Voters in about half of Niagara County will have candidates for county coroner positions on the election ballots Tuesday.
In District 1, the City of Niagara Falls, 29-year incumbent James M. Joyce, a Democrat, is being challenged by County Legislator Rebecca E. Cuddahee, a registered Democrat who has the Republican nomination.
In District 4, which covers the towns of Cambria, Lewiston, Newfane, Niagara, Porter and Wilson, the one-term incumbent, Republican Russell Jackman II, faces Democrat Robert W. DuBois.
Neither Joyce nor DuBois can vote for himself. Both live in Wheatfield, but unlike most elected positions, there's no requirement that a coroner must live in his district.
Joyce, 60, of Thornwoods Drive, said he's conducted more than 9,000 investigations in his 29 years as coroner in Niagara Falls.
"The coroner's position comes down to two things and two things only: qualifications and experience," said Joyce. He's a graduate of Simmons Mortuary College as well as Niagara University, holds a master's degree in forensics, and is board-certified by the state Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners.
Cuddahee, 36, of 17th Street, is completing her second term as a county legislator, but coroner is the post she really wanted all along. She has successfully defended her doctoral dissertation in forensic anthropology and will receive a Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo in February.
Cuddahee charged that although all Niagara County autopsies are done at Erie County Medical Center, Joyce takes such bodies to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, where they are held for a day before being taken to Buffalo.
"It's not a double billing. It's a transportation fee in autopsy cases," Joyce said. "I was advised years ago by the county attorney that I should take the body to the [Niagara Falls] hospital. The law says the coroner and the coroner's physician are to examine the body."
In 2003, Jackman defeated DuBois by 520 votes. But then-incumbent Steven A. Gerhardt, who lost that year's Democratic primary to DuBois, was on the Working Families Party line and polled 1,765 votes.
DuBois, 53, of Niagara Road in the hamlet of Bergholz, said now that he's got a one-on-one race against Jackman, the lack of a third candidate draining away Democratic votes gives him a better chance to win.
Jackman, 41, of Bay Street, Wilson, said he's not intimidated by the political arithmetic.
A shift supervisor at Milward Alloys, a Lockport foundry, Jackman said his day job doesn't interfere in case he has to leave to take a call.
He said he always tries to reach the death scene within 30 minutes.
"From Wilson to the Town of Niagara, that's good time," he said. "There are four coroners in Niagara County. We work well together. We do cover for each other."
DuBois, operator of DuBois Funeral Home in Bergholz, said even though he's never been elected coroner, his experience tops Jackman's.
"I've been in the death care business for 30 years," DuBois said. "For the last 20 years, I've been working with the coroners, mostly Jim Joyce."