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Shaking up Legislature leadership GOP majority making changes

LOCKPORT -- The choice of Clyde L. Burmaster as the new Niagara County Legislature chairman is part of a general shake-up of the Legislature's Republican-led majority caucus, which will include a new majority leader and some new committee chairmen.

Malcolm A. Needler, majority leader for the past three years, said Saturday he will step down in favor of Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport.

Needler, an employee of the New York Power Authority, said the number of power-related issues coming before the Legislature left him in a touchy position, so he asked Updegrove in September or October to consider taking the reins in 2007.

"This has been in the works for several months now. There were several items that came before the Legislature that I couldn't comment on," said Needler, R-North Tonawanda.

He said the Power Authority never objected to his role as majority leader, but Needler felt he had to abstain on votes and avoid public comment on issues such as the county's talks with the Power Authority over Niagara Power Project relicensing and AES Corp.'s bid to win a Power Authority contract for a new power plant. "Everyone agreed it was inappropriate for me to talk about those issues," Needler said.

Updegrove, an attorney in the Buffalo firm of Spadafora & Verrastro, is entering his fourth year in the Legislature. Needler has completed 19 years in the Legislature.

"I really believe that any successful organization needs to keep building forward," Needler said. Updegrove could not be reached to comment Saturday.

County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek disclosed Friday night that he had engineered the choice of Burmaster, who has been in the Legislature for 13 years, to replace William L. Ross as chairman. Ross, 73, had served three years in the post with Burmaster as his vice chairman.

Ross had been soliciting support from his colleagues for re-election as chairman. Ross said he didn't want to pursue a candidacy in the face of opposition from Republican leadership.

"I like the idea of everybody being together instead of possibly splitting the majority caucus," said Ross, a Wheatfield Conservative who agreed to serve as vice chairman. "The group has been very loyal to me, but they also have to get endorsed, they have to get supported."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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