Niagara Gazette — It’s a three-way race in the Niagara County Legislature’s Fourth District this year.
Incumbent and endorsed Democrat Owen Steed is being challenged by real estate agent and business association president Candace Corsaro and Saladin Allah, a published author and local youth mentor.
For Steed, it’s about continuing what he described as the progress he feels has been made during his first term in office. As evidence of that progress, he points to recent projects that have been successfully completed in the Falls as well as legislation sponsored by county Democrats tying companies receiving tax and other incentives to local hiring requirements.
“I think being there has made me a better candidate,” Steed said. “In the two years I’ve been there, we’ve been able to make some improvements.”
His challengers don’t see enough evidence of the change. The county’s Fourth legislative district, covering primarily the North End of the city of Niagara Falls, has for years included one of the poorest areas in the county, according to U.S. Census data.
Corsaro, a Republican who works for Great Lakes Real Estate and has attempted to secure seats in the legislature and city council in the past, said she decided to run again because there’s still a lot of work to be done. If elected, she’d focus on several issues of local concern, including reducing crime and improving the quality of neighborhoods in the city.
In her roles as president of both the Hyde Park Business Association and North End Block Club, Corsaro said she’s developed a real “street sense” when it comes to the needs of the community and its residents.
“I’m running, basically, so we can get the county legislature involved in the city of Niagara Falls,” she said.
Allah, whose birth name is Christopher Frank, was born and raised in the Falls by his parents, Lois and Philip Frank, a long-time city worker. He said it’s clear to him the 4th District is not a “desk-job district.”
“As a leader, you have to be multi-faceted,” he said. “Not only should you be capable of fighting for legislation to be passed, but you also have to be an activist, someone who is out in the community. The position should be two-fold — legislator and activist.
“Representing this district demands a sense of urgency,” he added. “The concerns we have demand a sense of urgency. A lot of our issues and concerns should have been addressed yesterday.”
Evidence of his activism can be found in his party affiliation. Allah formed and is the sole member of the Niagara Youth Party, a grassroots political group designed to offer something new to voters who may have become dissatisfied in the electoral process in recent years.
If elected, Allah said he does not believe his one-man party would put him at a disadvantage in the Republican-dominated legislature.
“You still have to work in the best interest of the people you are serving, regardless,” he said.
Steed argues the problems facing the district did not occur overnight and it will take more than one term to fix them. If elected, he said, he’d continue to focus on reforms within the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency in hopes of allowing existing businesses in the community to take advantage of tax breaks and other incentives. He also said county lawmakers must continue to trim spending in order to eliminate Niagara County’s tag as the “most taxed” county in America.
“We won’t be able to fix things after one term,” said Steed, the Democratic candidate in this year’s race. “There’s been a long progression of Niagara Falls and Niagara County going down. It takes more than one term to address that.”
Steed said that while he does not consider himself a “political person,” the reality of the political climate in the legislature is a factor in creating change. As a Democrat, he serves in a minority by a wide-margin as Republicans and their affiliates control the majority 12 members to three.
“It takes more than three to try to push reform,” Steed said. “The county has to work better together. We have to get past our differences as Republicans and Democrats and work for the people.”
Corsaro said she also considers herself an “independent” candidate, capable of rising above the party politics to do what’s best for her constituents.
“I can’t do it alone,” she said. “No one person can accomplish it all. All we can do is try. We need to work together in the government. We can’t keep trying to do these things on our own because it’s not getting done.”
Corsaro has called for reforms within the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, including reduction in the length of standard payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements from 10 to five years and the development of programs specifically designed for companies already doing business locally.
“I want existing mom and pop small business to be able to have the same benefits,” she said.
Corsaro also supports efforts to reform the county’s welfare program. A former welfare recipient herself who at one time also lived in public housing, she’d support measures aimed at requiring Social Services recipients who can’t find work to perform community service while they search for employment.
“They would have to be involved within the community and do service projects,” she said.
Steed, who voted against a resolution to direct publicly subsidized rental vouchers to landlords as opposed to tenants, said he too supports welfare reform, provided it does not infringe on those who genuinely deserve and need some help.
“We have to be careful what we are doing,” he said. “We don’t want it to seem as though we are attacking people on Social Services all the time. Not everybody on Social Services is abusing the system. Some people need that to get by.”
As to the direct-pay resolution, Steed said he would have preferred a vote on the matter wait until another ongoing effort supported by county Democrats was ready to go, that being a measure aimed at requiring pre-inspection of any rental unit where the landlords are receiving rent vouchers through the county Social Services Department.
“I think there should have been something in place as far as inspection,” he said.
If elected, Allah said he’d take more of a “hands-on” approach to addressing the district’s problems. He believes youth outreach, crime prevention measures, concentrating on health and wellness programs and “localism” are keys to helping the district. By “localism,” he said it’s important to teach residents in the district about the important of putting “Niagara first” and buying “local first.”
“Some people say ‘we just need jobs,’ but really what we need is to educate people about a local economy,” he said.Fourth Legislative District Owen Steed (Incumbent) • AGE: 47 • OCCUPATION: Community liaison for the Niagara Falls Police Department • EDUCATION: Graduate Niagara Falls High School • POLITICAL AFFILIATION: Democrat • ENDORSEMENTS: Niagara County Democratic Party, Sheet Metal Workers Local 71, Carpenters Local 276, Operating Engineers 463 and Iron Workers Local 9. • COMMUNITY: Member of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and member of the board for the Niagara Falls Education Foundation. • FAMILY: Single, father of one son Candace Corsaro (Challenger) • AGE: 64 • OCCUPATION: Real estate agent with Great Lakes Real Estate • EDUCATION: Graduate Trott Vocational in 1968, New York State certified real estate agent • POLITICAL AFFILIATION: Republican • ENDORSEMENTS: Niagara County Republican, Conservative and Independence parties. • COMMUNITY: Past distinguished lieutenant governor Kiwanis of New York, president of Hyde Park Business Association since 2009, member of the Cristoforo Colombo Society, member of the Niagara Falls Board of Assessment Review, past vice president and secretary for the Niagara Falls Block Club Council and current president of the North End Block Club. • FAMILY: Widow, mother of three children Saladin Allah (Challenger) • AGE: 38 • OCCUPATION: Youth mentor, author and public speaker • EDUCATION: Graduated from LaSalle Senior High School. Attended Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. • POLITICAL AFFILIATION: Niagara Youth Party, will also appear on the Working Families and Green Party ballot lines. • ENDORSEMENTS: Niagara County Working Families and Green parties • COMMUNITY: Niagara Christian basketball program, mentor program leader at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, active with Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club, New Jerusalem Church and created a mentoring program operated out of the Niagara Falls Public Library. • FAMILY: Son of Lois and Philip Frank, both of Niagara Falls. Single father of two daughters, Aziza and Asyah