The Niagara County Legislature election campaign is under way, and it looks like it may bear more resemblance to Ultimate Fighting than to anything in a civics book.
Thursday, County Republican Party Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek issued a news release accusing Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Rivera of threatening the job of Legislator Danny W. Sklarski of the Town of Niagara. Rivera denied it, and the two chairmen exchanged barbs accusing each other of crookedness and low political standards.
"Dan Rivera is committed to taking Niagara County politics into the gutter, and we are not going to let him get away with it anymore," Wojtaszek said.
"If I'm going into the gutter, it's because he's dragging me down into it with him," Rivera said.
Sklarski, a registered Democrat, has caucused with the Republicans since he joined the Legislature; right now, he's one of five Democrats who sit with the GOP.
Sklarski is also an auditor for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in Niagara Falls, a job State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, helped arrange.
Wojtaszek claimed that Sklarski was told that if he didn't start caucusing with the Democrats, his job at the state park might be in jeopardy. Sklarski said he does not have civil service protection.
He said he didn't talk to Rivera but to Town of Niagara Democratic Chairman and Highway Superintendent Michael J. Moyer at a Jan. 10 lunch in the new John's Flaming Hearth.
Sklarski said Moyer wanted to know if he was running for re-election. Sklarski said he intends to run for legislator unless Steven C. Richards decides not to run for re-election as town supervisor.
"If Steve decides not to run, I would be interested in running for town supervisor, definitely. If Steve runs, I'm staying where I am," Sklarski said.
At the lunch, "The question came up whether I was going to join the Democratic caucus," Sklarski said. "I've always voted my own conscience. I have no intention of changing caucuses."
He said, "The chairman [Moyer] said there's a new governor in town [Democrat Eliot L. Spitzer], and all state jobs are on the table. . . . The comments made to me were a threat to my position. I've been around too long, and I'm too old to put up with childish political threats."
Moyer, who said he's been friends with Sklarski for 25 years, said he didn't mean to threaten him. He said Rivera told him to sound Sklarski out about switching caucuses.
"He was trying to get Danny to come home, so to speak," Rivera said. "I've never asked Mike Moyer to threaten Sklarski."
Moyer said he told Sklarski, "All I'm saying to you is with a new administration, all jobs are under review. Who's going to support you if that happens?"
"If Danny took that as a threat, I apologize," Moyer said. "Danny and I have been friends for too long for me to threaten him."
"That's a sad commentary, that Mr. Sklarski would throw his friend under the bus," Rivera said.
"You don't go around and threaten people's jobs," Wojtaszek said. "It's the politics of intimidation and fear."
"It's a shame Henry Wojtaszek is resorting to lies and distortion," Rivera said.
Wojtaszek charged that Rivera lost his job with an insurance company last fall for using the company's database "to dig up dirt on political opponents."
Rivera called that "misrepresentation" and said, "Henry has a history of being investigated, like a couple years ago in the James Scott case."
Scott was a candidate Wojtaszek recruited to run for a County Legislature seat in 2003, but Scott didn't live in Niagara County. Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III turned the case over to Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark because Wojtaszek's wife is on Murphy's staff of prosecutors. Clark found no grounds for pressing charges.