Politics Take Center Stage as Gaming Battle Continues

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By: Tony Farina

As the legal wrangling continues at a snail’s pace in the gaming stalemate between the state and the Seneca Nation, politics has definitely moved center stage starting with the Niagara County Democratic Committee’s picnic on Tuesday (this week) that was expected to be highlighted by a visit from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“We expect the comptroller to show up and I’m expecting there will be a picture taken of him with our candidate for mayor of Niagara Falls, Robert Restaino,” said Democratic Chairman Jason Zona on Monday.

Restaino will have a tight squeeze timewise to get that picture taken with DiNapoli because somehow, former Democratic Chairman Nick Forster is throwing a $500-a-person fundraiser for Restaino at the Red Coach Inn about the same time as the Democratic picnic at Gratwick Park.  Coincidence?  Or is there a political rivalry between Zona and the former chairman?

Zona expects, and so do we, that Restaino will make both events and get his picture taken with the state’s chief fiscal watchdog who has been a critic of the current administration’s handling of casino funds for several years.  

Republicans will have their get-together next Tuesday, July 23, at the Hyde Park Stoneroom where they are expected to have a loud and upbeat crowd for their very strong slate for Niagara Falls Council, incumbent Ken Tompkins and newcomer John Spanbauer who, if they win the two seats up for grabs, could give the GOP the majority on the council along with Chris Voccio.

The city GOP has still not made an endorsement for mayor and there are rumors the party is not too excited about backing former Democrat Glenn Choolokian.  Some are said to be favoring Democratic primary winner Restaino for the top job.  Choolokian has not been seen much by the GOP faithful, according to reports, and we’ll have to wait and see if he shows up on Tuesday for the $50-per-person event. 

The fight for political power goes on even as the legal battle between the state and the Senecas over revenue-sharing payments goes on, tightening the financial noose every day for the three host cities, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca.

“We still had about $7 million on hand a few weeks ago,” said Council Chairman Andy Touma, but the savvy leader admitted there is still much uncertainty about when there will be a settlement and if so, what kind of financial money will be flowing from the Senecas.  Will it be the same as before?

As we have reported, the Senecas don’t feel they have gotten the “exclusivity” bang for their more than $1 billion in bucks paid to the state since the compact began.  They want a new deal and have balked at paying the state $255 million as ordered by the arbitration panel in April following the December decision favoring the state.

As of this week, the state and the Senecas have until Aug. 27 to file their briefs in support of their motions in the case that is now before U. S. District Judge William Skretny.

While all that moves along — or doesn’t move — the state is still holding on to the $12.3 million it promised to loan the city of Niagara Falls for the current budget until the Seneca money comes in.  Well, when or if the money will be coming in remains very uncertain, and while the city still has money in the drawer, it won’t last much longer.

Perhaps the city can breathe easy, however, as the state said in an email to this reporter on Monday “the state is in contact with the Niagara Falls Mayor’s office, and our commitment to the city remains firm as we wait for the Seneca Nation to fulfill its obligation as determined by the arbitration panel.”

Well, the state seems ready to deliver on its promise if necessary, to keep the city from falling into the Niagara River financially, but what about the future?  Will the slot revenue payments resume at the same level?  Or will they resume at all?  All that seems very much up in the air these days as the politicians move about hoping to take control of a dying city.

There are numerous reports around town that businesses at many locations far from the state park are not doing very well this summer.  As one businessman put it, this is a poor city and getting poorer. The state needs to step up but so far, it hasn’t.  


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