Niagara Gazette

September 8, 2013

Primary challenge for city council Dems

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Registered Democrats will vote to give three general election lines to four candidates in a primary next Tuesday.

Incumbents Sam Fruscione, Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker will look to fend off newcomer Andrew Touma and secure the line of their registered party for the Nov. 5 general election.

Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m.

Touma, who has been an educator for 19 years, has spent most of that time with the Niagara Falls School District teaching at six grade levels and spending part of his career as the director of the Community Education Center.

Touma, 45, said he is running for office to bring a questioning but cooperative and respectful attitude to a legislative body that he believes has become too politically entrenched.

“This is the only way we can move forward on important issues such as economic development, or holding the line on taxes while growing our city and still providing those services our residents need and deserve,” he said in an emailed response to questions from the Gazette. 

Touma said he would fight to create an environment where business owners felt welcomed in the city.

“We all need to be watchdogs for our taxpayers, but that means not only cutting waste in government but also growing the city, its businesses, workforce and tax base,” Touma said.

Walker, who is the longest serving council member, having first won a seat in 1999, is a community outreach director at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

The 54-year-old councilman said he is running for another term because he is finally seeing some of the ideas he talked about in his first campaign beginning to happen and he wants to see that vision through.

“I am running because I believe the city is moving in the right direction and is ready for investment and there are developers ready to jump in,” Walker said.

Walker, like Touma, said he wants to see a more positive and cooperative attitude on the council so that the city can keep things moving in the right direction.

“Negativity breeds negativity,” Walker said. “We need to work together for the taxpayers and citizens deserve better than what they have been getting lately.”

Grandinetti, a prekindergarten teacher with the school district, is seeking a second term on the council. 

“I am an educated woman, who gets the facts and then votes; contrary to what my critics say I am not a rubber stamp,” she said. “I tell the truth to power and to my constituents. Unlike many of the leaders in our region I trust people with the facts and believe they are intelligent enough to assess a situation and support the best causes, developments and changes needed to make our city whole again.”

Grandinetti added that the only way to encourage development in the city is to build and maintain relationships at the local, state, and federal level that convey city officials are ready and trustworthy enough to invest here.

During a community forum at the Rapids Theatre earlier this month, Grandinetti said the city needs to keep working with the state to continue development downtown in an effort to attract young, college-educated people seeking an urban lifestyle.

“I think what we need to do is to focus on what we can do to attract young professionals,” she said.

Fruscione, also a teacher with the school district, did not respond to questions from the Gazette.

During the community forum, Fruscione said council members can help attract businesses and residents by keeping taxes down and making city government efficient.

“We need to hold the line on taxes and make sure that the perception, the cleanliness of the city is visible from all angles throughout the entire city,” Fruscione, who is seeking a third term on the council, said.

The three winners of the Democratic primary will face three Republican challengers — Robert Elder, Russel Vesci and Vincent Sandonato.

COMING TOMORROW • Coverage of the primary in the Lewiston supervisor's race. MUGS (In alphabetical order, please) Sam Fruscione Kristen Grandinetti Andrew Touma - NIA Touma mug 090813 Charles Walker

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257