Restaino, Piccirillo Square Off in First Mayoral Debate

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By: Tony Farina

There were no knockout punches landed Thursday night in the debate between Democratic mayoral candidates Seth Piccirillo and Robert Restaino at the Niagara Falls Public Library, but the two hopefuls had starkly different messages about what’s needed to address the city’s many problems.

Restaino, the president of the school board and a former city judge, told the packed house he is in the race “because I care about the city,” and he said bold leadership is needed to move the city forward and he is prepared to take on that role.

Piccirillo, a protege of three-term Mayor Paul Dyster who currently serves as the community development director as well as the code enforcement officer, stressed the need for “creative thinking” in his remarks at the debate sponsored by the Niagara Gazette and WJJL Radio.

As part of his plan to spur growth, Piccirillo said the city needs to set up a new tax structure because the current system favors developers.  “We need to address the holes in the tax structure,” said Piccirillo, but Restaino countered that changing the tax structure would be a non-starter in Albany, adding that taxes need to be equitable and uniform.

As for the Seneca Nation’s ongoing appeal of the arbitration panel’s ruling that it must resume revenue sharing payments to the state, Restaino called it a problem between the state and the Senecas, but added that if he’s elected mayor he would be prepared to have “a direct conversation with the Senecas” and would want to have a major role in negotiations between the two sides after the current gaming compact runs out in 2023.

Piccirillo, responding to the revenue-sharing stalemate that is threatening the city’s financial well-being, said “we are in unchartered territory” even though we have the most skin in the game, and we must explore direct negotiations with the Senecas.

Restaino summed up his case by saying “we need the right leadership in city hall,” adding he believes it is possible to cut the structural deficit in half within the first year if he’s elected mayor.

Piccirillo, who never mentioned his boss by name during the entire debate, said the development policies he has pushed while a member of the Dyster team have produced favorable results, but Restaino emphasized that he would reach out to the surrounding communities and the county to help develop a more regional approach to bring in business and jobs at the core of the region, the city of Niagara Falls.

The primary election will be held June 25 with the winner taking on Republican Glenn Choolokian in November.


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