NIAGARA FALLS -- A school psychologist elected chairman of the city's Democratic Committee just a few weeks after joining the organization said Tuesday he is focusing on reuniting its members.
Michael F. Lewis, 29, ran unopposed for the chairmanship during a committee meeting Monday night in Cristoforo Columbo Society hall. He called the election of a new slate of party leaders a "new day" for the committee.
"This is a time that will focus on reuniting the committee with the mission of supporting Democratic candidates and promoting a progressive plan for the re-emergence of Niagara Falls," Lewis said.
Lewis, who moved to Niagara Falls three years ago, is a psychologist for the Niagara Falls School District. In January, the City Council appointed him to the city's Planning Board, and he has served on the board of the city Youth Bureau since last year.
He was elected after more than 30 new members joined the committee following the election of Mayor Paul A. Dyster.
"I think it is a new era," said Jason J. Cafarella, a Niagara County legislator and a committeeman. "I think it's a great opportunity where we can revive the committee with new blood and work with veteran members of the committee to reform and strengthen it."
Lewis replaced former chairman Kevin J. Ormsby, who served as chairman five months before stepping down last month.
He and several veteran members had objected to a decision by Daniel Rivera, chairman of the Niagara County Democratic Party, to call for a vote on appointing new members to the city committee without the consent of its leaders.
The city party has been in flux since Dyster won the Democratic primary last year without the endorsement of the Democratic Committee.
"I think change is brewing," Lewis said. "It's a presidential election cycle. We have a newly elected mayor. . . . There are some good ideas that are flowing and some new developments happening in the city that people are excited about."
Last spring, Dyster's supporters joined in recommending appointees for vacant committee seats. New factions developed on the committee after Council Chairman Sam Fruscione ran a slate of candidates for some of the same seats in September's primary.
Lewis, who volunteered on Dyster's mayoral campaign, ran unopposed for his committee seat.
He said he was intent on bringing the party members together to elect Democrats.
"I'm not really concerned about factions," Lewis said. "To me, the split is between Democrats and Republicans, not necessarily the Democrats within the committee or the party as a whole."
A Long Island native, Lewis moved to Buffalo to study criminal justice and psychology at Canisius College. He earned a doctorate in counseling and school psychology from the University at Buffalo in 2005.
Lewis said he has long had an interest in politics. He started political volunteer work when he was 16 for his local congressman -- then-Rep. Rick Lazio, a Republican seeking re-election.
He later registered as a Democrat.
Other executive committee members elected Monday are first vice chairwoman, Barbara Rodgers; second vice chairwoman, Lora Allen; third vice chairman, Nicholas D'Aloise; secretary, Ida Massaro; treasurer, Ann-Marie Hauptner; and sergeants-at-arms, Anthony Putaski and Gerald Frazier.