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Wojtaszek running hard for Niagara DA; others still in starting gate

LOCKPORT – As other candidates weigh their options or drop out, Caroline A. Wojtaszek is running hard for the vacant position of Niagara County district attorney.

Wojtaszek said Friday she is holding a $125-a-ticket fundraiser May 5 to which only attorneys have been invited. The event will gauge the strength of her support in the legal community, and that will become public record in July, when Wojtaszek must file her first financial disclosure form. By state law, all donations of more than $99 must be itemized.

Wojtaszek, a North Tonawanda Democrat, is the only formally announced candidate for the job left vacant by the March 21 resignation of Niagara Falls Republican Michael J. Violante.

Wojtaszek is a former assistant DA now working as confidential law clerk to County Judge Sara Sheldon. She already has received the endorsement of the Independence Party.

Wojtaszek is married to former Niagara County GOP chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek, making a Republican cross-endorsement a possibility. She has no political relationship with the regular Democratic organization, which has been seeking its own candidate.

County Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster said Friday, “We’re going to sit down shortly with the executive committee and talk to everybody who’s interested.”

Joseph F. Townsend of Cambria remains highly interested in the Democratic endorsement, he said last week. Townsend is the most recent Democrat to serve as county public defender, in 2002-03.

Robert Viola of Lewiston, a Democrat who had been considering a run, said last week he probably won’t enter the race unless the Democratic organization needed him as a last resort.

The party can recommend a nominee to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has the authority to appoint a district attorney to serve for the rest of the year. So far, Cuomo has made no move to fill vacant DA spots in Erie and Chautauqua counties, either.

On the GOP side, Ronald J. Winter, a former assistant DA now working as confidential law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr., said Friday that he’s still interested and still “weighing options.”

There is the potential of a race for County Court judge next year for attorneys who sit out or lose out in the DA race. Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, a Lockport Democrat, will be finishing his 10-year term in 2017. He would be 66 at the end of his current term. The state has a mandatory judicial retirement age of 70, meaning that if Murphy runs again and wins, he could serve only four years.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com