LOCKPORT – Wrapping up perhaps the oddest two years in Lockport’s political history, voters will decide Tuesday between a mayor who has never faced an electoral opponent and a challenger whose last political effort was 34 years ago.
Republican Anne E. McCaffrey, who has been mayor for almost two years, is facing Democrat Roger L. Sherrie, who hopes to capitalize on what he says has been the city’s mismanagement over the past few years.
McCaffrey argues that she should be rewarded for shoveling the city out from under the mess left behind by Mayor Michael W. Tucker, who resigned Feb. 21, 2014.
Sherrie says McCaffrey needs to own some of that mess, since she was Common Council president when the Council passed a budget that plunged the city into a deep deficit. “This mayor will not take responsibility for her role,” he said.
The 2013 budget assumed that the city would obtain significant savings on health insurance from union contracts that never materialized. It also appropriated a fund balance that didn’t actually exist, although no one realized it at the time.
State and private-sector audits have said that City Treasurer Michael E. White failed to produce timely and accurate data. White blamed Tucker’s refusal to fill key vacancies in the city’s financial staff for the inability to complete correct financial reports.
McCaffrey has publicly described the job performance of White, a fellow Republican and the brother-in-law of former State Sen. George D. Maziarz, as “terrible.”
Sherrie said last week that the mayor is using White as “a convenient political scapegoat.”
McCaffrey and the Council decided to create a new job, director of finance, and in March they chose Scott A. Schrader, a veteran of jobs in several municipal governments in New York and Vermont, to fill the $95,000-a-year post.
Schrader has taken over most of the financial reporting duties and also has become the de facto budget director. The Council also placed a proposition on Tuesday’s ballot that, if passed, would make the treasurer merely the city tax collector.
White, who is running for re-election, has bitterly attacked the proposition as an attempt to destroy his office’s independence. The Council also cut the treasurer’s salary, effective Jan. 1, to $55,000 a year, which for White would be a reduction of nearly $27,000 a year.
However, there’s no guarantee that White will be there Jan. 1, as he is being challenged by Democrat Sue A. Mawhiney.
What happens if White wins and the proposition shrinking his job is defeated? McCaffrey said if she is elected, Schrader will stay on with his budget director and financial statement functions.
Sherrie said he doesn’t know what he would do with Schrader, especially if the proposition loses. “The question then is what he can do and what he is qualified to do,” Sherrie said.
He said he would have preferred to see the jobs of the city clerk and treasurer merged. That also would require a referendum.
Finances are issue
McCaffrey said her moves have greatly improved the city’s finances. She sold the mayor’s car, cut up the city’s credit cards and led the Council to approve a series of layoffs and program cuts, while obtaining a state law that allowed the city to borrow its way out of nearly $5 million in accumulated deficits. In exchange, the state Comptroller’s Office must preapprove the city’s budgets for the next nine years, while the city is in a 10-year pattern of having to pay back the emergency borrowing.
The Comptroller’s Office in September upgraded Lockport on its scoring system from “moderate fiscal stress” to “susceptible to fiscal stress,” meaning it has registered an operating surplus again.
Sherrie has been criticized in the primary and fall campaigns for his 28 years as an employee in the regional office of the Civil Service Employees Association. He retired in January after 16 years as regional director. There, his job was to negotiate contracts for municipal employees.
“I can sit down with the unions and negotiate the mutually acceptable agreement that can deal with some of our long-term cost drivers,” Sherrie said.
McCaffrey said she did that. The Council and the police union ratified a new contract last month that gave the police raises through 2020 and increased the size of the force, while requiring that all newly hired police officers will have to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums, even in retirement. That’s a first in Lockport.
McCaffrey called it “historic,” and said she hopes the deal will be a model the city can apply to other unions. But Sherrie said, “I don’t know if it was a good deal for the city.”
He said a provision that says the police force can be reduced only by attrition, even during times of financial trouble, gives up a management right – the right to decide how many employees the city will have – and “ties the hands” of future mayors, at least through 2020.
McCaffrey said people will like having a larger police force and if there’s financial trouble again, the city and the union can talk it over.
Sherrie’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Michael J. Pillot, said he thinks Sherrie is out to help city unions at the expense of the taxpayers. He endorsed McCaffrey in a speech from the audience at the Oct. 21 Council meeting.
McCaffrey said last week, “I would have concerns about a mayor who does not speak about the needs of the 21,000 and only speaks to the needs of a small group of people, in this case, city union employees.”
Sherrie said, “I think anyone who says that does not know me personally and does not know how negotiations are done in this day and age.”
He added, “We don’t criticize a successful businessman for the use of his profit to benefit his family. Why would we criticize the worker for trying to do the same thing?”
Ambulances a hot topic
Sherrie said he would re-establish the Citizens Advisory Committee, which he chaired in the early 1980s under then-Mayor Thomas C. Rotondo Jr. He said that panel could take up whatever subjects it likes, although he said he’d like the public’s views on restoring the Fire Department’s ambulance service, which McCaffrey and the Council privatized last year.
Sherrie said he thinks McCaffrey exaggerated the cost of that service, and kept it running all through the summer of 2014, the busiest overtime period of the year for the Fire Department, to make the cost look worse. “I wouldn’t put it past her,” he said.
McCaffrey said that although the city had a court’s permission for the privatization in early summer, it took months to go through the negotiations with ambulance firms, arrange the shift of fire dispatching to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, and clear the red tape of the state Health Department.
As for the Citizens Advisory Committee, McCaffrey doesn’t see the need. She said the city has numerous boards and committees, all filled with interested citizens.
With the large number of candidates running for alderman, McCaffrey added, “The Council is the real citizens’ committee.”
Council President Joseph C. Kibler is running for re-election as alderman-at-large, against Democrat R. Joseph O’Shaughnessy, owner of Oak Run Golf Course and a former member of the Lockport Board of Education.
Republican Kibler is seeking his eighth term.
In the 1st Ward, incumbent Republican John Lombardi III quit politics to open a restaurant. Joseph P. Oates, an insurance adjuster, won a three-way GOP primary and faces off against Democrat Edward W. Tracy, who served two terms on the Council in the early 1990s.
Jennifer O. D’Andrea-Terreri, a Republican who received the Independence and Conservative endorsements, finished third in the GOP primary. A month later, she endorsed Oates, but her name remains on the ballot.
In the 2nd Ward, Democrat Anita Mullane, who last year narrowly won a special election for the unexpired Council term McCaffrey left behind to become mayor, is seeking a full term against Republican Maria E. Updegraph, who owns a special effects and party mask business with her husband. She is a first-time candidate.
In the 3rd Ward, Mark S. Devine, a retired assistant fire chief, won the Republican primary over incumbent Kathryn J. “Kitty” Fogle. However, Fogle is campaigning actively on four minor-party lines. The Democratic candidate is Zachary F. Parker, the 22-year-old son of former city CSEA President Barbara Parker.
In the 4th Ward, Patrick W. Schrader, a Democrat who has been on the Council all but two years since 1999, is defending his seat against Air Force retiree and city Planning Board member David R. Wohleben, the GOP nominee.
Patrick Schrader and Scott Schrader are not related.
In the 5th Ward, where incumbent Republican Kenneth M. Genewick is not running, the GOP will try to hold the seat with Allan W. Jack, a former School Board member who currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Democrats offer Richard E. Abbott, who has worked for the city, county and state governments, with the last six years at People Inc.
Also, City Judge William J. Watson is unopposed for re-election.