North Tonawanda Alderwoman-at-Large Catherine Schwandt will be resigning from her elected position with the city of North Tonawanda to pursue a full-time position with the New York Power Authority (NYPA), she announced this week.
NYPA is the behemoth, quasi-governmental authority that the late Robert Moses headed and which, since 1957, has operated in this region, hijacking billions of dollars of local hydropower out of Western New York in favor of New York City and eight other states.
Western New York residents do not get local electricity from NYPA, despite the Power Authority getting most of its hydroelectricity profits for the statewide agency from the Niagara River.
It is not known what job title Schwandt will take with NYPA. She is resigning her position as Alderwoman effective Feb. 1.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work for the wonderful people of North Tonawanda for nearly 18 years,” said Schwandt in a statement. “I have met so many amazing people who care so deeply about this city. While our community has had its share of challenges over the years, and will continue to do so in the future, I am so thankful for the time I have had on the Common Council.”
Ironically, in 2011 Schwandt supported a resolution of the North Tonawanda Common Council seeking a Niagara County representative to the NYPA Board of Trustees.
The minutes of the Sept. 11 council meeting, condemning widespread NYPA patronage, reads in part, “The Niagara Power project generates a vast revenue stream for the Power Authority and … millions of dollars in revenues generated in Niagara County are recklessly spent in White Plains and Albany.”
The resolution, which was proposed by then Mayor Robert G. Ortt , was seconded by Alderwoman Schwandt, and sought a Niagara County appointee to the NYPA board noting that “the Niagara Power Project is currently the largest generator of power of any NYPA facility.”
NYPA has been described as the number one cause of jobs leaving western New York.
Following its opening of the Robert Moses Power Plant and the end of low cost electricity for industry in Niagara Falls, the city lost 35,000 manufacturing and industrial jobs, the companies downsizing because of the uncertainty and ultimate elimination of low cost hydropower, which Moses cleverly hijacked for the more populous New York City.
It is expected that her new NYPA position will be along the lines of political patronage.
Schwandt is not known to have experience in hydropower generation.
“My heart belongs to North Tonawanda,” said Schwandt in announcing her retirement as an Alderwoman. “As long as I’m able, I will always be willing to work for the betterment of this community.”
Her rise to a NYPA patronage position came just two years after she was appointed in 2015 to fill the Alderman at Large position of Art Pappas, who was appointed to fill the role of Mayor Rob Ortt, who was selected to fill the shoes of State Senator George Maziarz when he retired.
She previously held the role of Alderman at Large and President of the Common Council when in 2006 she announced she would run against longtime Albany fixture Assemblyman Robin Schimminger.
She said then, “People are afraid their children are going to have to leave the area. Everybody knows somebody who needs a job. We have to give people a reason to stay here.”
In 2008, Schwandt was appointed Council President when Brett Sommer vacated the position. She filled the role until the end of 2012. Schwandt at that time was a 12-year veteran of the Common Council. She also served as President of the Council from 2001-2005.
Schwandt and her husband have invested in residential real estate in North Tonawanda.
She was also appointed once before (during the Maziarz era) to the New York Power Authority.
Schwandt started out as a Democrat and changed her affiliation to Republican before the 2003 election. It has helped her immensely in her appointments.
It remains to be seen what efforts Schwandt will make to fight to obtain more local control of the region’s hydropower. Will she be just another patronage hire, a woman who works well to deliver votes and follow the rules and in return is delivered one of many political positions handed out by a largely corrupt Power Authority to both of the local political parties, in large part to buy their silence in the most outrageous stripping of a region’s wealth perhaps in American history – the theft of the hydropower of Niagara by Robert Moses and his creation – the New York Power Authority.