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Let others sling mud; in the Niagara District, candidates running for Common Council are tossing compliments to their opponents.

Six political newcomers are campaigning for the all-important Democratic party line in the Niagara District, all eager to fill the seat being vacated by Council Member Robert Quintana. The unusual mix includes a longtime Buffalo preservation leader, a police detective and an insurance executive, to name a few.

With such ambition and diversity, the campaigning could easily turn negative, especially in a district plagued by vacant housing, drugs and other urban ills.

But politeness has reigned supreme; and regardless of who wins on Tuesday, voters can celebrate, many observers believe.

"Whoever wins the primary is going to be a good candidate. . . . I'm really proud of the way everybody's been handling this," says Anthony D. Draffin, one of the six novice politicians. "We've set a good example of how a campaign should be run."

Another hopeful, police detective Mario Torres Pratts, also remarks about the refreshingly civil campaign:

"With six candidates, that's unusual. . . . That's what's refreshing," he said. "The voters deserve something better than a scare campaign."

All six would-be city lawmakers have zeroed in on the same major issues: listing crime, housing problems, job development and improving the Buffalo school system as their talking points.

However, turnout among district voters is traditionally one of the lowest in the city, meaning a slim ballot margin could decide the winner in a crowded field.

Candidates say they expect to spend from $2,000 to a high of $20,000 on the race.

They are:

* Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr., 51, a former director of the Butler-Mitchell Boys & Girls Club for 30 years and now a city recreation instructor.

Bonifacio is regarded as a strong contender by virtue of his endorsements, which include the Democratic and Conservative parties, the Stonewall Democrats, as well as significant labor support and the backing of La Ultima Hora, a Hispanic newspaper.

His credentials also include his Democratic committee seat and memberships in the West Side Businessmens and Taxpayers and West Side Community Service associations.

Known on the West Side for his Butler-Mitchell club connection, Bonifacio says he now helps raise thousands of dollars annually for other West Side youth groups.

"I think one of my strongest skills is leadership. I trained and hired the Butler-Mitchell staff. . . . I taught, counseled and mentored children, and I obtained over $500,000 in grants from . . . government and private foundations," he says.

Bonifacio says he decided to make the run last September, after a number of West Siders urged him to become a candidate.

If elected, he vows to push for more police presence on the streets, better security in the business districts and more jobs, as well as improved schools.

* Susan A. McCartney, 46, is a longtime preservation advocate and founder in 1981 of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, which she has also served as president and now chairman of the board.

She has an extensive background in small business development and neighborhood and civic organizations, as well as honors that include a 1987 award as a Citizen of the Year by The Buffalo News.

"I'm an enthusiastic, optimistic person . . . always looking to build up, not tear down. I got involved in this race because there's too much negative attitude in the city. I want to rebuild, not tear down," she says.

Among other issues, she stresses job development and improving the quality of neighborhood life.

In addition to leadership skills, she would bring to the office her experience as director of the Buffalo State College Small Business Development Center, she says.

"I have a very extensive financial background and I feel that I can contribute to budgeting our city budget," she said.

Ms. McCartney is running because she believes she can help rebuild Buffalo.

". . . It would be more effective to have an impact in the neighborhood where I live and then use that as a model for the rest of the city. . . . My family and my kids live here. . . . We want to rebuild it together," she said.

* Draffin, 25, a staff worker for the American Red Cross, says he is running to bring compassion, sacrifice and caring to city government.

"I'm a people person," he says. "I believe that with my own, diverse ethnic background . . .I am someone who can reach out to everyone. . . ."

Draffin says he gained experience while interning with a handful of city government departments, and he decided to make the race because he was "outraged" by a 24 percent pay raise for Council members last year. He has vowed not to accept the money if he is elected.

He pledges to vote against the city's unpopular garbage fee and in favor of pay raises for police and more foot patrols, and for a citizen review board to oversee police activities.

Draffin also would install a special phone in his home so district residents could talk with him on a 24-hour basis, and he pledges to bring a new level of service to the office.

"If I'm elected, don't be surprised to see me leave the office and put on a pair of jeans and help people. That's the kind of sacrifice that we need," he says.

* Lourdes T. Iglesias, 40, owns and operates an Allstate Insurance office on Hampshire Street, which gives her an advantage in knowing how to attract businesses and jobs to a district that badly needs them, she says.

She is entering politics after serving appointments on Buffalo's Charter Revision Commission and other civic and government boards, including the Federal Enterprise Community Partnership, the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, and the Buffalo Arts Council.

A founder of Latinas United for Progressive Action, she also was program director for five years for Hispanics United of Buffalo, which she says gave her "a broad scope of experience with human service programs."

"I am an investor in this community," she says. "I'm a homeowner for the past 13 years and a lifelong resident."

"I am not scared of making decisions for the benefit of a company or an organization. . . . It's good to take risks -- that's the only way you grow."

In addition to attacking crime and dilapidated housing, she says she would like most to redevelop the district's business corridors to bring in more quality of life.

"I would love to have a Manhattan Bagel (store) in the district, so I could sit out on Sunday and have a bagel. . . . Those are the small things you enjoy," she said.

* Donna Mohan-Grace, 50, claims to have gained vital experience in city government while serving for 2 1/2 years as a legislative staff member for the Council.

"I was a watchdog downtown and I put the brakes on two major housing scams that would have cost the taxpayers a million dollars," she says.

Also known for her work against prostitution, which has been a stubborn problem in the district, Mrs. Mohan-Grace is a member of the Prostitution Task Force and she founded and directs the Buffalo School for Johns, an innovative program to combat vice.

"I have a proven track record working with constituents, block clubs and community leaders to improve the quality of life on every block in the Niagara District," she says.

If elected, she said she will insist on "street-level enforcement for all of the quality of life problems, drugs, prostitution, noise," as well as provide incentives for home owners to rehabilitate.

* Torres Pratts, 41, who is on leave as a police detective in the A District, is a 15-year veteran of the department, serving as a patrol officer and community police officer, for which he received the 1997 Edward H. Butler Memorial Service Award.

His background also includes service as president of the West Side Kiwanis and State co-chairman of the Special Olympics, as wall as memberships in several civic and business groups.

He said he is running because of "the deterioration of the quality of life" in the district.

"It's gotten to a point where many of my supporters asked if I'd make a run," he says. "My supporters believe that I would be an effective Council member for the district, most importantly to deal with the crime issue," he said.

His campaign also has focused on such issues as providing more government service to constituents, improving education and activities for youths, who he said need "alternatives . . . and jobs," as well as combating graffiti, rodents and housing blight.

If elected, he said he will hold regular forums with block clubs, the business community, residents and community leaders to foster an exchange of ideas and solutions to the district's problems.

He also would push to re-establish a police station in the district, which lost its former station house in a recent police reorganization.

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