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GOP candidate for Council spends near-record amount

The underdog Republican in Buffalo’s Common Council election in the Delaware District appears to be on a near-record spending path as he attempts to become the first GOP candidate since the 1980s to win a Council seat.

While Democrat Joel P. Feroleto spent about $10,120 so far in his bid to retain his Delaware District seat, Republican Peter A. Rouff spent more than four times that amount – almost $45,000 – as of Oct. 19, according to the latest campaign spending reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

And it looks as if Rouff’s spending spree – most of it self-funded – will continue through Tuesday’s election.

Of the $70,200 Rouff raised so far, $60,000 comes from loans the candidate made to his own campaign. He had $25,500 left in his campaign chest when the most recent spending reports were submitted. And now, less than a week before the election, the 41-year-old orthodontist isn’t saying how much more he plans to contribute to the campaign or how much more he plans to spend.

“Whatever it takes to make this competitive. I’m not putting a floor or ceiling on this,” Rouff said. “I am willing to spend my own resources to make sure voters have a voice in November.”

Much of Rouff’s campaign spending has gone toward glossy printed material that initially offered voters an idea of who Rouff is and what he stands for. But recently, the ads took a negative turn.

Rouff’s mailings over the last week pounded Feroleto as a political insider who benefits from his father’s campaign largesse and who learned his trade as an aide to Antoine M. Thompson, the former Council member and state senator who was voted out of state office in 2010 amid controversy over spending and ethics questions.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner described Rouff’s approach as a misguided “smear campaign” that turns off voters.

“It’s not the way to run a campaign,” he said. “I think it is backfiring and turning people off. … He’s throwing a Hail Mary.”

Feroleto, meanwhile, seems to be ignoring Rouff’s attacks.

As of the Oct. 19 financial filing, Feroleto raised almost $24,000 and had about $13,600 remaining in his campaign fund. He held another fundraiser last week at the Sterling Tavern on Hertel Avenue, attracting about 100 people who paid at least $50 each to attend. Most of those attending were Delaware District residents, some of whom he has known since childhood, Feroleto said.

Feroleto said he doesn’t plan any more fundraisers before the election. He said Rouff’s spending and campaign tactics have not influenced his own campaign strategy.

He said he is focusing on a door-to-door campaign and working hard as a Delaware Council member.

Since his appointment in September, Feroleto said, he has been meeting with block clubs and business association leaders. He said he is working to get trash and recycling bins on Hertel and pushing for a North Buffalo Garden Walk and outreach programs for senior citizens.

Also last week, Feroleto introduced his first piece of legislation – a law that would include ownership of a therapy dog or cat in fair housing laws, making it illegal to refuse housing based on a therapy dog or cat. The legislation was approved by the Council on Tuesday and was signed by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

“I’m staying positive,” Feroleto said. “Talking to residents. Working hard.”

Council seats pay about $50,000 annually, and candidates typically spend about $10,000 or less on a race, although there have been some exceptions.

In 2007, Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto – Feroleto’s cousin – spent almost $60,000 to defeat Jessica Maglietto, a candidate backed by Brown. Maglietto spent $37,000.

Also that year, in an open seat for the Niagara District, David A. Rivera spent $52,250 to beat Peter J. Savage III, another Brown-backed candidate, who spent $41,500.

Those races were Democratic primaries in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic. The Feroleto-Rouff contest is a general election race between a Democrat and a Republican in a Council district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 4-1 ratio. Rouff’s mailings, in fact, rarely, if ever, mention that he’s a Republican. “I’m a Republican. I’m proud to be a Republican. I don’t think this has anything to do with party,” Rouff said. “Voters should have a choice.”

Rouff said that he has nothing personal against Feroleto but repeated that he got into the race because he was offended by the process that put the 33-year-old Feroleto in office. Democratic Party leaders selected Feroleto to fill a vacancy when LoCurto vacated the Delaware Council seat before the primary to take a job with Erie County.

Rouff contends that Feroleto was picked because his family – mostly his father, attorney John A. Feroleto – is a significant donor to the local and state Democratic Party. “Sometimes the truth hurts,” Rouff said. “Since the voters didn’t have a choice and were kept in the dark, my campaign will make sure they know the facts and finally have a choice on Election Day.”

The Feroleto family has contributed about $195,000 to state and local campaigns, party organizations and political action committees since 2000, according to state Board of Elections records. Almost half the contributions – $95,000 – went to help finance the judicial campaigns of Joel Feroleto’s mother, Paula L. Feroleto, who is a State Supreme Court justice.

Democratic Party leaders cited Feroleto’s education and experience in city and state government when selecting him to run as LoCurto’s replacement on the Council for the current election.

He is an attorney who worked in private practice and a legislative aide to LoCurto and Thompson, as well as former State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo.

After the primary, the Council appointed Feroleto to fill the remainder of LoCurto’s current term, which ends in December

“The City Charter has procedures in place for when a vacancy occurs on the Common Council,” Feroleto responded. “I followed those procedures and was appointed as those procedures outline based on my education, public-sector experience and being a private attorney.”

William L. Marcy Jr. and his widow, Katherine, were the last Republicans to serve on the Council. Marcy was serving his third, two-year term as Delaware District member and as minority leader when he died April 4, 1983. The Council appointed his widow to complete his term.

Katherine Marcy did not seek election in 1983. Democrats took full control of the Council by electing Alfred T. Coppola in the Delaware District.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com