By Mark Scheer firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Niagara County Democratic Party leaders set out to tip the scales of political power in Niagara County this year.
While the party made some inroads on the western end of the county, it did not fare well in traditional GOP strongholds outside the city of Niagara Falls.
Chairman Nick Forster, who returned to lead the local Democrats earlier this summer, said the results didn’t exactly cause him to “jump for joy,” but did give him a sense that the party is beginning to move in a better direction.
“Obviously, there’s some jubilation in the city of Niagara Falls and certainly we are very happy to have Judge (Mark) Montour on the bench,” Forster said. “We are looking to capture some more seats in the legislature to change the balance of power in Niagara.”
Republicans and their affiliates, including members of the local Conservative and Independence parties, have held sway over the legislature’s majority for a decade now. County GOP Chairman Scott Kiedrowski called the five election-cycle winning streak “unprecedented.”
“That has never been done before and, to me, that’s a testament to what we are doing,” he said.
Forster and his supporters fielded several candidates in the majority of county races in an effort to topple Republican-friendly incumbents who held a 12-3 advantage in the legislature heading into November. The Democrats managed to add just one seat, as local union representative Mark Grozio downed Republican incumbent Cheree Copelin in the Third District.
Kiedrowski chalked his party’s continued success up to the quality of its candidates and their commitment to issues of concern to residents, including cutting costs and consolidating services at the county level. While the party also enjoyed success in most of the races in the county’s 12 towns, he acknowledged that the results were not as favorable for Republicans in Niagara Falls, a community where Democrats outnumber conservative voters by a healthy margin.
“We want to run an aggressive campaign in all of the areas in every cycle,” Kiedrowski said. “We continue to focus our resources on good, quality campaigns and I truly believe our message has resonated well with the voters.”
Democrats endorsed by the county party were successful in a key Niagara Falls City Council race, where all three candidates supported by the committee won office, including incumbents Charles Walker and Kristen Grandinetti and newcomer Andy Touma. The other “win” referred to by Forster came in a race for the Eighth District judicial race where Montour beat former Niagara County lawmaker and Republican Paul Wojtaszek.
Forster said the outcome of this year’s races show a few things, including that the Republican “machine,” as he calls it, continues to be well-financed and well-organized. He believes it also shows the Democrats still have some work to do when it comes to raising campaign dollars and spreading their candidates’ message.
Forster returned to the chairmanship last year and said he inherited a committee that had just $7,000 on hand for campaigning. Forster said he’s pleased with the way his committee managed to close the funding disparity with the GOP this year, while finding viable candidates to run against incumbent Republicans, Conservatives and Independence candidates who, in most cases, have run unopposed for several years.
“There were a lot of things that were in a repair mode in the Democratic Party and that continues,” Forster said.
Forster said he was pleased that Democratic candidates challenged Republicans on a number of important issues this fall, including reducing county costs, cutting patronage and reforming operations inside the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
“I think we were able to find a lot of good candidates and I know a lot of them are going to be returning as candidates,” he said.
Forster’s previous stint as head of the party ended when he stepped down in 2001. At the time, Democrats were in charge of the then-19-member legislature, holding an 11-8 majority.
Upon his return, he worked to garner support for the committee through the county’s most prominent labor unions. With the exception of Laborers Local 91, he was successful, receiving the backing of the Niagara Building Trades and Niagara-Orleans Labor Council, among others.
“We will continue our journey with our friends in labor until this county has adequate representation,” Forster said.