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Robert Quintana plans political comeback with Assembly primary

A Democratic primary featuring two well-known West Side names appears to be taking shape in the 149th Assembly District.

A source close to former Niagara Council Member Robert Quintana said the retired Buffalo police officer will announce on Thursday his challenge to Jonathan Rivera, who is already endorsed by local Democrats. The seat is now held by Democratic Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, who is leaving to run for the 60th Senate District seat.

Quintana, 52, gained considerable notice in the mid-1990s when he won two terms as the first Hispanic elected to the Common Council. He gave up his district seat in 1999 to unsuccessfully seek an at-large seat.

With his background as an aspiring police officer from a hardscrabble background, he also served as a national spokesman for the United Way during those years.

But Quintana ran into difficulty in 2012 when federal prosecutors accused him of faking an on-duty injury and continuing to receive “injured on duty,” tax-free pay of more than $60,000 a year for seven years. The FBI said it observed him working at his family’s Niagara Cafe restaurant on Niagara Street during that period.

But just before a federal jury was to hear his case in late 2018, Quintana entered a one-year diversion program administered by probation officials that allowed him to avoid trial and a possible felony conviction. At the time, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. said the government opted to support the diversion program when it became clear that conflicting medical opinions about Quintana’s disability would turn his trial into a “battle of experts.”

Rivera, an administrator in the Erie County Department of Public Works, announced his Democratic candidacy in December and has since received the party endorsement. He is the son of Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera.

Republicans in the overwhelmingly Democratic district are circulating designating petitions for Daniel S. O’Connell.

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