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Meal's ouster at OTB stirs discontent

Some Niagara County legislators are grumbling over the ouster of former Legislator Gerald E. Meal as the county's representative on the Western Regional Off-Track Betting board of directors.

Meal's replacement by Scott P. Kiedrowski, the Republican elections commissioner, drew six "no" votes at the Feb. 3 meeting of the Legislature.

The move was ordered last month by Henry F. Wojtaszek, the county Republican chairman.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said, "I had a list of names. Scott's name was on it."

Asked where the list originated, Ross said, "It came from the county chairman at that time." He confirmed that he meant Wojtaszek.

Meal, a legislator for 20 years, was named to the OTB post by the GOP-controlled Legislature in August 2006.

"I think the chairman of the Republican Party was upset," Meal said in an interview. "He called me and said they wanted to go with someone else."

Speculation on the Legislature floor was that Meal allegedly had failed to deliver on some OTB patronage jobs for county residents.

"Henry is very aggressive in making sure Niagara County gets everything it's entitled to," Ross said. "Certainly, I'm sure there are some job positions in OTB. Those come open, and you want to make sure Niagara County is considered."

"It's hard to get jobs. . . . The only jobs are in the branches or at the track in Batavia," Meal said, referring to Batavia Downs. "I thought I was doing well. I got the branch open in North Tonawanda that was closed."

Meal said he also was working to reopen the OTB teletheater in Niagara Falls.

"I think we needed to go in a different direction," Wojtaszek said. "I'm proud the Republican Party reaches out for new people every so often. . . . All that stuff [about jobs] makes for a good political story, but the vote was taken, and Scott's the new commissioner. I think that speaks for itself."

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, noted that Kiedrow-ski's appointment drew votes from both caucuses. It also drew opposition from both caucuses.

Updegrove said the change was not a reflection on Meal. "I have a lot of respect for Gerry Meal, as does everyone else in the Legislature. There isn't anything wrong with affording us a different perspective," Updegrove said.

Most of the votes backing Meal came from senior lawmakers who worked with him for years: Republicans Clyde L. Burmaster of Ransomville and Gerald K. Farnham of Lockport and Democrats Dennis F. Virtuoso and Sean J. O'Connor, both of Niagara falls, and Kyle R. Andrews of Wilson. Michael A. Hill, a Republican who holds Meal's old seat representing Royalton and Hartland, also voted against Kiedrowski's appointment.

"I think Gerry Meal did a great job at OTB," Burmaster said.

Kiedrowski, who will continue at the Board of Elections, said Ross told him that a new OTB commissioner was needed. "I don't have any inkling as to why they thought there was a need to replace [Meal]," Kiedrowski said.

Ross said, "Scott's an organizer. He'll follow up and make sure Niagara County gets what it's entitled to."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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