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PARTY CONTROL OF LEGISLATURE AT STAKE IN NOV. 6 ELECTION

Like milk reaching its expiration date, party control of the Niagara County Legislature seems to have a set shelf life, and in recent history it's been four years.

In the Nov. 6 election, Republicans will be trying to stay on beyond that. Their control of the Legislature, currently held by the slimmest possible margin, is in its fourth year. Before that, the Democrats were in charge for four years, from 1994 through 1997. Before that, The last Republican reign lasted four years, from 1990 through 1993.

Every two years, the voters go to the polls to select 19 part-time legislators. There are currently nine Republicans, nine Democrats and one Conservative who caucuses with the Republicans, giving the GOP control. The Republican margin was reduced by one earlier this year when Samuel P. Granieri of Niagara Falls went over to the Democrats.

Here's the district-by-district run-down:

1ST DISTRICT (NIAGARA FALLS)

The Democratic incumbent Daniel L. Mocniak, a biology teacher at Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School for 29 years, is running for his third term. He turned back a Democratic primary challenge from the Republican nominee, Dominic J. Luna, a registered Democrat.

Mocniak said, "I think I have maturity, the experience and the ability to make some hard decisions and make them in the best interest of the people of the 1st District.

Mocniak said everyone is in favor of jobs and economic development, but getting it done requires hard work and behind-the-scenes negotiating. "I've always been able to do that, and I still feel I can continue to do that," he said.

Luna, a marketing and sales representative for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, said the county has been mismanaged.

"I came forward because we need a stronger voice, he said. "I'm not going to make the popular decisions. I'm going to make the tough decisions. I'm tired of the fence-sitting."

2ND DISTRICT (NIAGARA FALLS)

Incumbent Democrat Renae Kimble is unopposed for re-election.

3RD DISTRICT (NIAGARA FALLS)

Granieri, who was elected twice as a Republican, switched parties earlier this year out of frustration with the Republicans' resistance to a county executive and what he viewed as their unresponsiveness to city concerns.

Granieri was the sponsor of the resolution to form a County Charter Commission and served as chairman of that panel, whose handiwork is on the Nov. 6 ballot for as a referendum Nov. 6.

He said his main achievement in office has been "leading the fight to reform Niagara County government . . . to fix the way we've been doing things incorrectly in the past and lay the foundation for economic growth and development."

Granieri is the owner of the former Out to Lunch Deli in Niagara Falls, where he now runs a small catering business.

His constituents didn't seem too concerned with his party switch; Granieri won both the Republican and Democratic primaries Sept. 25. The defeated candidate in both primaries, Richard L. Horn, is still in the race on five minor-party lines.

Horn said, "Of course it's going to be more difficult, but I think there's a base of support that will vote for me. I'm still the endorsed Republican candidate."

Horn, in his 23rd year as a city firefighter, is a registered Democrat. He said Niagara Falls has received no benefits from the county's tobacco revenue and has run up a projected deficit of more than $12 million for 2002 by exhausting its surplus funds. "I would say, based on my reputation for extremely hard work and being committed, combined with the negative performance of the current legislator, it's time to give someone else a chance," he said.

4th District (Niagara Falls)

Incumbent Democrat Dennis F. Virtuoso is unopposed for re-election.

5th District (Niagara Falls)

Democrat Sean J. O'Connor, a former Legislature chairman, is seeking his ninth term. The executive vice president of Niagara Majestic Tours said economic development must be the top priority for the county.

"I consider myself a seasoned member of the Legislature, and I've established a well-respected and positive rapport among local, state and federal legislators that has become invaluable in my efforts to assist and respond to the many requests and problems that arise in our LaSalle community," he said.

The Republican candidate, Brian F. Kane, said the county needs programs to promote itself as a business destination.

"Our current leadership is not doing the job. The county finances reflect it," said Kane, an attorney whose practice specializes in immigration law. "We have career politicians being elected year after year, and all we have is a demolished economy."

