As many of you know, I have thrown my hat into the political arena for the first time as a candidate for Niagara Falls City Council.
It’s been an experience that reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Clint Eastwood’s 1966 “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” As a novice politician, the title pretty well sums up my first experience in the world of politics.
THE GOOD: During the campaign, I have reached out to many people for feedback on how to move our city forward. They have included former and current council members, community activists and, most importantly, the taxpaying citizens of Niagara Falls. The people I have met and the conversations we have had have been wonderful. If it were not for my desire to improve this city, I would never have met Dan Davis, a local historian who has a great idea for a historic and entertainment district in our city, and Mary Jo Pellow, a community advocate who manages a Facebook page entitled “The Good Things About Niagara Falls.” The page provides all positive posts about our city and events.
I also have had the opportunity to meet and discuss our city with Tom Christy, who started the Civics Project to educate the public about its civic responsibilities. One of Tom’s interests, which is a common interest for most people in Niagara Falls, is to find out why, with a natural wonder in our backyard, the City of Niagara Falls isn’t doing better.
Then there is Frank Lupisella, a high school friend who was raised on 17th Street, next door to the Boys & Girls Club. Frank and his wife, Cathy, moved from this area in 1984, and have never returned. They are like many other Falls residents who wonder why the city has deteriorated. Frank and Cathy are some of my biggest supporters, even though they don’t live in this area. They are supportive because they want to see this city make a comeback so they can bring their children and grandchildren back to the place they call home.
Going door to door and meeting residents has been another positive experience, most of the time. One particular incident I will always cherish is when I knocked on a door of an elderly woman. After I introduced myself, the woman came out onto her porch and gave me a hug. With tears in her eyes, she stated, “Your mother and father would be so proud of you!” This delightful woman was good friends of my parents 40 years ago.
I have had the opportunity to learn about so many community groups and organizations that have one common goal — to make our city a better place in which to live, work, and invest.
I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have supported my campaign — some I have known for many years, while others I have recently had the opportunity to meet.
These are just a few examples of the good things I have experienced in the political world.
THE BAD: When I first entered the political arena, many people told me not to trust anyone. I found out quickly they were right! I had one “supporter” ask for a yard sign, sign my petition, and tell me how much he wanted me to win. Then, on primary day, he posted on Facebook telling people not to vote for me but for a candidate I was running against.
Facebook is a story in itself. I was told that, in order to win an election, I would need to be active on Facebook. So I started a Facebook page called “John Spanbauer for City Council.” I was unaware of the keyboard courage so many Facebook users have. They had no problem criticizing me and telling me how unqualified I was for deciding to run for a council seat.
I also experienced a very disappointing situation where a union president sent out a communication to his membership on the day of the primary election, telling the membership not to vote for me. I do not have a problem with such a communication, if it paints an accurate picture of what I stand for. But the communication provided only a portion of the platform I represent. I spoke to the source of this communication and requested that, in the future, my entire platform be shared so that the union membership gets a full picture of who I am and what I stand for.
I am still amazed at the closed-mindedness of some of our residents, when it comes to their voting choices. As I go door to door, on several occasions I have had residents shut the door on me once I have identified myself as a Republican candidate. In a city that is in critical condition on many fronts, I would think residents would put political parties aside and vote for the candidates who will be an advocate for the taxpayer, and bring fiscal responsibility to the city. It shouldn’t matter what party the person represents. I have always voted for the best person, not the party. I hope our residents do the same. This city’s taxpayers can’t afford to continue “business as usual.”
THE UGLY: Without a doubt, the city budget and the budget process are what I find most alarming since entering the political field. The budget is as ugly as it can get. I still am trying to get a grasp on how the city leadership has continued to mismanage the city’s budget after numerous organizations have provided guidance and suggestions to improve budget operations. The NYS Comptroller’s Office, the NYS Financial Restructuring Board and the city’s Financial Advisory Panel have all made recommendation to our city’s leadership (current and past) about our budget deficiencies, and these recommendations have fallen on deaf ears!
Recently, the state comptroller’s office announced that Niagara Falls was one of 10 municipalities statewide that are designated as experiencing "significant fiscal stress.” Niagara Falls was the only city in Western New York that made the list. Our city also holds the distinction of being one the few municipalities to appear on the list for the second year in a row.
The city’s leadership must do a better job of managing the budget and reduce the cost of city government before asking the taxpayer to pay more. I have heard loud and clear from residents who have said that if there is an increase in taxes or added user fees, they will move out of this city. We can’t afford to have anyone with disposable income move out of this city. I love living in the city of Niagara Falls, but I fear for the place in which I live. The financial health of this city is in critical condition, and must be addressed!
I do not consider myself a politician, so entering the world of politics has been a learning experience. John Spanbauer, the semi-retired guy who wants to play golf and enjoy spending time with family and friends, does not want to be in politics. But John Spanbauer, the taxpaying citizen who is frustrated with our city government wants to be an advocate for the taxpayer to bring fiscal responsibility to our city. He is the person who wants to be your councilman.
Arthur Schoellkopf, who was elected mayor in 1896, stated, “Municipal government is business, not politics.” If elected, I will use the skills and knowledge I gained over more than 35 years in the private sector to improve all aspects of city government. I will do my best to govern this city like a business. It is obvious that we can’t run government as we have in the past. Change is needed!
John Spanbauer is a candidate for Niagara Falls City Council.