Niagara Falls citizens organize to take back the city from Albany, but must reckon with pro-Albany mayor

BY FRANK PARLATO

Earlier this year the Niagara Gazette announced that a group of locals organized something called “Reclaim Niagara” – formed to “get Albany out of our pockets.”

To combat the “exploitation of our resources by public authorities and state entities” is its stated goal.

It is described as “a growing movement of citizens dedicated to exposing the injustices faced by Niagara Falls” and this injustice they have rightly divined is due to nothing more than the fact that Albany hijacks the wealth of this city – primarily to enrich the politicians who control the state – who are from New York City.

Two local businessmen, Shawn Weber, landlord, entrepreneur, sometimes beggar of taxpayer money for his businesses, and owner of the popular nightclub Wine on Third, Patrick Proctor, owner of Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours, and attorney and city of Niagara Falls firefighter, Jason Cafarella, were introduced as the leaders of a group who, according to its website, are “Demanding action for what the city of Niagara Falls deserves.”

The group organized a small protest march on May 14. Attended by a couple dozen residents, these walked along the state-owned south Robert Moses Parkway, through the state–run Niagara Falls State Park and up the state-managed Old Falls Street, calling attention to the fact that the waterfront and all of its resources – like tourism and hydropower – which should benefit the city of Niagara Falls, have been totally and utterly hijacked by Albany.

Ironically, one of the individuals who had been complicit for several years in the theft of Niagara Falls’ assets by Albany — NYS Assemblyman and former State Parks administrator John Ceretto, joined the march.

Possibly some saw the hypocrisy in Ceretto, who never made a peep about Albany taking Niagara Falls hydropower, its tourism, its convention center, its conference center or its development of downtown. He became one of the few incumbents in the entire state Assembly to be unseated this November.

If nothing else, Reclaim Niagara, which has not updated its Facebook page since October, is trying to raise consciousness among residents about the issues.

There are a handful of Reclaim Niagara lawn signs, including one prominently in the window of Wine on Third.

And, frankly, anytime anyone gets off their duff and marches up the street in protest of anything, well, good for them.

But more than marching is required.

If lawyer Cafarella can come up with some solid strategies on how to rock the boat here and in Albany, drawing national or even international attention to the city’s plight, which is the most violent, poorest and highest taxed in the state, (despite having a world tourist destination and the greatest natural hydropower in the world) he should consider a run for mayor.

In a couple of years, the beleaguered residents of this city will probably have had enough of the non-stop toadying to state agencies by the present mayor, Paul Dyster, who, having been a cheerleader for the south parkway and traffic circle upgrade, Greenway Commissioner who passed the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvement plan that expanded parking lots and food service in the park, boosted Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn’s boatyard to be built in a matter of months while north parkway removal has languished for the nine years he’s been in office, and from whom never is heard a discouraging word with regards to NYPA’s looting of hydropower, desperately needs to go if the city of Niagara Falls is going to make progress on any of the goals of Reclaim Niagara.

Let’s start with that: Reclaim Niagara should either get Dyster on the record that Albany must return Niagara Falls’ hydropower and tourism to local control, or at the very least, let the city share largely in its profits – or Reclaim Niagara should let the public know Dyster is the old fraud that we here at the Reporter know he clearly is.

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The Niagara Power Project ships its electricity to Canada and seven other states while residents of Niagara Falls pay nearly the highest electricity rates in the nation.

While Reclaim Niagara seems to be silent right now, a new group has emerged. Called the Pine Avenue Redevelopment Project (PARP), it is described as  “A group of Business owners working together to promote Business, Economic Development, Beautification and Safety for the Businesses, Residents and Visitors,” according to its Facebook page.

Without denigrating any effort towards the good, the word “directionless,” comes to mind with regards to the latest effort.

To undo the frustration existing among some who pine, no pun intended, for the glorious days of yesteryear when Niagara Falls was a thriving city and Pine Avenue was its epicenter, they will need to make a decision – beg from city hall or strike up their own independent strategy.

