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Primaries on the ballot in North Tonawanda, Lockport, Niagara Falls

The Republican mayoral primary in North Tonawanda highlights a busy day Tuesday in the county's three cities. Here's the breakdown:

> North Tonawanda

The mayor's seat is a hot seat this year, with three candidates fighting it out for the Republican endorsement. The winner will have the coveted line in the Nov. 8 general election contest that will include Democratic Alderman-at-Large Lawrence V. Soos, who also is on the Working Families Party line.

Incumbent David J. Burgio squares off against Mike P. Carney and Arthur Pappas.

The mayor's seat is a four-year term. Burgio said he has used his first term to help jump-start economic development in the city. He said bringing new businesses and young families into the area is the key to improving the tax base.

"The city has been losing companies for 30 years. Now we have them coming back," he said. Burgio said he also has saved the city more than $1 million by reducing city employment 4 percent. The city went from 328 employees to 286.

"I don't see another candidate out there with the experience to get this thing done," he said.

Carney, the clerk of the County Legislature, said he can get things done through working with other governing bodies to cut costs for the city. He said the city should sit down with the county and city school district to identify areas where services could be consolidated or shared.

"There are repetitive functions that are done by the city, the county and the school district," Carney said. "Everyone talks about regionalism. I talk about efficiencies and how we can get two or three bodies to come together and find ways to create efficiencies."

Pappas said fiscal responsibility through keeping a watch over the city's spending is the best way to keep the city moving forward.

"I'd like to re-evaluate priorities in the city to encourage fiscal accountability and lead North Tonawanda in a positive direction," said Pappas, who served as a president of the North Tonawanda School Board. He passed up the opportunity to run for another term on that board to run for mayor.

> Lockport

Voters have a choice of three candidates with strong resumes for city judge. Republican William J. Watson is the incumbent; Deputy Corporation Counsel Thomas M. DiMillo, another Republican, and 1st Ward Alderman David E. Blackley, a Democrat, are the challengers. All three are appearing in primaries on all five available party lines. The term Watson is completing was for a six-year, part-time judgeship that paid $50,000 a year. But, thanks to state legislation a few years ago upgrading many small city courts across the state, this year's winner will have a 10-year, full-time judgeship and a salary of $108,000 a year.

"There's no real changes here other than the pay scale," said Watson, noting that David R. Wendt will continue as a part-time appointed judge. Watson customarily assigns Wendt small claims cases and traffic tickets.

Watson, a former assistant district attorney, said he has added a drug court that has become a "hub court" for drug infractions in surrounding towns. He also founded the Community Pride work program for petty offenders and a young adult court that concentrates on trying to put teenagers back on the straight and narrow. Watson also continues as coach of the Lockport High School hockey club, a post he has held for 13 years.

DiMillo, a county public defender, said the current law calls for Wendt's judgeship to be abolished in a few years. "I believe it's important to have a judge who has well-rounded experience," he said. He said his practice as a member of the firm of Muscato, DiMillo and Vona has involved him in small claims, landlord-tenant and other civil cases, as well as criminal defense.

Blackley, a public defender, is leaving the Common Council after two terms. He served as deputy corporation counsel a decade ago. He said, "I clearly have the experience. I've been practicing over 10 years. I've been the city prosecutor. I've been a defense attorney. I've had civil cases." He has worked on zoning cases and in housing court.

There are also three major-party primaries for alderman posts.

In the 1st Ward, two Republicans are competing for the seat being vacated by Blackley. Thomas F. Grzebinski II, a vice president for General Motors Assistance Corp., faces William A. Richardson, a butcher at Washburn Street Meat Market.

Grzebinski, 29, said, "I think the city needs some young blood, some energy." Grzebinski, vice chairman of the city GOP committee, said he wants to target absentee landlords and improve funding for youth programs.

