Republicans Dominate Niagara County Races; Gooch Overcomes Challenge from Herbert in 7th District

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By: Tony Farina

Democrats may have picked up one seat in the GOP-dominated Niagara County Legislature, but one seat they didn’t pick up and had high hopes for was in the 7th District (Wheatfield, North Tonawanda) where incumbent Jesse Gooch turned back a strong challenge from Erik Herbert.

Gooch, owner of Painters Plus Home Decorating, had been appointed to the legislature in January to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Kathyrn Lance, and he was expected to have his hands full with a very a formidable candidate who had the strong support of Jason Zona, the county Democratic chairman.  Gooch won by slightly more than 200 votes.

Zona said the GOP won because they employed what he called a “smart strategy,” making the race about (Gov.) Cuomo and New York City Democrats that have no bearing here.”

It was the only chance they had with a candidate like Gooch, added Zona, who he said didn’t offer much to the district.

Not the case by any means, says Gooch, who credited his victory with a door-to-door campaign that resonated with voters.  In other words, he says he outworked his opponent to win over voters.

“I worked very hard to deliver my message,” says Gooch, and the voters responded.

Gooch added that Zona’s claim of the GOP strategy linking his campaign to Cuomo and New York City Democrats as the reason for his victory was off the mark, saying he won the race on the streets.

But Gooch did not discount the support from Cuomo allies to his opponent as playing a role in the campaign.  But now that he’s won a full term, he’s anxious to get to work for his constituents in the district.

Zona, looking for some good news, said he was happy with Michelle Roman’s victory in Lockport to become the first Democrat to win a full term as mayor in 20 years, although he’s still sweating out two other major races that could haunt him for years.

Long-time Democratic legislative incumbent Dennis Virtuoso (6th District) holds a very narrow lead over Republican challenger David Zajac with nearly 100 absentee ballots still to be counted.

And in another very tight race for an open seat on the Niagara Falls City Council, Republican John Spanbauer holds a small lead over Democrat Alicia Kenyon with close to 400 absentee ballots to be counted on January 20th.  

If Spanbauer’s lead holds up, it will give Republicans control of the council for the first time in five decades.  If Virtuoso doesn’t hold on, it will be a major defeat for Democrats as he is minority leader of the caucus.

Zona did win one seat on the legislature that had been on the Republican side as Anita Mullane upset Republican incumbent and legislature chairman Keith McNall by 80 votes.

Of course, Democrat Robert Restaino did score a huge win for mayor of Niagara Falls although Restaino was certainly the heavy favorite going in against his major opponent, Democrat-turned-Republican Glenn Choolokian.


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