Members of the Pine Avenue group met recently with City of Niagara Falls Community Development director Seth Piccirillo and City Administrator Nick Melson, and they received warm praise and free advice from Council Chairman Andrew Touma, and council members Kristen Grandinetti and Kenny Tompkins which, of course, means little, if nothing at all.

The group  – either will be dependent on the good graces of local government –  or will eventually wither and die like all community groups that don’t have direct political ties to Mayor Paul Dyster, qualifying them for some kind of government hand-out.

And no one in this town ever got a hand-out in the nine years Dyster has been mayor who did not either pledge to support him politically – either openly or tacitly, and/or donate money to him and/or did something that Dyster could use as a press release or photo op to promote his own political interests.

It’s a political catch 22: Dyster is committed to following the lead of his masters in Albany who are bent on using this city as New York City’s tool, which means in the end keeping it poor and on welfare. A rich city will come into its own and want to keep its own.

Here, if anyone wants Dyster’s support (which are the few crumbs left for the city Dyster can dole out after Albany has eaten our lunch) they must pledge an overall fealty to Dyster and support his agenda (which is Albany [the governor] first).

The only way any group concerned about restoring the city to what it once was can succeed is to break ties with Dyster, the most pro-Albany mayor this city ever had.

That means in turn no help from the city. In fact, not only will one get no help but also the active enmity of the mayor.

And no help from the mayor means no help from the council.

(Think the smashing of the council majority who opposed the Hamister deal).

The various councils over the last nine years have largely supported Mayor Dyster, who in turn wholly supports Albany, so in effect this is also a largely pro-Albany council.

How wise Albany is, too: they give pittances to the mayor. Seneca Casino slot machine payouts go 75 percent Albany/25 percent Niagara Falls (while Niagara Falls businesses compete against a host of tax free Seneca businesses [soon to come online is a gas station and mega convenience store] in the highest taxed city in the state).

But Albany handled it wisely by giving the whole casino cash to the control of the mayor who could (and has) blown it on his own agendas (Consider how little $200 million under Dyster’s control has done for this ever declining city)

Albany gives Dyster crumbs, such as the left-over bed tax money and other free little hand-outs – which he can hand out to his little favorites – while Albany eats our lunch and our supper and most of our breakfast too.

Did you ever hear of a city that gets 8 million tourists per year and has the topography and water to produce a billion dollars of hydropower per year that is broke?

Dyster even voted to give control to Albany of our water by supporting the creation of the water authority that is controlled by Albany appointments. Small wonder people in Niagara Falls pay higher water rates than places in the desert. In the city with the greatest freshwater in the world, we pay high water rates. In the city with the greatest hydropower, we pay nearly the highest electric rates in the country.

The highest taxes, the highest crime, the most welfare, the fastest declining city – all of this is the cost of Albany.

But for Albany we would be rich.

And none of this poverty could be done without Paul Dyster aiding and abetting Albany interests.

He is the worst- for he had $200 million in casino cash to squander – which he did. And he is the man who led the city to the absolute abysmal status it now suffers.

We will believe that Reclaim Niagara and Pine Avenue Redevelopment, etc. will do even a lick of good – if and only if – they make a break from every politician who is not opposed to Albany’s hijacking of our assets.

Ceretto is gone. That leaves the number one Albany booster Mayor Dyster.

How about it: Let’s ask Dyster to demand a far greater share of our hydropower?

Ask State Parks to pay large fees to the city for taking up all of our waterfront?

Charge Delaware North and Maid of the Mist – the big takers in the state park – to pay market value rent – and give that to the city.

You want to Reclaim Niagara? Start with that. Demand the mayor of our city stand up for what is ours.

Otherwise these groups that talk about Albany are just a bunch of people with a lot of hot air, a couple of signs and the willingness to walk in the park (owned by the state) with John Ceretto (also owned by the state until he was fired by the people).

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