Annette Iafallo’s entrenchment in Lackawanna city politics has emerged as a central issue in the race for the 2nd Ward seat on the City Council.
Iafallo, 61, views her deep roots in Lackawanna and longtime involvement in the city’s political scene as positive proof of her commitment to the community.
“I’ve made myself available to the people of the 2nd Ward, and I will be there for them,” said Iafallo. “I have always been involved.”
But her opponent, Diane M. Kozak, sees in Iafallo a candidate who is too wrapped up in an old way of doing things in Lackawanna that isn’t working. Kozak, 66, said she would be an agent of change to help move the city forward.
“I think her experiences are totally within the city. We can be better, we can be different, we can be progressive, but not with the same mindset,” said Kozak, a retired federal employee. “I bring a different vision of the city. I have not stopped learning new things that are applicable to other communities and should be applicable here.”
Iafallo, who is clerk to the Lackawanna City School District, won a Democratic primary in September against current 2nd Ward Councilwoman Rebecca L. Darch.
The Council in May appointed Darch to the post over Iafallo, filling a seat vacated when a former councilman, Geoffrey M. Szymanski, was sworn in as mayor.
Iafallo, who has Szymanski’s backing for the seat, won the coveted Lackawanna Democratic Committee endorsement, cruised to a primary victory and is considered a heavy favorite in a city that leans heavily Democratic. Iafallo also will appear on the Conservative line.
Kozak is a registered Independent running on both the Republican and Independence party lines.
Kozak retired in 2009 from a job in medical administration at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center and previously held posts with the Small Business Administration and the Vietnam Veterans Outreach Center.
While born and raised in Buffalo, Kozak has lived in Lackawanna’s 2nd Ward since 1965 and isn’t a stranger to the city’s politics, either.
She served on the Lackawanna School Board from 1978 to 1982 and was board president for a year. She also served on the board from 1997 to 2000, including two years as president.
Kozak lost a re-election bid in 2000 and another attempt in 2001, the first year Iafallo was elected to the School Board.
Iafallo served on the board until 2007, including a stint as board president. In 2008, she was appointed by the board as school district clerk, a post that pays $42,205 plus benefits in 2012-13.
During the primary race, Iafallo’s employment with the district raised questions about whether she could serve on the Council at the same time without any conflict of interest.
State law isn’t clear on Iafallo’s situation, but Kozak maintained that potential conflicts could arise, with Iafallo acting on behalf of both the district and the city in negotiations.
“Who is her loyalty to? Is it to maintaining her job? In today’s economy, I don’t think she’s going to jeopardize a full-time job,” said Kozak.
The Council post is considered part-time and pays $13,500 per year.
Kozak also questioned how much time Iafallo could devote to Council matters, given that she already has a full-time job and runs a small business, as well.
“I don’t think she can do both jobs with the diligence both jobs need,” said Kozak.
Iafallo said she’s not a policy setter as district clerk, so no conflicts will arise.
And she also noted that the city working together with the district would be a positive for Lackawanna residents, not a negative.
“I would always vote for what’s best in my city and my ward, which would be in the best interests of the school district, too,” she said. “We should be working together. I don’t see that as a problem.”
Kozak said she would make it a point to be available to constituents during the day in City Hall and try to serve as a liaison between the Council and the mayor’s office.
“I don’t think they’re talking to each other as much as they should,” said Kozak, who wants to reinstitute a 2nd Ward “priorities committee” and establish similar groups in the city’s other wards. “There is no long-range plan for this city as a whole, nor is there one for this ward. It’s a constant reaction.”
Iafallo maintained that she’s been more active and available to the people of the 2nd Ward than Kozak.
“I’m more in tune with what’s going on,” she said.
Also in Lackawanna, Democrat Joseph L. Jerge is running unopposed for the 3rd Ward Council seat.
Jerge was appointed by the Council in September to fill the seat vacated when Francis J. Kulczyk died in July. The appointment is effective through the end of the year.