains vacant, the former balloon launch parcel remains a haphazard, illegal parking lot, the Hotel Niagara is vacant, and the proposed Niagara Holiday Market, which will create no sustainable jobs, is likely to be a taxpayer-funded boondoggle much like the Hard Rock concert series, a bust for everyone but the promoter.
But Dyster is persuasive.
He reminds me of the weavers in the fable of the Emperors New Clothes, who tell a gullible emperor (in this case, the voters) that he can tell who the fools are if he wears an expensive cloth they will weave for him. The cloth actually is only imaginary.
Last week, Dyster weaved poetic to the local media. "At the end of eight years in office, in order to fulfill voters' (wishes), you'd want to be able to say, 'Here's how the city was transformed.'"
In his first four years, the city has declined, with much higher unemployment, rising crime, population loss and no new jobs created.
In the Emperor's New Clothes, a child points out that the emperor is naked, and everyone realizes this is true.
How about you?
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Nov. 7, 2011|