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Lenhart quits Democratic county helm Rivera may replace embattled chairwoman

Niagara County Democratic Chairwoman Cindy G. Lenhart said Friday she is resigning because of ill health, and Daniel Rivera, North Tonawanda city chairman, is expected to take over.

Rivera said he has been asked to take the post and may be designated chairman at a meeting of the Democratic Executive Board Wednesday.

At this point Lenhart, of Pendleton, said her decision was not affected by possible criminal charges against her connected to allegations of nominating petition fraud in last year's election campaign.

"That's one more stressor on top of everything else, but no," she said.

District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III said the cases against Lenhart and other Democrats are still open, and some sort of action might occur later this month.

Lenhart signed a witness statement for a petition seeking an Independence Party write-in primary for 7th District county legislator.

However, she did not gather the maximum 25 signatures on the form, so the candidate she was supporting, William Boulden, gathered more signatures after Lenhart had signed the witness statement. The petition was disallowed.

Lenhart said the uncertain future of Lockport's Delphi plant and negotiations to save it were also a factor in her decision to step down. She works at the plant and is a quality network representative for United Auto Workers Local 686.

Lenhart, who succeeded Frank A. Soda as Democratic leader last year, was in charge as the Democrats sank to an all-time low of five seats in the 19-member County Legislature in last year's election.

Rivera, North Tonawanda chairman for five years, played a role in the election of Lawrence V. Soos as mayor, the Democrats' only major success last year.

"I think we're going to take a more aggressive approach to the problems in government," Rivera said. "If nothing else, I am tenacious."

Rivera said he expects to be a candidate for a full two-year term as chairman. That term will be filled after the September primary at a meeting of the full Democratic County Committee.

Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso of Niagara Falls said of Rivera's appointment, "I don't have a problem with that."

But he was noncommittal on the chairmanship race for September. "I'd have to see who the candidates are first. With the seat being vacant, some more people may come out of the woodwork," Virtuoso said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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