6th District (Town of Niagara)

Both candidates are Democrats in the race to succeed retiring Republican Robert R. Villani. David J. Faccini, who lost to Villani in 1999, won the Democratic primary over Town Councilman Danny W. Sklarski, who appears on the Republican line.

Faccini, a former president of United Auto Workers Local 686 at Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems, is an equipment serviceman at the Lockport plant. "I've spent my adult life trying to bring in jobs that pay a living wage," he said. "We've had 10 years of economic prosperity and Niagara County has zero. We've lost jobs."

Faccini said, "I'm a system thinker. Someone has to take charge of the big picture and not just the little bits and pieces around the county."

Sklarski said, "I've had 10 years of governmental experience. I'm knowledgeable in budgets and union contracts. . . . With the finances there (in county government), we need experience."

Sklarski, an auditor in the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, retired in 2000 after 22 years as a corporate buyer for DuPont. "I know town government and the wants and needs of the residents of the Town of Niagara," he said.

7th District (Pendleton/Town of Lockport)

It's a rematch of the 1997 election in which Republican Gerald K. Farnham defeated Democrat Wayne A. Lenhart.

Farnham, seeking his third term, has been Pendleton's deputy highway superintendent since 1966. He is chairman of the Legislature's Public Works Committee and spearheaded the plan to move county departments to downtown Lockport.

"With my background in public service, I've continually tried to give something back and continue the good work we've done with our infrastructure. I'm an infrastructure guy," Farnham said. He said he will continue to push for consolidation and shared services.

Lenhart, who was turned out after serving two terms, said revenge is not his motive in running against Farnham. He said Farnham just hasn't done enough. "I'd ask (constituents) if they know what he's done as a legislator," Lenhart said.

Although both men oppose the county charter, Lenhart criticized Farnham's vote against holding a referendum on the document. "I think it's time to put this thing to bed," Lenhart said.

Lenhart, a Delphi serviceman for 25 years, said he's emphasizing jobs and development. "As Niagara Falls goes, Niagara County goes," Lenhart said. "If we let things slip any further into the toilet, we're going to be in trouble. We're all in this together."

8th District (Wheatfield)

William L. Ross, a registered Conservative also running as the Republican candidate, is seeking his second consecutive term and fifth overall. He served from 1988 through 1993, including a year as Legislature chairman. He is assistant principal and athletic director at Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School, where he's in his 46th year.

Ross said his community involvement has been constant. "I've always stepped forward to take a leadership position, even though I didn't want some of them, whether it's a civic, a community or a government position," he said.

Ross said he's working for cost savings in the 2002 budget, including the second phase of the county's building utilization program, which he said "might close some inefficient buildings and lead to cost savings."

He is a supporter of the proposed county charter and said he will push for redistricting of the Legislature right after the election.

The Democratic candidate, Gerald McCormick, said he thinks the citizens of the county "are definitely fed up with politics as usual."

He said the Legislature needs to be held accountable for inadequate research that led to "squandering away" the county's tobacco revenue. "Nobody knew how to spend it. Committee government just doesn't work. (Chairman Clyde L.) Burmaster could have taken the bull by the horns and done more than he was supposed to."

McCormick, president of United Auto Workers Local 774 at the General Motors Powertrain Plant in the Town of Tonawanda, also condemned the proposal to hand over control of Niagara Falls International Airport to the Spanish firm Cintra. "In this day and age, why should that be given to a foreign entity?" he asked.

9th District (North Tonawanda)

Incumbent Democrat John S. Tylec is stepping down, and Michael P. Carney and William M. Davignon are the candidates to replace him.

Carney, a Republican who has been 2nd Ward city alderman for the past two years, is a sales representative for BC Transportation of Buffalo.

"I think Niagara County government is very stagnant right now. It needs new blood, new ideas, people who are full of energy," Carney said. "I think the general overall attitude of county government has to change." He vowed to hold district meetings. "If they don't get satisfaction at the city level, they can come to me," he promised.

