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Council snubs Haxton in pick for development board

The Lackawanna City Council abandoned a long-standing practice Monday by appointing someone other than its First Ward representative to the city's Economic Development Zone board.

Andrea Haxton, a longtime community activist, took office last month as First Ward councilwoman. Since at least 1990, her predecessors were designated by the Council to the economic development board.

The First Ward is home to the city's largest state Empire Zone, where tax incentives, abatements, credits and other benefits can be offered to businesses expanding or starting up there.

Haxton formally requested a discussion about the designation Monday night, but apparently other Council members already had made their decision.

"I would rather put it up for a vote," Third Ward Councilman Chuck Jaworski said during a caucus preceding the Council meeting. "There's two people interested in it. It's a Council decision; let's vote on it."

During the meeting, Council President Ronald R. Spadone nominated Second Ward Councilman Geoffrey M. Szymanski, who also just took office. Jaworski seconded the nomination.

Before the vote was taken, Haxton pleaded her case.

"Because the vast area of the zone falls in the First Ward and because of the past precedents, I'm not understanding why I would not be considered for this position," she said.

Spadone noted that Szymanski, who works as an administrative aide for the Erie County Legislature, already serves as a liaison to the board.

"The EDZ no longer is just the First Ward," Spadone continued, saying it involves all city wards.

"There are numerous projects going on outside the First Ward," Szymanski added, pointing to the conversion of Our Lady of Victory Hospital into senior housing, among other things.

Haxton countered: "The open land is down in the First Ward for new development."

Szymanski's supporters also argued there already was a voting member representing the First Ward: resident Wanda Turner.

The nine voting members of the economic development board also include the mayor and the city's director of development -- both of whom are Norman L. Polanski Jr., who couldn't be reached to comment Monday night.

When it came time to vote, Szymanski's appointment was approved 4 to 1, with Haxton casting the opposing vote.

But the discussion didn't end there. During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, several First Ward residents said Haxton should have gotten the appointment.

Among them was Barbara Peoples.

"Everyone in this room knows how Andrea has fought for this city and the First Ward," Peoples said. "There's no one on this board . . . that cares more about this city than Andrea, who has been more involved than Andrea. It's not politics for her.

"Out of respect for Andrea, how do you appoint somebody in the Second Ward when she's there?"

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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