Restaino Declares Primary Victory; Piccirillo Holding Onto Hope for Absentee Ballot Miracle

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By: Tony Farina

It was close, a lot closer than some had expected and still unofficial as of Tuesday night, but in the end it appears Robert Restaino overcame the youthful protege of the three-term incumbent and won the Democratic primary vote for mayor of Niagara Falls.  We should note there are still some 200 absentee votes to be counted but most observers don’t believe those votes will change the outcome.

Restaino, the president of the Niagara Falls School Board, received 1,929 votes (50.4%) to 1,850 (48.4%) for Seth Piccirillo, the director of community development under outgoing Mayor Paul Dyster.  The 79-vote victory margin looks like enough to give Restaino a major leg up on Republican candidate Glenn Choolokian in the November general election with Democrats holding a 3 to 1 majority in the city.

Restaino will also have the Independence and Conservative Party lines.  Piccirillo has the Working Families Party line.

“The majority of voters [in the Democratic primary] decided that change is needed, and change is coming,” said Democratic Council President Andy Touma reacting to the unofficial winner.  “I think he’s [Restaino] motivated and ready for the job with all his experience and he will work well with both parties and help bring the resources of the entire county into play for the city of Niagara Falls.”

The ability to work across party lines could well help Restaino if he wins in November given the strong challenge expected by the two Republican council candidates for two open seats on the council.  Incumbent Kenny Tompkins and newcomer John Spanbauer were the two winners in the three-way GOP primary over Candace Corsaro who won high praise from city GOP Chairman Bill Carroll for her strong door-to-door campaign in a losing effort.  If Tompkins and Spanbauer win in November, they would join GOP Councilman Chris Voccio to give Republicans a council majority.  Chairman Carroll said Tuesday night Republicans have a big shot at winning that majority come November.

If Tuesday’s unofficial results hold up, as expected, Restaino will get his chance to bring change to Niagara Falls which is reeling financially from the loss of gaming revenue due to the long-running legal battle between the state and the Seneca Nation.

The Dyster administration has relied heavily on the revenue stream from the Seneca casino to balance budgets against the advice of the state comptroller, and when things went south in 2017, the city was left out on a limb and it is still there as the Senecas are taking their legal challenge to federal court.

Restaino declared victory Tuesday night at the Como Restaurant, saying “this is the beginning of what we hope will be a renaissance for Niagara Falls.  Change is coming.”

What is certain is that the Dyster years are coming to an end and if Tuesday’s vote holds up, Dyster’s protégé — who waged an aggressive social media campaign — will have to start looking for a job.

For Restaino, who told us in an interview a few years ago that he had been thinking about running for mayor for a long time, it is a dream come true and with his background as a lawyer, a judge, president of the school board, and advisor to the council, he seems well prepared to take on the difficult challenge of getting Niagara Falls moving in the right direction.

Restino has been talking during the campaign about tapping into the resources of neighboring jurisdictions in the county in trying to resuscitate Niagara Falls in a collaborative way.  He seems to understand that Niagara Falls may well need help from its neighbors to build for the future and he seems more than ready to embrace that sort of collaborative effort if he’s elected mayor.

And it should be said that Restaino is also ready to engage the Senecas moving forward, something the Dyster regime has left to the state with very mixed results given the two gaming wars that have severely damaged the city’s financial state.

If the results hold up, as expected, change is coming and hopefully it’s not too late for the Cataract City which is facing a mountain of red ink, an ongoing gaming dispute, and a structurally imbalanced budget that will require a lot of fixing–and that includes cuts and new revenue– to regain financial stability.


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