Carney said his record in City Hall includes helping to obtain state money to demolish the old rolling mill at former Roblin Steel plant and seeking further funding to clean up the site. He said he also formed an Oliver Street Community Pride group to clean up that blighted neighborhood.

Davignon, a Democrat and a laboratory technician at the city wastewater treatment plant for 14 years, has served a year on the North Tonawanda Board of Education. He said this year, the board cut the school budget by $2 million and made "tough decisions," such as converting Grant Elementary School into a preschool center.

"I think the County Legislature has gotten complacent. We need people who can do something. I've proven I can do things," Davignon said. "I have a very high energy level. I do my homework and I'm very thorough. I come to the table with answers. I research endlessly."

10th District (North Tonawanda)

The incumbent Democrat, Robert L. Seger, is in his first year as minority leader of the Legislature. A patrolman in North Tonawanda for 24 years, Seger is running for his sixth term.

"I'm honest, I'm hardworking, and I care about this community," said Seger, who may well become Legislature chairman if the Democrats win control.

He said the county's finances are the most important issue. "We need a person to run day-to-day operations of the county, whether it's a county executive, a county administrator or a county manager," Seger said. He said the Republicans have mismanaged the county's money, leading to the current deficit problem.

The GOP nominee, Peter E. Smolinski, the city's retired assistant fire chief, lost narrowly to Seger two years ago. He said of Seger, "I don't think he can work with anybody else. I've got more common sense than he's got."

Smolinski criticized the withdrawal of some county offices from North Tonawanda and said he is "100 percent for the county charter." If it is defeated, he said he will introduce legislation to hire a county manager.

Smolinski also said he favors a smaller Legislature. "I'd be the first one to resign to get down to the limit," he said. "I just want to save the county money."

11th District (North Tonawanda)

Malcolm A. Needler, the Republican incumbent, is a resource manager with Computer Task Group. He's trying for his eighth term.

"I've given (the constituents) good honest leadership for 14 years. I've done my best to keep taxes down. I was the only legislator to offer budget cuts to keep the taxes down last year. As committee chair (first of Social Services, now of Human Resources), I've cut more positions out of the budget in the last three years than all the other committee chairs combined."

His Democratic opponent is John G. Jacobs, who was vice president of sales at the former Roblin Steel Co. and then held a similar post at Laclede Steel before retiring in 1998. He now owns the Crickett Tavern.

Jacobs said, "I'm tired of these (legislators) spending money in a very unbusinesslike way. They give jobs to their friends and cronies and political allies."

He added, "The City of North Tonawanda gets almost nothing for its county taxes. I don't think our current legislator has done a very good job. If more businessmen got into county government -- people with their feet on the ground -- we would have people who know you can't spend more than you take in."

12th District (Lewiston/Niagara Falls)

Republican incumbent Lee Simonson of Lewiston is the longest-serving current legislator. He's running for his 15th term and said, "I'm not done fighting yet. I have a solid track record of effectiveness. Experience means a lot in this job."

Known for his continual criticism of state mandates, the former Legislature chairman this year sponsored a 1 percent sales-tax increase, which was defeated. He put it forward as a means of reducing "regressive" property taxes, even in the face of the deficit, and said he still supports a sales-tax increase.

As chairman of the Health Services Committee, Simonson has been pushing for regional preparedness on bioterrorism issues. He is an executive director with Excel Communications, an account manager for a communications service bureau and an electronic publisher.

The Democratic candidate, Fred Newlin, is making his second consecutive run against Simonson. "It's very evident the county is in desperate need of new leadership," Newlin said. "My opponent has been in there for 30 years and has presided over numerous property-tax increases. Mr. Simonson is very good at identifying a problem, but he doesn't come up with solutions."

Newlin, who works in a family business as a publishing consultant for academic presses, said the county needs to "centralize its command and control structure." That means he supports a county executive. "Weak county government encourages more provincialism in the county. We just aren't pulling in the same direction," he said.

