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Updegrove, majority leader of Niagara Legislature, won’t seek re-election

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Legislature Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, took the local political world by surprise Tuesday by announcing he won’t be running for re-election to his Legislature seat.

Updegrove filed a nominating petition last week to seek his seventh term, but he said Tuesday that he has decided that his work as an attorney with a Buffalo law firm doesn’t leave him enough time for politics.

In a telephone interview, Updegrove, who has led the Republican caucus since 2007, said he made the decision in the past few days, and attributed it to “the status of my professional responsibilities right now.”

“I became a partner in the last couple of years,” said Updegrove, who works at Spadafora & Verrastro. “That’s why I said ‘the status of my professional responsibilities.’ Obviously you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to draw the line.”

He declined to discuss any conversations he might have had about the matter within his law firm. A friend of Updegrove’s who asked not to be identified said he has been telling people he’s “buried at work.”

Updegrove said, “I know the Town of Lockport Republican Committee has some great people on it, and this just seemed like the right time. This was a decision I made very recently.”

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, who also is not running this year, said, “The Niagara County Legislature is losing one of the best, if not the best, majority leaders I’ve worked under, and one of the most active and most successful ones. It’s a big loss for the Legislature and the Republican Party.”

But Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, doesn’t buy the story that Updegrove made his decision in the past few days. “It’s just the same old game they play,” Virtuoso said. “They did it with (State Sen.) George Maziarz. They put in the petition and then they decline. It’s kind of hard to believe they didn’t know.”

Monday was the legal deadline to decline a nomination, and GOP Election Commissioner Jennifer A. Fronczak said Tuesday morning she received a notice from Updegrove in Tuesday’s mail; she said it is legal to mail them in if they were postmarked by Monday.

Each nominating petition lists a committee on vacancies whose job it is to fill the spot if the candidate drops out. Election law gives that committee until 5 p.m. Friday to choose a replacement candidate.

County GOP Chairman James D. Heuer, who said he found out about Updegrove’s decision Tuesday morning, said the committee in Updegrove’s case includes himself, former county chairmen Henry F. Wojtaszek, Niagara Falls GOP Chairman Vincent Sandonato, City of Lockport GOP chief Adam VanDeMark and Town of Lockport GOP Chairman Donald J. Jablonski.

Updegrove said he had not recommended a replacement candidate to the Republican leaders. Names surfacing in the political community as potential substitute candidates include Darlene S. DiCarlo, director of finance at Odd Fellows and Rebekah Rehabilitation and Health Care Center and a member of the Town of Lockport Industrial Development Agency board; and accountant William J. Collins Sr., son of John F. Collins, who served in the Legislature in the 1990s. DiCarlo could not be reached for comment and Collins declined comment.

Two other candidates are in the race in the 12th District, which includes parts of the town and city of Lockport: Democratic nominee William O. Nye, who also filed an Independence Party petition, and Conservative David J. Mongielo. Updegrove, who also had filed petitions on the Conservative and Independence Party lines.

Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith, who is not seeking another term, said Tuesday he is not interested in running for legislator. “I served my tour of duty,” Smith said.

The supervisor said Updegrove always was a big help to him and was extremely cooperative on town matters, especially the land swap that allowed the town to create Day Road Park on former county property.

Updegrove cited Day Road Park as one of his major accomplishments in office, along with helping the county’s economic development efforts as a committee chairman.

“Despite annually increasing expenses and ever-increasing unfunded mandates from the state, our financial responsibility to the people of this county has remained my No. 1 priority,” he said. “Every year since I’ve been in office, the Legislature has acted prudently and conscientiously. I have taken the impact on the taxpayer into consideration on every decision made. Our decisions have returned fiscal stability to Niagara County. In fact, Moody’s bond rating service has upgraded our bond rating three times, and it now sits at superior. This is especially significant to me, as the county was coming off a 20 percent tax increase when I made the decision to run for office the first time.”