Niagara Gazette

Local News

December 10, 2012

Election chief still on hold

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Democratic county lawmakers will unilaterally reappoint Nancy Smith as their party’s election commissioner next month.

So said Minority Caucus Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, in the midst of a contentious Legislature session Tuesday, when Republican legislators made hay over Smith’s role in the recent firing of an election board clerk.

Virtuoso said he expected “political theater” from lawmaker Paul Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, over Smith’s nomination — and Wojtaszek did not disappoint him.

The deputy majority caucus leader, who two weeks ago succeeded in getting Smith’s nomination tabled pending the outcome of a semi-secret “inquiry” he wanted into several matters involving the board of elections, motioned to untable the nomination Tuesday, then launched into a speech about why he would vote “no” to approving Smith.

The inquiry, by the legislature’s administration committee, sought answers from Smith regarding why voting results were so late coming in on Election Night and, also, why she fired Larry Soos, the former North Tonawanda mayor, from his job as a board clerk. The latter question was explored in executive session Nov. 27, partly under guise of pending litigation.

Soos was fired Oct. 2, the day after he quarreled with newly elected county Democratic committee chairman Nick Forster at the party’s reorganization meeting. The state labor department initially denied Soos unemployment benefits, ruling he’d been fired for misconduct as a county employee.

Wojtaszek raised a red flag over labor’s finding, questioning whether Soos had improperly gone to the party meeting as a county employee — or been fired from a county job over politics.

On Tuesday, Wojtaszek declared that Smith “lied” to the administration committee when she was asked whether Soos’ conduct at the party meeting led to his firing.

“She said, unequivocally, no,” — but Wojtaszek later learned Smith’s written statement to the human resources office, sent after Soos applied for unemployment, said the opposite.

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