Niagara Gazette

February 21, 2013

EDITORIAL: Niagara Falls City Council majority's 'new direction' same as the old

Niagara Gazette editorial board
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said this week that the city of Niagara Falls is moving in a “new direction.”

He’s wrong.

It’s apparent from his actions, and those of his fellow members of the council majority, including Sam Fruscione and Robert Anderson Jr., that the city — destitute now for decades — is falling back into its old, bad habits.

The Oishei Foundation, arguably the most prestigious private philanthropic organization in Western New York, offered the city a chance to receive up to $15,000 to support the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center.

Foundation President Robert Gioia personally attended Tuesday’s council meeting to plea for sanity from what has become the incredibly unreasonable trio currently representing the council’s leadership. 

Choolokian and company passed on Gioia’s offer, suggesting the city can’t afford to pay for much of anything anymore, including — possibly — several substantial upcoming debt service payments. 

While we understand the need to be fiscally prudent and conservative, cutting $45,000 to $30,000 of which is bed tax money which cannot be used for debt service payments — doesn’t equate to a savings anywhere near large enough to stave off a potentially devastating debt problem. 

All it really does is make the community know who holds the hammer, which guys are in charge and which council members they’ll need to see first if they want to get anything done in this town.

In other words, it’s the usual modus operandi for elected leaders in a city known best for its waterfall but tagged for its history of political infighting, selfish attitudes and wrong-headed thinking. 

We know what’s really going on here. 

The NACC and the two other cultural groups hit by the council’s recent cuts, including the Niagara Falls Block Club and Niagara Beautification Commission, have long been supported by Mayor Paul Dyster and members of his family.

It’s clear Choolokian, Fruscione and Anderson do not see eye-to-eye with this mayor and, stuck with him now for the next several years, will attempt to do what they feel is necessary to knock him down a few pegs, including trim funding to three groups their constituents clearly support. 

Anderson says it’s not personal. Choolokian and Fruscione insist it’s not political either.

Then, all it can be is what Niagara Falls has been known for far too long now — shortsighted. 

This same group of lawmakers agreed to provide funding for a community policing initiative and $2,500 to a new grassroots organization known as MAD DADs which, coincidently, counts among its members Ron Cunningham, a guy who Fruscione admits helps him with his election campaigns.

They also make no bones about continuing to use taxpayer money to fund their meeting-day meals at local restaurants — get-togethers that include soups, salads, shrimp penne, veal parmesan and whatever else tickles their fancy. 

Clearly there’s some money in the budget for some things. 

There would be even more available to the NACC had the council accepted the Oishei Foundation’s offer.

As one audience member said during Tuesday’s council meeting, there’s almost no point in trying to get it through the heads of the members of the council majority. Their minds are clearly made up. In their eyes, what’s done is done. 

As Gioia said, it is “frustrating” and “very, very disappointing.”

Considering a community desperate for dollars and all tied up in a casino cash mess just turned down what amounts to free money from a prestigious local foundation that’s willing to help, it certainly is. 

The folks in Buffalo — the ones with money and influence who run things like the Oishei Foundation — will do what they always do under the circumstances — shake their heads, wring their hands and ask the age-old question ‘what’s wrong with Niagara Falls?”

A “new direction” indeed.