At least six contenders will vie for three open seats on the Niagara Falls City Council this autumn, and insiders say as many as eleven others are likely to announce before the July filing deadline.
Charles Walker, a 20-year veteran of the Council, has decided not to seek re-election, while members Kristen Grandinetti and Andrew Touma have announced they are in the running.
The Council has been seen largely as a rubber stamp, approving the programs and policies of Mayor Paul Dyster, rarely questioning his decisions. This has led to fiascos such as the city’s new train station that has yet to see a train and the 72nd Street water main that left residents without water for two winters in a row.
On the Republican side, Chris Voccio, Sam Archie and Robert Pascoal have announced their intention to run political newcomer Danielle DePalma will be running as a Democrat.
Voccio recently retired as publisher of the Niagara Gazette following a nearly three year tenure. He also stepped down from the boards of the Niagara USA Chamber and the United Way of Greater Niagara. In his announcement, Voccio described himself as “a lifelong arch-conservative – limited government, free enterprise, law and order.”
Pascoal, president of the Landlords’ Association of Greater Niagara, was a surprise, dark horse candidate for mayor in 2015. He left the race after losing to John Accardo in the primary.
His view of the Dyster administration remains unchanged, however.
“I continue to watch this administration set forth unmeasurable and costly programs and policies without proper checks and balances from certain members of the current council,” Pascoal said. “We have two separate governing bodies in City Hall. If one fails to act responsibly to ensure the best interests of residents and businesses are met, then it is the sworn duty of the other to protect constituents. I believe I can provide residents with the level of oversight needed to slow the speed at which the issues that burden residents and businesses prevail, while offering solutions to the many concerns people continue to voice.”
“I want to be there for the residents whose issues get lost due to inefficient practices at city hall. I want to be there for the business owners whose tax burden leaves them feeling the pinch from unbridled spending,” he added.
Archie, a former vice chairman of the city GOP committee, managed the unsuccessful mayoral bid of Glenn A. Choolokian two years ago. Archie lost Council races in 1993 and 1995.
“We don’t have the right leadership on the Council to effectively supervise and manage the current administration in the best interests of the residents of Niagara Falls,” Archie said. “They have forgotten that it’s about your money. We have all seen current Council members turn their backs on residents and allow the careless and unfocused spending of casino funds by the administration.”
Danielle DePalma says she will seek the Democratic and Working Families lines in this year’s primary. DePalma works at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, providing health insurance options for local families. She worked preiously for the Niagara Wheatfield School District as a Per Diem Substitute.
“I am excited at the possibility of serving our community by obtaining a seat on the City Council . Now, more than ever is the time for new names to step forward and serve our city, and I am confident in my abilities to work in government and positively represent this great city.”
“I believe that I am an excellent candidate for the City Council. I feel now is the time to step forward, and offer my services in city government. The time is right for new blood in local government,” she said.
DePalma has been with Niagara Falls Memorial working in the Navigation Program since 2016. She also sits on the LIVE NF Board of Directors, serves as a member of the Resident Engagement Council and volunteers for the Niagara Falls Beautification Committee. She serves as secretary of the city’s Democratic committee.
“Without a doubt, the biggest challenge that faces our entire region is economic development” she said. “As a local elected official, I will provide true leadership and hopefully help build a bridge towards working with city, county, state and most importantly private developers looking to grow our city.”
In interviews this week, chairmen of the two parties’ local committees alluded that the field of candidates could grow as the July deadline to file nominating petitions approaches.
City Republican Committee Chairman William Carroll as many as six additional challengers under his party’s flag, while City Democratic Committee Chairman Gordy Stewart estimated seven, including the two previously announced incumbents.
If the predictions are correct, the field will grow to 10 candidates.
Stewart said the Seneca Nation of Indians financial cutoff of casino cash is among the top concerns of the Democratic candidates. The agreement, which used to net between $21 million and $16 million annually, cut off when the Senecas announced they would stop payments to the state for its downtown facility.
Stewart said the Democratic candidates have a shared intention of using the election to “educate” the community on the past use of the funds, evaluating where they were best used and strategically implementing them in the future.
“It’s government’s job to be bold enough to make those decisions, to evaluate those decisions and make changes moving forward,” he said.
While it is typical for the committee to endorse its incumbents, but Stewart said Walker’s decision creates an opportunity to invite newcomers into this year’s city election alongside the Grandinetti and Touma.
With the 2015 election of freshman Councilman Ken Tompkins, a Republican, November’s election presents a chance for residents to elect a GOP majority on the city council, a makeup which has not occurred in decades.
Caroll called November “the most critical” the city has faced in years. He said he’d like to see an expanded focus placed on the city’s business culture. It presents an opportunity to confront what Caroll sees as problematic visions in the Falls, one of which he described as an “industry of poverty” through the proliferation of subsidized housing.
“That vision, in my opinion, has to change,” he said.