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Recommendation due by Friday on filling vacant Legislature seat

The two hopefuls for a vacant seat in the Niagara County Legislature will learn their fate by Friday, Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said after interviewing them Tuesday.

Ross and two other lawmakers, Jason J. Cafarella and Paul B. Wojtaszek, held half-hour interviews with Dennis J. Barberio and Barbara L. Zellner in the Center for Economic Development here. One of them will represent North Tonawanda's 9th District for the last three months of this year.

Barberio, a former alderman who is running for alderman-at-large in the November election, said he was interested in the Legislature seat for "educational reasons."

"I'm here because I want to gain knowledge for the future," said Barberio, who was a Republican when he served on the North Tonawanda Common Council in 1998-99 but switched to the Democrats about five years ago.

Zellner, a political newcomer, explained her decision to apply for the appointment by saying, "I'm a mom. I'm most interested in making sure our kids are well taken care of."

She added, "I'm nosy, and I like to know how our money is spent."

Asked by Cafarella for his views on reducing the size of the Legislature, Barberio said, "My first gut instinct is, don't reduce it."

The Legislature has placed a proposition to cut its size from 19 to 15 on the Nov. 3 ballot. Barberio said he'd vote no.

He said the reduction might cost North Tonawanda one of its three Legislature seats or merge a Lumber City district with part of Wheatfield. "That opens up a can of worms with the Wheatfield people," he said.

Zellner, a mother of three who is a waitress, said she would vote for reducing the Legislature. "I like it as a taxpayer. It's a tough one on me because I don't know the ins and outs of this legislation."

Asked for suggestions on how to improve Legislature efficiency, Zellner said: "I haven't read anything bad about Niagara County in a long time."

Barberio told Wojtaszek that if he were appointed, his Legislature service would take precedence over his campaign for alderman-at-large, even if a debate were scheduled the same night as a Legislature meeting.

He also said he thought the county should have more checks and balances over spending of local grants such as casino money and the Niagara River Greenway money the county allocated for improvements in North Tonawanda's Gratwick-Riverside Park.

Zellner said she was glad to see the park improvements. "There isn't a lot in North Tonawanda. There's nothing in North Tonawanda," she said.

Afterward, Ross said he and the others would talk by phone about what they heard before making a recommendation. The full Legislature is expected to vote Tuesday to fill North Tonawanda's 9th District seat for the rest of the year.

It became vacant when Andrea L. McNulty resigned Sept. 1 because she had moved to Pendleton. She was a Democrat, although she voted with the Republicans, and by county law, her replacement must be a Democrat, too.

The Democratic nominee for the 9th District seat in the Nov. 3 election, Christopher Perna, did not apply for the appointment. The Republican nominee, Phillip R. Rizzo, is a member of the Independence Party.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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