For the first time in nearly a dozen years, Paul Dyster is not running for Mayor of Niagara Falls. After three terms in office, Dyster decided against seeking re-election. WBFO's Chris Caya profiles the candidates vying to become the city's new mayor.
The incumbent is not in the race, but Niagara Gazette reporter Rick Pfeiffer says the three main mayoral candidates are all running against Paul Dyster.
"All three candidates roundly criticize the current mayor and his handling of the city's finances. They don't criticize economic development because there has been kind of an uptick in economic development in the city. So they talk about continuing that, but they run hard against the current mayor on the issue of taxes and fees," Pfeiffer told WBFO.
The lack of revenue, Pfeiffer said, is one of the main issues.
"Unlike most cities across New York state, it has very few service fees. They take in enough money with the property tax to pretty much fund the police and fire departments and leave themselves with about a half-million-dollars to run every other aspect of city government."
The other big issue, he says, is the loss of casino revenue-sharing payments from the Seneca Nation of Indians.
"Unfortunately, the issues don't change in Niagara Falls, they remain the same: structural deficits [and] an overreliance on revenue sharing from the Seneca Casino. And the three candidates for mayor are broadly unhappy with the idea of raising taxes, implementing fees, or doing other things to cut the budget gaps but offering no clear definitive options for what they would do differently," Pfeiffer said.
Glenn Choolokian is the Republican mayoral candidate.
"Glenn Choolokian is a former city councilman, who has run for mayor before. He is a longtime employee of the Niagara Falls Water Board. He is active in the union at the Water Board. And he's a tax cutter, a fiscal hawk. He has talked about cutting the city budget by making the city run more efficiently and has promoted his ideas on social media. He has a Youtube channel and a Facebook page. He has not put out position papers he's put out position videos, so he's kind of new-age in that sense," Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer says the Democrat in the race is a familiar name in Niagara Falls—Robert Restaino.
"He has been an attorney there for more than 35 years. He's a former city court judge. He's the current president of the Niagara Falls School Board. He's a former board president and now general counsel to the city's library board. He has run a campaign that has focused very heavily on the need for more collaborative government, in Niagara County. He talks about dealing with the city's fiscal problems by seeking to collaborate and share services. I know they don't like that term. That's really what they're talking about, with first ring suburbs and the county," Pfeiffer said.
There is also an independent candidate on the New Dynamic Future line, Jeffrey Elder.
"He's a retired career military guy who has, I think, premised his campaign on the fact that the city, to go forward, needs something other than what is being offered by the two traditional major party candidates. He doesn't vary on his platform, frankly, very much from either Mr. Restaino or Mr. Choolokian. He talks about cutting taxes, finding ways to fill the city's structural budget gap of about $10 million," Pfeiffer said.
The mayoral race also includes one declared write-in candidate, Ken Cosentino. He wants to solve the city's fiscal problems, in part, by securing a slice of the profits the state makes from selling electricity generated at Niagara Falls.