13th District (Lewiston/Porter)

The Republican incumbent, Clyde L. Burmaster of Ransomville, is running for his fifth term. He's completing his second year as chairman of the Legislature "during a very difficult time. This is not a time to be looking to change. It's a time to stick with experienced leadership," he said.

"I have been a full-time representative of Niagara County," said Burmaster, a retired private investigator. "I have built relationships with our neighboring counties like we've never had before. We're highly involved in regional efforts."

Burmaster said the issues of taxes and jobs are always paramount. "Before we reduce costs, we need to increase revenue," he said, stating his support of an 8 percent sales tax. "We need to be bringing in more sales-tax revenue. We need to push for casinos," he said. He added that high hopes for Niagara Falls can be pinned on the Cintra lease and on the state's Niagara USA Development Corp.

The Democratic nominee, Richard A. Hastings of Porter, is a registered Republican who is changing his affiliation to Democrat at the end of the year. Hastings, a businessman who owns two Lewiston restaurants and 11 properties on Main Street in Niagara Falls, is also a licensed civil engineer and a former manager of estimating and cost control for the Arabian-American Oil Co.

"I'm the better choice because I care," Hastings said. "I have integrity and I care about improving Niagara County. I'm a fighter. We need to solve these problems and stop appointing people like (former risk and insurance coordinator) Rodger Smith, who bankrupted us. We can't have cronies."

Niagara University philosophy professor Dennis Bonnette, an enrolled Republican from Youngstown, is running on the Right to Life Party line. He said, "Mr. Burmaster is undoubtedly going to be re-elected, and he deserves to be re-elected. I am giving people a chance to express their views on the pro-life issue by voting for me."

14th District (Cambria/Wilson/Sanborn)

Shirley G. Urtel of Cambria, a real estate broker for Stovroff Realty and a former Wilson Board of Education president, has spent the last four years as majority leader and chairwoman of the Finance Committee. That puts her on the point in the county's budgetary struggles.

Urtel said, "I think my track record speaks for itself. I've had almost 24 years in public service. We've had a good record of keeping taxes under control, controlling costs as much as possible, looking for new revenues."

Urtel, seeking her fourth full term, said she wants to see some shared-services initiatives with the municipalities bear fruit, along with the Workforce 2000 report, which she said could bring out savings in Social Services.

The Democratic nominee is Kyle R. Andrews, 21, a senior political science major at Niagara University and grandson of former Wilson Supervisor Whitney Barnum.

"I think the need for accountability at the county level has risen in the past four years," Andrews said. He said the quickest way to alleviate the county's budget woes is through a plan to attract, expand and retain jobs. He urged meetings with existing businesses "so you're not being reactive to every situation. We've been caught off guard recently."

Andrews said a good legislator needs to stay in touch with his constituents. "He needs to be seen and not get caught in county business," he said.

15th District (City of Lockport)

Republican incumbent Gerald R. DeFlippo, seeking his third term, is a restaurateur and a former alderman. "Being a county legislator for the last four years, I've learned a lot, and there's a lot more to do," he said.

"The big thing was getting the county offices downtown," DeFlippo said, referring to the move of six county departments to the Golden Triangle Plaza by early 2002. "It'll really jump-start downtown Lockport revitalization."

On the county's budget woes, DeFlippo said, "If we had just raised taxes 1 or 2 percent a year, it would have been just like raising the sales tax, and these services would have been intact. We have to tell these unions they just can't have a raise every year."

The Democratic candidate, city building inspector Harry F. Apolito, is making his third try for the seat. He lost in the Democratic primary in 1997 and in the general election in 1999.

"I want to make a change in county government. The person we have in there is very complacent," Apolito said. "I'm a person who likes to do things."

A former Carborundum Co. worker, Apolito promised "vision and bipartisan decisions to improve the quality of life in Niagara County."

16th District (City of Lockport)

Incumbent Democrat John W. Cole III seeks his third term trumpeting his background in public safety. He retired in 1996 as the Niagara County Sheriff's Department's chief criminal investigator after 30 years in the department.

