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Public service is Mayne's event

William G. Mayne Jr. has been an active figure in Niagara County affairs for many years.

Now 71, Mayne has been chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, the former Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the former Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. He was part of the county's effort to win control of Niagara Falls International Airport.

He still serves on the board of directors of Mount St. Mary's Hospital and devotes a lot of time to that. But he was honored last weekend by his fellow members of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission for his work that led to the creation of the Niagara County Business and Community Enhancement Grant Program.

From now on, those will be known as William Mayne grants.

Mayne, a retired vice president of the Warren-Hoffman insurance agency, has been on the Bridge Commission since 1996. The eight-member board, comprising four Americans and four Canadians, oversees operations at the Lewiston-Queenston, Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges.

This year's round of grant awards to local business and community groups for physical improvements to their communities will be announced at the May 15 County Legislature meeting.

This is the 10th year of the program, which last year distributed a record 20 grants totaling $37,250. In all, 121 grants worth more than $272,000 have been handed out since 1998. Each grant must be matched in full by the recipient.

Mayne, a Republican who was appointed to the commission in 1996 by Gov. George E. Pataki, said he serves at the governor's pleasure and said he thinks it's "very unlikely" Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer will let him serve much longer.

"How long it takes him to get around to us, who knows? You sort of live from day to day," Mayne said recently during an interview in Bridge Commission headquarters:

>Why were you interested in serving on the Bridge Commission?

I was asked to by Sen. [John B.] Daly. I didn't know that much about the Bridge Commission. I thought it was like I was being sent to Siberia. It was sort of a quiet organization. Not too many people knew of it.

.What's changed?

I think we've become more community-involved and active. We've tried to go in the direction of being a visible, responsible organization. Not that the previous [board] wasn't. I'm not criticizing them. But because of the conditions of the community, we needed to become [active]. The Canadians sided with us; they realized we needed more involvement. They're doing very well on their own.

>What can the Bridge Commission do to try to redress that balance?

We are probably in a position better than most to entertain involvement in projects that are useful and helpful to the community.

>How did the idea for the business improvement grants originate?

Because we are a tax-exempt organization, we're always concerned about our image with our neighbors. Witness the ease with which we put up this building, involving the neighbors even to the point of them agreeing to the architecture. When we put up the sound attenuation walls on the American side of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, we let them pick out the material, which they unanimously chose, and we let them pick out the trees and the foliage that they wanted to in order to make them happy, at least as happy as you can be living on a bridgehead.

>How did you react when you found out the grant program was going to be named after you?

It came as a complete surprise to me. I was sort of overwhelmed. They just asked me to come in to a special meeting and foisted it on me. I don't know where it originated from, to be honest with you. Somebody obviously spearheaded it. I have an idea, but I'll just keep that to myself. I was extremely pleased. I've taken more of an interest in that program than any other, because it's a shining example of how the money is used in such a fashion that reflects so well and is so helpful to the cities, the communities. It's matched funds. It's very strictly monitored. It's handled by the IDA, by Sam Ferraro [IDA executive director] and most notably by Mike Casale [deputy commissioner for business development]. They're the ones that make the program.

>Is there any particular project the grants have funded that you're proudest of?

Every one of the organizations is so grateful, it's really overwhelming. You don't think $2,000, $5,000, whatever the case may be that's awarded, is so appreciated by the small towns. Not so much in the cities, because it's sort of a drop in the bucket. It does a little that they ordinarily don't have the money to do, and that makes the community a better place. And it gives the elected officials an opportunity to be able to bask in the glow. You couldn't come up with a better way to spend the money.

>The money, I've been told, comes from a payment in lieu of taxes the Bridge Commission makes to the county for this building, and I'm told that payment is strictly optional; there's no law that requires you to do it.

We have no obligation. A lot of organizations, I guess, choose to take advantage of that. It certainly would not make me happy to serve on this commission without that community involvement.

>As a former chairman of the IDA, I should ask you what you think of the current controversy that's swirling around them about the AES power plant.

I have absolutely no comment whatsoever about that. I knew you might bring that up, but I would have no comment about it at all.

>Did you ever think of running for office yourself?

Sure, but I enjoyed the background, helping people, whether they're Republicans or Democrats. I had a neighbor, John Broughton, who was a [State] Supreme Court judge, and [County Judge] Peter Broderick. It goes back to the days of [Niagara Falls] Mayor [E. Dent] Lackey, and Mike O'Laughlin. I served as an adviser to him. I enjoyed the background part. I tend to have a bit of a short fuse, and to take what a lot of them have to take day after day, my wife would not be too happy with something like that.

>What do you do in your spare time?

I like to golf. I like to fish, I've been [doing that] less and less. I'm on the board of Mount St. Mary's Hospital and I spend a lot of time on a lot of committees. I'm involved in the merger talks [with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, mandated by a state commission].

Is there one thing you've done that you're proudest of?

You know, everything I've been allowed to serve on has been the greatest experience. I try to get this across to my grandson, who is the only real living person that I've tried to influence, the pleasure of serving. The rewards and awards that I've received, it's hard to put into words. It's not work for me at all. It's time-consuming, and I probably could have made more money sticking to what I made a living at, but I did well enough on my own that I felt I had the responsibility. And I look around, and I don't see people [doing that], so I think it's important to grow young leadership.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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