By Rick Pfeiffer and Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Robert Restaino called his state Assembly race "a cliffhanger" on Tuesday night.
His opponent, incumbent State Assemblyman John Ceretto was nowhere to be found.
While Restaino, the endorsed Democrat, paid a visit to his party's campaign headquarters in Niagara Falls to tell supporters he was on the verge of victory, Ceretto, R-Lewiston, was a no show at a Republican Party election night gathering at the Lewiston Pub on Center Street.
Ceretto also failed to return repeated calls from reporters seeking comment from him on the tightly contested race in the 145th Assembly District.
In the end, it as Ceretto who came out on top, according to unofficial numbers from the Niagara and Erie county board of elections. The Assemblyman finished with a 24,281 to 23,376 lead in the race.
Early Wednesday morning, the county Board of Elections website had Restaino in the lead with an unofficial vote count of 19,784-18,793.
On Grand Island, which is part of the 145th Assembly District, unofficial results from the 13 districts reporting to the Erie County Board of Elections had Ceretto leading 5,488-3,592.
Late Tuesday those numbers weren't available to anyone, though.
Problems in processing vote totals at the Niagara County Board of Elections left the final result of the race in doubt late in the evening. However, Democratic party officials told an enthusiastic crowd that Restaino had about a 2,000 vote lead on Ceretto.
"With as much as we know," Restaino told his supporters, "we are in the slightest of leads. In the 21st century, we have broken machines and websites that aren't loading."
Still, that didn't stop the candidate from expressing confidence that he would emerge as the victor in the race. The victory would represent a significant political rebound for Restaino, a one-time Niagara Falls City Court Judge who was removed from the bench by a state commission in 2008 following a high-profile incident involving a ringing cell phone in his courtroom. He has since worked as a Medicaid fraud specialist for Niagara County and is currently serving as a private-practice attorney in Niagara Falls. Last year, he secured a seat on the Niagara Falls School Board.
On Tuesday night, Restaino thanked supporters who gathered at the American Legion Fredrick F. Cadille Post No. 1664 at the City Market for putting him in a position to become the district's next assemblyman.
"I wouldn't be here without your help," he said. "Your hard work has paid off. We just have to close things out and then we can sit down and start planning a better tomorrow."
Ceretto was seeking a second term in office. Voters sent him to Albany in 2010 in a race that saw him win a three-way-contest involving former state Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and former Niagara Falls City Councilman John Accardo. Before becoming an assemblyman, Ceretto served in the Niagara County Legislature and previously the Lewiston Town Board.
Niagara County Democratic County Chairman Nick Forster shrugged off the vote-counting troubles, saying the county's Board of Elections was using a new voting system and "there's always some glitches that need to be worked out."
"We all wait for the moment," Forster said. "And we wait patiently and we'll continue to do that."