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Can Democrats win county seats outside Niagara Falls?

LOCKPORT – The geography of the Niagara County Legislature is easy to explain: Democrats in Niagara Falls, Republicans – or their minor-party adherents – everywhere else.

That adds up to an 11-4 GOP advantage in the Legislature, where the Republicans have been in control for a dozen years. And, almost unbelievably, the last Democrat to win a Legislature seat in a district with no Niagara Falls voters was Harry J. Apolito of the City of Lockport in 2005, when he defeated Republican Scott A. Cercone by eight votes.

Since that recount 10 years ago, all the Democratic Legislature candidates outside the Cataract City have lost.

But it’s certain the new Legislature will have a different look, because longtime Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, and Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, decided not to run for re-election.

That means new faces in a couple of spots for sure.

In Ross’ 2nd District, covering parts of Lewiston and Wheatfield, the Republicans chose Rebecca J. Wydysh of Lewiston, the county’s deputy commissioner of jurors and a first-time candidate. The Democratic nominee is Michael A. Johnson, a veteran Lewiston political figure who has served as town councilman and finance director. He lost a run for the Legislature in 2005.

In Updegrove’s 12th District, which includes parts of the City and Town of Lockport, the GOP nod went to William J. Collins Sr., an accountant and son of former Republican Legislator John Collins. The Democrats are offering a first-time candidate, William O. Nye, who actually is a registered member of the Independence Party, although he couldn’t stop Collins from taking the line from him in the Sept. 10 primary.

David J. Mongielo, who lost the Conservative primary to Collins, is on the ballot with his independent line entitled “Had Enough Yet?” Apparently Mongielo has had enough, though, as he announced last week he was withdrawing from the race.

It was too late to get his name off the ballot, however.

In Niagara Falls, the Republicans are trying to take back the 3rd District seat in LaSalle, which they lost two years ago to Democrat Mark J. Grozio in the only seat that changed hands between the parties in 2013.

Grozio’s challenger this time is Robert F. Bilson, operations supervisor for a Buffalo risk management company and collection agency. Bilson is a registered Democrat running on the GOP line after Grozio, assistant business manager for Local 237, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, thumped him in the Democratic primary.

In the 5th District, which covers part of the City of Niagara Falls and all of the Town of Niagara, Democratic incumbent Jason A. Zona is taking on Republican Joseph D. Naccarato, owner of a Town of Niagara landscaping company.

In the 6th District, Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, retired Niagara Falls building inspector, is running for his 13th term. David J. Zajac, a 24-year-old from the family that operates Zajac Funeral Home, lost to Virtuoso in 2013 and is his GOP opponent again.

The 9th District, in North Tonawanda, may see one of the more interesting races, as Randy R. Bradt, a Republican seeking his second term, is being challenged by Democrat Colleen M. Osborn, a registered nurse and president of the North Tonawanda Board of Education.

Two police officers are on the Democratic ticket in two Lockport-area districts.

In the 11th District, which includes all of Pendleton in addition to parts of the City and Town of Lockport, incumbent Anthony J. Nemi, an Independence Party member who caucuses with the Republicans, is facing Russell J. DeFranco, a retired Niagara Falls policeman. DeFranco is a registered Republican who lost that party’s primary to Nemi, a retired employee of the City of Lockport Youth and Recreation Department.

The 13th District, located within the City of Lockport, sees GOP incumbent W. Keith McNall trying to withstand the challenge of Robert K. Drury, a retired Niagara County Sheriff’s Office captain. Like DeFranco, Drury is a registered Republican who was given the Democratic endorsement. Drury lost to McNall, longtime former president of the Lockport Board of Education, in the GOP primary.

Several incumbents are unopposed for re-election. They include Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, a Ransomville Republican, in the 1st District, including Porter and part of Lewiston; Owen T. Steed, a Niagara Falls Democrat, in that city’s 4th District; Wheatfield Republican Kathryn L. Palka Lance in the 7th District, part of Wheatfield and North Tonawanda; Richard L. Andres Jr., a Republican, in North Tonawanda’s 8th District; David E. Godfrey, Republican, in the 10th District, Wilson, Cambria and part of Wheatfield; John Syracuse, a Republican, in the 14th District, Newfane and Somerset; and Michael A. Hill, a Republican, in the 15th District, Royalton and Hartland.