Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 25, 2013

Falls lawmakers say they are victims of erroneous robo-calls regarding board of elections

Niagara Gazette — Niagara County Democrats are crying foul over an automated telephone call made to voters in the city of Niagara Falls last week. 

The robo-calls from an as-yet-identified source targeted voters in districts represented by Niagara County Legislature Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso and fellow Democratic lawmaker Jason Zona. The caller alleged that both men played a role in helping former Democratic Elections Commissioner Nancy Smith stay on the county payroll as an assistant with the elections board, suggesting move will result in an added burden to area taxpayers. 

Democratic county lawmakers voted last week to appoint Lora Allen as a new election commissioner, replacing Smith who had served in the post for many years. It was announced after the meeting that Smith would remain with the board to assist with the transition as Allen's deputy. Smith is expected to remain with the elections board through April when she is expected to retire. 

The automated messages suggested Virtuoso and Zona helped orchestrate the switch to allow Smith to receive more time on the county payroll,  which the caller says would allow her to collect enhanced benefits upon retirement, including lifetime health insurance. Individuals receiving the message were encouraged to contact Virtuoso and tell him "no new sweetheart deals for his friends and family." A similar call was placed to voters in Zona's district as well. 

Both Virtuoso and Zona described the content of the messages as false and both lawmakers — who are up for re-election this year — suspect political motives are at work.

"They are just trying to ruin our credibility," Virtuoso said. 

Virtuoso said Allen — as commissioner — chose her deputy and legislators have no say in the matter. 

"The elections commissioner has full reign over who she hires and who she fires," Virtuoso said. "We have no say whatsoever." 

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