With extensive political reshuffling and Democratic primaries in all but the Delaware District on Tuesday, challengers can make the most extensive changes in Buffalo's Common Council in years. In a generally strong field of candidates several newcomers deserve that chance -- but some familiar figures deserve re-election, too.
Common Council President
Incumbent Common Council President James W. Pitts, 50, faces a strong challenge from Fillmore District Council Member David A. Franczyk, 45, in a contest that unfortunately has focused as much on race as the key issues of leadership and vision.
Both Franczyk and Pitts are intelligent and valued legislators, and it is unfortunate that this race will cost one of them a seat on the Council. That said, both have shortcomings that we find troubling.
Pitts, instead of using the Council president's post to build consensus, too often has been a divisive force. Franczyk has a solid strategic vision for the city, but the district he now represents has not prospered. And his campaign strategy in the past has worked to divide the Fillmore District racially, a factor that outweighs concerns over Pitts' own leadership style.
In a close call, we endorse Pitts for the nomination.
Council Members at Large
Seven candidates are vying for at-large Council seats in the Democratic primary. Although voters can select only three, we believe that three of the newcomers and one veteran all deserve to take a seat on the new Council as at-large members. Of course, that's impossible, but city voters would be well served to make their three selections from these four.
Kevin D. Horrigan, 31, is the best of the field. A first-time campaigner with extensive experience in housing services and development, a key issue in Buffalo, he combines youth and enthusiasm with the experience gained as a staff intern for former South District Council Member Brian Higgins. His service as issues and policies committee chair for the 21st Century Club, a group of young community leaders he co-founded, also has honed his grasp of key city issues.
Jeremy C. Toth, 29, brings to the race political experience as chief of staff to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. An attorney, he is bright and has demonstrated vision as an active member of another local young leadership group, New Millennium.
Charley H. Fisher III, 45, is a veteran political activist most known for his high-profile opposition to the city garbage fee. A former staff member for both the County Legislature and Deputy State Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, he also has strong neighborhood-level involvement in community groups.
Rosemarie LoTempio, 63, is a veteran politician who has served as a steadying force in the Common Council, especially during budget debates. That steadiness and her in-depth knowledge of government workings could be especially valuable on a Council with a lot of new faces.
Incumbent Council Member at-Large Beverly Gray, 48, and incumbent Niagara District Council Member Robert Quintana, 37, have lackluster Council records. Despite strong potential, both have disappointed. Businessman Ronald H. Fleming, 54, lags behind the field.
In the city's large and diverse Ellicott District, businesswoman Vera Martin, 54, earns The News' backing over incumbent Barbara Miller-Williams and challenger Valerie Ruff.
Martin is a book store owner and a real estate broker with extensive knowledge of the district's housing stock, and has been active in the community. She has called for better police protection and better city services to improve day-to-day life for district residents.
Miller-Williams, 43, is a Buffalo police officer on leave who has held the Council seat since 1995. A far better speaker than Martin, her ability to articulate the problems and needs of her district hasn't been matched by an effective work ethic. It's time for a change.
The Fillmore District seat being vacated by Franczyk is sought by his legislative assistant Andrew Golebiowski, 39, former district councilman Steven J. Godzisz, 44, and Karen R. Ellington.
The News recommends Golebiowski, who wants a coordinated city effort to attack the district's neighborhood decay and stabilize the community. He's also a proponent of the "broken windows" philosophy, which holds that the best way to do that is to pay attention to the small problems that erode neighborhoods and aggravate residents.
Godzisz, a former councilman unseated in the 1985 election, runs a market research firm and voices concern over the division of the district along racial lines.
Of all the district races, Niagara offers the strongest and the largest field of candidates. All six persons bidding to fill the seat vacated by Quintana seem qualified to serve on the Council, and voters in the district have the pick of an extremely good crop of contenders.
The News endorses Lourdes T. Iglesias, 40, a lifelong district resident and a member of the city's Charter Review Commission. The only Hispanic woman running in this year's elections, she is a bright and thoughtful candidate with a firm grasp of district issues. Although somewhat reserved, she is independent and has a strong reputation as "the voice of reason" and a quiet leader who works to build consensus and develop partnerships on issues.
Another very strong candidate in this excellent field is Susan A. McCartney, 46, an articulate and intelligent woman who has excellent credentials in historic preservation and in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses through a development program at Buffalo State College.
Dominic J. Bonafacio Jr., 51, has demonstrated strong community involvement as the 32-year director of the Butler-Mitchell Boys & Girls Club, and Donna Mohan-Grace, 50, handled constituent calls and complaints for 2 1/2 years as Quintana's chief of staff. Anthony D. Draffin, 25, is a Red Cross employee with a good grasp of district problems and a promising political future, and Mario Torres Pratts, 41, is a Buffalo detective on leave who has a solid grasp of the district's crime and policing issues.
The North District race has turned into a contentious campaign. Incumbent Dale L. Zuchlewski, a veteran of the district's political ranks, faces a challenge based solidly in district community and church groups.
Zuchlewski, 44, deserves the nod over challenger Joseph Golombek Jr., 34, a high school social studies teacher. Despite Zuchlewski's reputation for stubbornness and temper, he has worked hard on citywide as well as district issues and is a valuable fiscal watchdog. He deserves another term, but also needs to develop a more temperate demeanor.
Challenger Mary Corcoran Martino, 44, a former union vice president and health-care worker at Mercy Hospital, is a better choice than incumbent Dennis Manley, 50, to represent the district. Although inexperienced now, she has a better grasp of the issues. Manley has shown little vision and is generally praised most for having a good office staff.
The News endorses Bonnie Russell, 40, an experienced state-level program administrator now working as the minority compliance officer in the mayor's office. Campaigning on issues of public safety, housing and economic development, she is an intelligent and incisive candidate who would make an articulate and well-informed Council member.
Martha Niland Lamparelli, 36, is a personable first-time campaigner previously active in Buffalo Teachers Federation leadership. She offers good insights into the city's troubled school system and a good grasp of other issues, but lacks government experience. Betty Jean Grant, a former Liberal Party candidate who has tangled with Democratic Party leaders in the past, has worked hard on issues for this race but is up against solid competition.
Incumbent Byron W. Brown, 41, is a clear choice over his opponents, Charlie Thomas Jr., 62, and Kenny Williams.
Brown is a dedicated and effective community leader who has earned his reputation as a rising political star, and he deserves re-election.
The Lovejoy District race pits freshman incumbent Richard A. Fontana, 27, against salesman Richard M. Gattone, 45.
The News endorses Fontana, a young and energetic lawmaker who has focused on neighborhood concerns to the point of buying a pickup truck to haul neglected trash and tree branches for complaining constituents. Strong on commitment and action, he has been growing in the job and developing a broader vision of citywide needs as well.
Gattone has a good grasp of community problems, but he offers little reason to unseat Fontana.