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Three candidates vying for GOP backing to run for mayor of Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – Three candidates are vying in the Republican primary for mayor of Niagara Falls, and two were previously registered Democrat. The third only registered to vote in Niagara County in June.

John G. Accardo, Robert D. Pascoal and Jim J. Szwedo are the candidates.

Szwedo, 61, is president of the Niagara Street Business Association and a self-described small-business owner and property owner. Making his first run for public office, Szwedo said he spent 40 years in the fields of industrial, municipal and environmental contracting.

When Szwedo says he became a Republican differs from when county records say he affiliated with the GOP.

Szwedo registered as a Republican after last fall’s general election, according to Niagara County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Jennifer Fronczak. Other records from the board previously obtained by The Buffalo News show Szwedo was a Democrat at least as recently as 2010.

But Szwedo says he’s been a registered Republican since 1997 after he switched from being registered with the Independence Party.

“Party isn’t important,” he said. “I believe that the people who vote strictly by party, that’s a mistake. You have to look at the person running.”

Szwedo said he’s running because he believes the “common people” in the Falls are being disproportionately hurt by how the city’s being run. He said quality-of-life issues are the biggest challenge facing the city.

Earlier in the Republican primary campaign, The News reported Szwedo had two properties on the city’s tax foreclosure list for unpaid taxes and fees. He also had cleanup orders from the city at a number of his other properties, as recently as 2013. Szwedo had alleged he was the victim of political retribution by Paul Dyster’s administration.

Szwedo also filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, according to federal bankruptcy court records. The mayoral hopeful says that happened during the country’s financial crisis when banks called in small-business loans and he was unable to get private financing.

“Basically, we had no choice,” he said, adding he feels it does not reflect on the job he would do as mayor.

Pascoal, who heads the Greater Niagara Landlords Association, was the last person to enter the race, and he registered to vote in the county June 12.

While the City Charter says a person eligible to run for mayor must have been “an elector” in the city for a year, Pascoal said he has consulted an attorney and was informed there is no issue regarding his eligibility.

Born in Fall River, Mass., Pascoal has been rehabilitating properties in the Falls since 2003 but has spent the winters in San Diego, Calif. He has been winding down his business interests in California since 2003, finishing that process last year, he said.

The 62-year-old said he’s been trying to get a four-point welfare reform package enacted but has run into difficulties. One of the elements – direct pay to landlords who have tenants receiving welfare payments – was approved by Niagara County leaders.

The reforms have nothing to do with reducing benefits, but with making sure landlords who have tenants who get assistance through the Department of Social Services keep up their properties.

“We need standards and accountability,” he said during last week’s candidates’ forum in Harry F. Abate Elementary.

Accardo, the third candidate in the GOP primary, runs a Pine Avenue insurance agency and served nine years on the City Council. He ran for mayor in 1999 and 2011 and has also run for Assembly.

The longtime Democrat, who switched to the Republican party after the 2011 mayor’s race, has been endorsed by the City Republican Committee.

He said he believes the city is too reliant on using casino revenue to fund day-to-day expenses and that his first priority would be to stabilize the city’s budget, warning about serious potential issues down the road.

“A train wreck is coming, and it’s coming faster than we think it is,” said Accardo, 60.

He said he wants to attract working families to the city and thinks the city should have been able to do more to capture long-term benefits from Nik Wallenda’s 2012 high-wire walk over the falls.

The winner of the GOP mayoral primary will face the winner of the Democratic primary featuring incumbent Paul A. Dyster and Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian.