Niagara Gazette

December 28, 2013

TOP STORIES (4): Niagara Falls City Council race gets a lot of attention

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It’s not out of the ordinary for waves to be made during election cycles in the City of Niagara Falls. 

The 2013 campaign season stood out as a year in which the ripples reached all the way to the highest office in Albany. 

Amid an ongoing controversy about the future of a high-profile downtown hotel project, and just days before city voters were slated to go to the polls, Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly offered his support to the candidacies of incumbent Democrats Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker, as well as political newcomer and Niagara Falls school teacher Andrew Touma. 

“Niagara Falls has an important decision to make,” Cuomo said in a statement released in late-October. “And I believe that Kristen Grandinetti, Andy Touma, and Charles Walker have shown that they share a clear vision for their city. Tourism is a major component of our economic plans for Western New York and Niagara Falls needs elected officials committed to capitalizing on the city’s many strengths to generate jobs and economic growth.”

While how much of an impact Cuomo’s endorsement had on the race is debatable, what’s not is the outcome of the race itself. 

Grandinetti, Walker and Touma swept into office, signaling the end of the line for incumbent city lawmaker Sam Fruscione. The former council chairman, who ran fourth in the Democratic primary in September, stayed in the race through the general election, finishing sixth in a field that included seven candidates in all. 

While several issues played a role in the outcome, the weeks leading up to election day were dominated by the controversy surrounding the Hamister hotel deal. Fruscione joined fellow council majority members Robert Anderson Jr. and Glenn Choolokian in delaying action on a proposed agreement with the Buffalo-based developer, expressing concerns about the terms of the proposed deal and its potential impact on Falls taxpayers. 

Grandinetti and Walker advocated for approval of the agreement, arguing that it would allow Hamister to move forward with a much-needed $25 million development in the downtown area. During the campaign, Touma also expressed support for the project.  

The outcome of the election signals a change in the council’s makeup heading into 2014. What had become for much of this year a three-man voting bloc involving Fruscione, Anderson and Choolokian will be down to just two next year.  

While it will be out with the old for the former council majority, the year ahead will likely involve decisions made by a voting bloc of a different sort. 

Grandinetti, Walker and Touma openly and actively campaigned together during both the primary and general elections in 2013, telling voters that, if elected, they planned to work together in a spirit of cooperation and productivity. 

After unofficial results were tallied on election night in November, all three said they intended to make good on their plans to collectively move the city in a more positive direction. They also acknowledged the campaign support they received from Cuomo, indicating a desire to return the favor by continuing to support the governor’s efforts to revitalize Niagara Falls. 

“We’re going to do all we can to help the governor make good on what he said,” Walker said during an interview following his election-night win. 

TOP 10 The Gazette is counting down its top stories of 2013 through Jan. 1. Here's the list so far: • 10: Teens involved in Isabella Tenant murder sent to prison • 9: 2013 brings change to Niagara University • 8: Lewiston Civic Center saga • 7: Fashion Outlets seeks $71M expansion • 6: Town of Niagara supervisor indicted • 5: Signs of progress for troubled Falls roads • 4: Elections bring change to political landscape • 3: Coming Sunday