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COMMISSIONERS CONFIDENT OF NEW TERMS

Both of Niagara County's embattled elections commissioners are confident of reappointment, though a vote is expected at only one of the two parties' reorganizational meetings scheduled this week.

The Republicans will likely reappoint Michael J. Norris at their county committee meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the South Lockport Fire Company hall, 5664 S. Transit Road.

However, county Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster said he will ask only for a vote of confidence in Commissioner Judith M. Cirifalco, rather than a formal reappointment, at the Democratic gathering at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Best Western Inn on the River, 7001 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls.

That's because District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III announced last week he plans to announce Friday whether criminal charges will be pursued in the election commissioners' salary controversy.

The County Legislature voted a 10 percent cut in the commissioners' salaries in December 1998, but it never affected their paychecks, resulting in their continued pay at the 1988 rate of $37,624.

The district attorney's office and Sheriff's Department have been conducting a criminal investigation since March, and have released reports concluding that Norris, Cirifalco, and Legislator James W. Ward, R-Newfane, actively impeded execution of the cut.

However, the salary reduction was ruled illegal in May by State Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline M. Koshian, in a suit brought by Cirifalco.

Norris received immunity from prosecution by the district attorney's office. Cirifalco received the more limited "use immunity," meaning only that her own words can't be used against her.

Norris said, "I've been going around to town and city meetings and addressing my record." He said he has encountered no resistance to the notion of reappointment.

County GOP Chairman John J. Long, who is supporting Norris, said: "His performance has been impeccable. I've never had a complaint about Mike Norris."

Forster said he intends to wait and see what Murphy does before calling another Democratic committee meeting to vote on reappointment. "I think that's the safe way to do it," he said.

But on Tuesday, Forster said, "I think we'll ask for a vote of confidence from the committee."

Cirifalco said: "I would expect the chairman to wait. I'm very comfortable. I know the support I have from the committee."

She said she hadn't any inkling about what Murphy might say Friday but said she wasn't worried about it.

Both Long and Forster say they expect to be re-elected as party chairmen without major opposition.

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