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Niagara County Democrats look beyond their own party for DA endorsement

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Democrats are willing to look beyond members of their own party in their search for a candidate for district attorney.

“Party affiliation is not a bar,” County Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster said Wednesday.

The Democrats can offer not just an endorsement for the November election, but also a possible appointment to the post right away by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat.

But so far, Cuomo has made no move to fill vacant DA positions in Erie County or Chautauqua County. In both cases, the incumbents left office Jan. 1 after being elected to judgeships.

The Niagara County district attorney job opened up March 21 when Republican Michael J. Violante resigned as a result of a reported sexual-harassment case.

Forster said, “I think our governor, as the former attorney general of the State of New York, has a keen interest in making sure the District Attorney’s Office is functioning.”

So far, the only announced election candidate is Caroline A. Wojtaszek, a registered Democrat but one who is not connected to the party organization. She is the wife of former County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek.

Caroline Wojtaszek could gather nominating petition signatures to get into a potential Democratic primary whether the organization wants her to or not. She already has been endorsed by the Independence Party and is seen as having a chance for a GOP endorsement.

However, Ronald J. Winter, like Wojtaszek a former prosecutor now working as a judicial law clerk, said Wednesday that he continues to be interested in running. Winter is a Republican whose brother used to be a key aide to former State Sen. George D. Maziarz, the longtime de facto Republican leader in Niagara County. Winter’s current boss is State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr., a close friend of Maziarz.

On the Democratic side, Forster has named a group of local attorneys to help come up with a candidate. One of those involved, former Niagara Falls City Judge Robert M. Restaino, also said the search has gone outside the boundaries of the Democratic Party.

“I think the county chairman and those involved in the committee realize that there are people who are capable and competent who are not affiliated with a party, or who might be affiliated with some other party,” Restaino said.

He added, “I have been one of those in the conversation, but I am at this point not on the list of people pursuing the position.”

Forster said it’s not that the Democrats have no good candidates of their own. “We have a lot of good attorneys,” he said. “There’s not a lot of attorneys who are members of big law firms. They’re single practitioners. Giving up their practice to run for office could be expensive.”

One attorney who asked not to be identified said the risk is that a person could give up his law practice to be appointed DA for eight months, lose the election, and end up with no government job and no law practice. Outside the City of Niagara Falls, patronage jobs are unavailable to Democratic attorneys because Niagara County government is firmly under Republican control.

Acting District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner and Deputy District Attorneys Doreen M. Hoffmann and Holly E. Sloma all said this week that they are not interested in running for district attorney.