At this point in the campaign, I could have begun my column with any one of the tired, old statements you’ve heard many times in the past: “This is the most important election in the past 20 years;” “Niagara Falls is at a critical crossroad;” or “The choice you make on Election Day will be the most important decision you make that day.” I could have written about any of those things, but you’ve read and heard them all before and you are probably numb by now.
Actually, responding to the demands of residents for a more efficient government; addressing the growing budget concerns; taking advantage of the opportunities provided by technological change; and capitalizing on all our local assets to recruit meaningful economic development to Niagara Falls will be the major pressures challenging the next mayor.
Key questions voters should be asking themselves as November 5th approaches are: What are the real strengths of each candidate? Which candidate can provide a truly professional approach to governing? Which candidate will be a true leader and not just someone “managing” the current state of affairs?
Voters must not just consider the individual they select as the next mayor when answering these questions, but must also think about the level of talent that will accompany the mayor into City Hall. A mayor must truly understand the concept of “talent” as a competitive advantage in the development of his administrative team as well as in the formulation of potential solutions to the many problems facing our community.
Any plan to address these challenging issues is only as good as the administration’s ability to execute it. And strong execution requires talented people at all levels of city government; especially as this city struggles to remain financially solvent over the course of the next couple of years. That’s why during this entire campaign I’ve been promoting a platform of “collaborative governance.” The “go-it-alone” mentality of a candidate who thinks of himself as “the new sheriff in town” will only be a continuation of past performances that have led the city into its current condition.
My professional experiences have given me the opportunity to meet and network with a varied cross section of administrative talent. The challenge for me will be to convince these individuals to join the Restaino administration and to stay with me for the long haul. Nevertheless, this talent pool is not going to be confined to City Hall. As mayor, my strategy of “collaborative governance” will cause me to partner with the most progressive and innovative governmental leaders in Western New York and throughout New York State. This partnership will be the foundation of the policies and programs that guide the Restaino administration.
The various problems challenging our city government are extremely complex. Offering oversimplified solutions will not be the hallmark of my administration. A mayor’s reputation for integrity, transparency, and professionalism will be the critical factor in determining his success or failure when dealing with other government professionals and private developers.
All of these considerations bring the focus of the voters on Election Day back to the concern for candidate qualifications. I believe there are three criteria that voters must assess — competencies, commitment, and character.
As an attorney in private practice for over 30 years, I know I possess the organizational, business, and strategic competencies essential for effective leadership. I am convinced that my legal training will be a significant advantage in the negotiation of future contractual commitments.
As someone who has served this community in a variety of elected and appointed public offices, I have demonstrated my level of engagement in working for the betterment of Niagara Falls. I understand and have made the personal sacrifices that a commitment to public service requires.
However, the most difficult of candidate criteria to assess is leadership character. A Restaino administration will be staffed by talented individuals who will be encouraged to engage in open, honest, and critical discussions with the mayor about the level of basic services that can be effectively and efficiently provided to the people of this city. Collaboration within the administrative team and the courage to dissent when the facts underscore the need to move in a different direction will be characteristics of the people I appoint as department heads, and what I will expect from them within their departments.
It is the characteristic of collaboration that will be the highly prized aspect of my tenure at City Hall. Forming effective networks with governmental leaders on the local, state, and federal levels will need to be done immediately. Being open-minded, flexible, and cooperative in developing regional solutions to those problems commonly faced by local governments will be my approach to serving as mayor. As mayor, I will make the commitment to demonstrate the courage to do what is right for our community rather than to pursue the expedient or fashionably satisfying path.
Therefore, I choose to conclude my campaign with the same question with which I opened it some ten months ago: Who is best prepared to govern?
Robert M. Restaino is a candidate for mayor of Niagara Falls.