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Falls forum for candidates serves as referendum on mayor’s two terms

NIAGARA FALLS – From crime to road conditions to the city’s finances to economic development – and a lot more in between – participants in Wednesday night’s forum for political candidates touched on a wide variety of issues affecting the city.

Democrats and Republicans running for mayor, City Council, City Court judge and Niagara County legislator gave voters at least a little better glimpse at what they stand for in advance of next Thursday’s primary election.

The five people running for mayor – Glenn A. Choolokian and incumbent Paul A. Dyster on the Democratic side, and Republicans John G. Accardo, Robert D. Pascoal and Jim J. Szwedo – spent about 90 minutes sitting side by side and to varying degrees evaluating and critiquing Dyster’s performance over the last nearly eight years.

Choolokian, a Council member running against Dyster in the Democratic primary, used the strongest terms of any of the candidates.

He described conditions in the Falls as at an “all-time, big mess” and continued his oft-repeated assertion that the city has “blown through” $200 million in casino revenue and has nothing to show for it.

Dyster, who said the city has only had direct control over $106 million in casino dollars since 2003, which was before he became mayor, defended the spending under his administration, pointing to road and sidewalk improvements, debt service on the city’s public safety building and critical infrastructure work, among other things.

“Do I think we’ve made good decisions? Yes, I do,” the two-term incumbent said during the 3½-hour event before about 140 people in Harry F. Abate Elementary School on Lockport Street.

Each of the five candidates was asked to give the mayor’s performance a rating on a scale of 1 to 10. Accardo, who runs an insurance agency on Pine Avenue, gave the mayor a 5, and Szwedo, president of the Niagara Street Business Association, gave him a 4.5, while Choolokian and Pascoal, head of the Landlord’s Association of Greater Niagara, declined to give a rating.

Dyster, saying he was “a humble man,” gave himself a 7.5 or 8, saying, “We all know there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

The four Democrats running in the Council primary – incumbent Robert A. Anderson Jr., as well as Alicia M. Laible, Ezra P. Scott Jr. and Rick D. Smith – talked about issues with a less contentious tone than the panel of mayoral candidates that followed.

One of the night’s statements that stood out the most was Anderson’s assertion that people who live here should get cheaper utilities because “we make them in our own backyard.”

Anderson said the costs to individuals should be zero or $1, and he said he would accomplish that by talking to the New York Power Authority and saying it’s time for the agency to give something back to the community.

The forum, divided into segments based on the office being sought, was sponsored by the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, the Rotary Club of Niagara Falls, the Kiwanis Club of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Falls chapter of the NAACP.

The event, which also included candidates running in three County Legislature districts, as well as three candidates for Niagara Falls City Court judge, was moderated by Corey B. Bower, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo’s department of educational leadership and policy.

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