Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster delivered his final State of the City address Monday, looking back on the accomplishments of his administration while offering signs of hope for the next mayor and the students in his audience.
Dyster explained that he chose the Performance Center of Niagara Falls High School as the venue at which to deliver his speech as a symbol of solidarity with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It was at the latter school where 17 students and staff were killed and 17 others wounded in a mass shooting which served as a catalyst to a renewed anti-gun violence movement.
The Niagara Falls mayor addressed students, saying he and other leaders owe it to them to preserve their safety. In 2017, Dyster and Niagara Falls School Superintendent Mark Laurrie reached an agreement to hire School Resource Officers. At his State of the City address, the mayor announced an expansion.
"Since I last stood before you, I am proud to announce that we have expanded upon that partnership, and our commitment to your safety, with the addition of three more Student Resource Officers," Dyster said. "Given the thoughtless violence we have witnessed, especially over the course of the past year, it remains the paramount concern of your Superintendent, the Niagara Falls Police Department and myself, that our city remain ahead of the curve when it comes to your safety."
Dyster continued on the topic of public safety, announcing the city had recently obtained $100,000 from the US Department of Homeland Security to fund training of Niagara Falls Police officers in active shooter situations. Training opportunities and initiatives are being credited with an overall reduction of crime in the Cataract City.
"From 2017 to 2018, we experienced a thirteen-point-six percent decrease in shooting incidents involving injury, a nine-point-five percent decrease in the overall average from the past five years," Dyster declared. "Of those incidents where a person was actually hit by gunfire, there was a 20 percent decrease in the past year, and an average eleven-point-five decrease since 2013. It is because of this initiative and many others that I can proudly report that the city’s crime rate is down ten percent, robberies are down nine percent and use of force incidents continue a steady decline from 2014, for a total decrease of 61 percent over five years."
The mayor also touched on economic development, praising the removal of a large section of the former Robert Moses Parkway, announcing plans by out-of-town businesses to repurpose long-shuttered buildings and renewing the city's push to extend Canadian-based GO Trains into Niagara Falls, New York. Doing the latter, Dyster believes, will allow the city to tap into the economic machine of Toronto and open Niagara Falls, USA to further new economic life.
"It won’t happen overnight, but the likely result is a new, reborn, high-tech Main Street," the mayor said. "After years of planning and very hard work, the street that for years has been a symbol of the city’s decline is soon to become a symbol instead of rebirth. When we first expressed optimism about the revitalization of the downtown tourist district, people were skeptical. But just as eventually things have started turning around there, Main Street’s day will come. Just be patient a little while longer."
Councilman Bill Kennedy was among who supported the mayor's positive tone of his final State of the City address.
"There are a lot of future projects that are being worked on that are going to rejuvenate the city," Kennedy said. "The mayor's obviously stepping aside, so the next mayor coming in is going to have his hands full to work on a lot of the structural deficit, plus keeping these things rejuvenated so that Niagara Falls can come back to life."
Dyster has been mayor since 2008. Prior to that he was a member of the Niagara Falls City Council. He looked back on the inspiration to get involved in local politics, recalling a time he was driving on a city street and observed garbage swirling in the wind.
"My boys spoke up from the back seat: 'Dad, if you don’t like it, why don’t you stop just complaining and do something about it?' I guess that was the start of my career in public service," Dyster said.
He then encouraged the students in the audience to one day take up the same challenge if they see something in their hometown that they don't like.