LOCKPORT - Nicholas J. Forster, who was Niagara County Democratic Party chairman from 1996 to 2002, returned to the post Monday, as incumbent Jeremy M. Schnurr and dozens of his supporters walked out of the party's reorganizational meeting after Schnurr conceded defeat.
The meeting featured recriminations about anonymous mailings to committee members and the media about alleged skeletons in closets of both men and objections to the decision to delay the reappointment of Elections Commissioner Nancy L. Smith.
Forster answered, "No," when asked after the meeting if the party had a unity problem.
His supporters declared that Forster's return to power means things are looking up for a party that, by the count of former Coroner James M. Joyce, has lost 78 of the last 86 elections for local office in Niagara County, despite having an enrollment edge of 11,000 voters over the Republicans.
Forster said, "We're at the crossroads in this Democratic Party. We have been the laughingstock of the political process."
"We're here tonight to usher in a new beginning for the Democratic Party," Joyce told the gathering of 180 committee members in the 4-H Training Center at the county fairgrounds.
But in many ways it seemed like old times for the often-fractious Democrats.
Former North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, seconding Schnurr's nomination for chairman, attacked Forster.
"I've been involved for the last 11 years, and I haven't seen you at a single Democratic fund-raiser. Where the hell have you been?" Soos barked at Forster as the latter's supporters booed loudly.
Forster yelled back, "I've been on this committee on and off for 30 years. Where the hell have you been?"
Forster rented buses to bring committee members from Niagara Falls to Lockport - "the Forster Express," he called it.
"It is obvious from the turnout what the result will be," Schnurr said, taking the floor after the nominating speeches. "I will regretfully decline the nomination."
After a voice vote in favor of Forster, Schnurr's backers left the room.
Schnurr denied having anything to do with mailings about a domestic incident involving Forster in 2006 that allegedly played a role in his resignation from the Erie County Sheriff's Office, even though no one was arrested or treated for any injury.
Schnurr said there were negative mailings about him, too. "I am extremely saddened by what has happened the last few days," Schnurr told the meeting.
Bruce Battaglia, of the Town of Lockport, said the turnout of supporters was a sign of Forster's political ability.
In his nominating speech, Battaglia said Forster will raise more money, improve the party's candidate recruitment and improve relations with organized labor.
By a vote announced as 75-44, a motion to vote on reappointing Smith to the Board of Elections was tabled.
Smith said, "He wants to meet with me and staff, but I've been guaranteed I will be reappointed."
She said that she wasn't aware the vote wasn't going to occur Monday night.
"We don't have a problem with Nancy Smith," Forster said. "I think it's important we talk to the [Board of Elections] workers about our vision for the party." Those workers currently include Soos.
Schnurr had held the chairmanship since his appointment Jan. 25 by the party's executive committee. The North Tonawanda attorney succeeded Daniel Rivera, who resigned.
Gary D. Parenti, a former Assembly candidate, also had run for the chairmanship but dropped out after Forster and Schnurr succeeded in having almost all of his supporters' nominating petitions for committee seats disallowed by the Board of Elections.