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QUINTANA HEADING BACK TO THE BEAT

Buffalo Common Council Member Robert Quintana on Wednesday becomes Buffalo Police Officer Robert Quintana -- again.

Instead of wearing his pressed business suits and walking the corridors of power in Buffalo City Hall, he will put on the blue uniform of a police officer and return to walking the beat as a community policing officer.

During his four years on the Council, he was granted leaves of absence from the Police Department, enabling him to make the return to the force, where he had worked eight years.

The Niagara District Council member's upcoming job change could be viewed as a stunning fall from grace brought about by his failed attempt to win the more prestigious post of Council member at large in the fall primary and election.

Quintana, 38, sees it differently: It will be a time to regroup and prepare for a possible relaunching of his once-rising political star, which allowed him to make local history as the first Hispanic to win a Council seat.

A Democrat, Quintana is already considering a run for the State Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Anthony R. Nanula, the city's comptroller-elect.

Or Quintana might seek the Assembly seat currently held by Sam Hoyt, also a Democrat.

"There have been some folks and advisers who are asking me to challenge for the Senate seat, and there are others advising me to consider running for the Assembly seat," Quintana said Saturday. "I'm not ruling out any options, even if it includes running against Assemblyman Sam Hoyt.

"I lost the primary by less than one percent in a field of nine candidates, and I believe that is a very good base to build from," said Quintana, who is certain he would have won re-election to the Niagara District seat had he run for it.

Both the Senate and Assembly districts, he noted, include the entire Niagara District.

"That's why I say a loss is not a loss," he said in considering the prospect that he could win a seat in the State Legislature in 2000.

But for now, there are realities he must address in returning to the police force.

From his lofty post at City Hall, he was never shy about calling the Police Department on the carpet when citizens raised concerns about alleged police brutality and other department issues.

He served as chairman of the Council's Police Oversight Committee, and his vocal siding with citizens won him no popularity contests among some officers who privately ridiculed him.

"As a human being you have to stand up and fight for what you believe is right, and I believe the good officers in the department understand what my positions are," Quintana said.

"Unfortunately, bad officers will never accept those types of inquiries and positions I took," he said of the enemies he made.

He says he has mixed feelings about his return to the department but explained that, with a total of 12 years of public service, leaving the city's payroll would have been difficult.

There is also the prospect of a police pension to consider. In 12 more years, Quintana will be eligible to retire at half pay from the force.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina described Quintana as a solid police officer.

"We judge our officers equally on how they perform in our department, and he did a good job in community police services," Diina said. "We have no reason to believe he won't do so again."

And though Quintana views his return to law enforcement as an "interim" period in his work life, he says he is a professional and will apply himself "100 percent."

Tuesday's Common Council meeting will be his last meeting as an elected public official -- at least for now.

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