"I think with what's going on in the world today, somebody with my background, I think, is an asset in government," Cole said. "I'm better prepared and better qualified to deal with today's issues."

Although taxes and economic development "have always been on the plate," Cole said, "In the last six weeks our priorities have changed, as they need to."

His GOP opponent Glenn S. Aronow, is a client services representative for Account Service Group, a credit counseling firm in Amherst. He was active in seeking landlord licensing and better building-code enforcement in Lockport.

He said the main issues are retaining jobs and cutting taxes. "I'm willing to work with people on both sides of the aisle," Aronow said. "The partisan politics in Niagara County is not benefiting anyone. The betterment of Niagara County is not a political issue."

Aronow said the county should get some "perks" from hosting the Niagara Power Project when the plant's license is renewed. "Our electricity bills should be minimal," he said.

17th District (Town and City of Lockport)

Democrat Bradley E. Erck is seeking his fourth term. He said he is retiring Thursday after 36 years as a repairman at Delphi. "I'll be a full-time legislator," he said.

Issues on his plate include supporting the county charter; backing a five-year interdepartmental plan for capital projects, and "restructuring the whole county insurance program."

Erck said, "I'm very energetic because I go door-to-door. I'm very responsive; I do a lot of constituent service. I care a lot; that's why I'm a Democrat. I'm knowledgeable. I know quite a bit and a like to root out information if I don't know it."

Republican nominee Karl B. Hoefer is making his second consecutive run against Erck. Hoefer, owner of a meat distribution company, said his business experience is his top qualification for office.

"We need some new people looking over the budget and managing," Hoefer said. "I stand against any tax increase. We have enough income in Niagara County. I just feel it needs to be looked at differently."

Hoefer also said he backs preserving the public-safety agencies. "That's the first job of politics," he declared.

18th District (Newfane/Somerset)

Incumbent James W. Ward, a Newfane Republican, runs for his fourth term with a misdemeanor official misconduct charge hanging over his head. He is due to be tried in December for his alleged role in the overpayment of salaries to the county's election commissioners in 1999.

But Ward, a constituent relations aide to State Sen. George D. Maziarz, said he's received overwhelming support from his constituents. "It's been tremendous, the outreach of phone calls, stop-bys, letters. I've literally had hundreds of people making those contacts, saying, 'You've always been there for us, we're going to be there for you.' "

Ward said, "I've brought dollars to this end of the county that haven't been there before. That's what they've always wanted, attention to their district and dollars for development."

The Democratic nominee, Donna C. Miller, is leaning on Ward's legal troubles. "My opponent is in violation of his oath of office and doesn't deserve another term," she said.

Miller, a crew leader and trainer for the U.S. Census Bureau, said her first idea for eliminating the county's deficit is to "hire an exceptionally good grant writer. . . . There are many, many untouched grants out there."

Miller was critical of the recent $50,000 tourism study that proposed a single promotion agency for the county. "You or I could have done it for $200 plus gas money," she said. Miller said she would prefer that the county be in charge. "The (Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau) doesn't care about out here," she said.

19th District (Royalton/Hartland)

Gerald E. Meal of Royalton, the Republican incumbent, is a former Legislature chairman seeking his ninth term. "I've been very active in trying to look beyond this year, looking into the future for Niagara County so my children and grandchildren can prosper," he said.

Meal, a retired New York State Electric & Gas Corp. real estate supervisor, said he's emphasizing economic-development issues, encouraging businesses to locate here through a regional partnership with Erie County. He also said public safety has become a major issue since Sept. 11, and he supports the filling of the vacant position of assistant director of emergency management to beef up the county's preparedness.

His Democratic opponent is Louis Fazzolari Jr. of Hartland, a retired truck driver for Teamsters Union Local 449. "My main issue is the taxes," Fazzolari said. "(Meal) wants to raise property taxes and he's going for the 8 percent (sales tax)," he charged. "I'm in favor of a county executive. That's another thing he's opposed to."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com