Richardson, who lost to Blackley two years ago, this time has secured the Democratic endorsement. Asked if he will change affiliations, he said, "We'll see what happens." "Bill the Butcher," who has been cutting meat for 22 years, said, "I'm the best man for the job if they want to get things done in the 1st Ward. The North End and Lowertown haven't had representation in many, many elections."

In a Republican race in the 2nd Ward, incumbent Phyllis J. Green is running for her eighth term against Michael P. MacDonald, a teacher. MacDonald has the Democratic line for November, having just changed his affiliation from Republican to Democratic.

Green said, "I think it's very important we have a woman on the Council, because a woman has a different way of looking at problems."

Green, who serves on the Police Board, said the city has been proactive in hiring rookie officers in advance of retirements. She said she has fought successfully for demolition of two abandoned homes on Genesee Street. She acknowledged that the firefighters union seems to have targeted her for defeat, but she insisted the city can get by with fewer firefighters. "We can't afford 51 paid firefighters. We have to do it through attrition, not layoffs."

MacDonald, who lost a math teaching job at Lockport High School when Delphi Thermal discontinued its cooperative education program for prospective engineers, expects to be back in the classroom next month because of a maternity leave at the school.

"Probably the main reason I'm running is, I want to have as much influence as I can over the rebuilding of downtown," MacDonald said. He said he hopes to reduce neighborhood blight and crime in the ward.

In the 3rd Ward, a Democratic contest matches two first-time candidates, Flora M. McKenzie and Michael J. Hackmer.

McKenzie, 50, is a United Auto Workers training representative at Delphi. She said, "Like most cities, we ignore things and hope they go away. . . . I was raised in what I thought was a safe place. I see more fear." She would be the first African-American elected to municipal office in Lockport.

Hackmer, a collection agent at Cornerstone Community Federal Credit Union, said, "My overall goal is to clean up neighborhoods, help support the city." He also called for policies that would bring in new business.

Tuesday's winner faces Republican Jeremy Hughes in November.

> Niagara Falls

Six people are chasing the Democratic line in three City Council races in Niagara Falls, including incumbents Glenn C. Choolokian and Council Chairman Charles A. Walker.

Choolokian, 38, a Niagara Falls Water Board employee, was elected in 2004 to fill the last year of a term vacated when Council Member Vince Anello became mayor.

Choolokian said he is running for re-election because he is part of a group of councilmen working for families and residents for the first time in many years, and he wants to continue that work.

Walker, 45, who has served two terms, is a machine operator at a steel mill in Buffalo. He said he is running for re-election because he believes the city is at a crossroads and he will make decisions based on issues, not personalities. He said the city's top priorities should be tourism and attracting new business.

Sam Archie, 48, a settlement director at MJ Recovery on Grand Island, was Choolokian's campaign manager last year. He lost a Council race in 1994.

He said he is running again because the Council has made decisions in the past that were only good for the present time. He said he would investigate each decision, if elected, and evaluate how each would affect the future instead of making short-term fixes.

Sam Fruscione, 39, is a fifth-grade teacher at Harry F. Abate Elementary School. He also publishes the Little Italy Niagara, a brochure to promote the Pine Avenue business area, and NiagaraTimes.com. He switched from the Independence Party to the Democratic Party a year ago.

He wants to improve the quality of city life and revitalize neighborhoods by luring tourists from the state park to spend money at local businesses, thereby generating new sales tax revenue.

Chris Robins, 34, is a sixth-grade teacher at Gaskill Middle School and an adjunct education professor at Niagara University. While the Democrat has been endorsed by the Independence Party, he said he will only run in the Democratic primary.

If elected, he said his top goal would be to maintain services but not increase taxes by working together with other Council members and the mayoral administration toward better efficiency.

Joseph T. Schiro Jr., 48, is a central dispatcher for Lafarge North America in Amherst and is on the Niagara Falls Zoning Board of Appeals. He is the former campaign manager for Councilman Louis Rotella.

If elected, he said he would focus on improving basic services, such as street paving and tree trimming, by cooperating and communicating better with other elected officials.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com and gnorheim@buffalonews.com

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