LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature tabled a resolution Tuesday that would have put the county on record as supporting a private-sector casino in downtown Niagara Falls.
The resolution was introduced by Legislator Kathryn L. Lance, R-Wheatfield, who said it came in response to a measure passed at the Nov. 20 meeting in support of table games at racetrack casinos, including Batavia Downs.
At the time, the Democratic members from Niagara Falls said endorsing “racinos” could be harmful to Niagara Falls.
The city is owed about $60 million in unpaid casino profits that the Seneca Nation is withholding, claiming the state’s push to legalize non-Indian casino violates its compact, which the Senecas say gives it exclusivity in casino gambling.
Lance said there has been “bad faith on both sides.” She said by cutting off Niagara Falls’ money, “the Senecas have ensured that our community bears the full weight of gambling’s social burdens while receiving none of the benefits. We want a more stable gaming system.”
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the measure should be put on hold. In the past two weeks, “I was approached by certain people in government who said sensitive negotiations are going on.” He said he didn’t follow through on his pledge to introduce a resolution such as Lance’s because it might harm talks to patch up the Seneca-state rift.
Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, then put in a tabling motion of his own. He said that he had presumed support for Lance’s resolution would be unanimous but that Virtuoso had brought in new information.
“We still have a desire to reap the benefits of private casinos in Niagara County,” Updegrove said.
Also Tuesday, the Republicans removed from the table the renomination of Nancy L. Smith as Democratic elections commissioner, but the Democrats declined to put Smith’s name up for a vote.
The situation gave the legislators an opportunity to shout at each other for the benefit of the cable television audience about how Smith, as Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek put it, “lied” about why Lawrence V. Soos was fired from the Board of Elections.
In a closed Administration Committee session Nov. 27, Smith apparently denied that Soos was fired after being directed to attend the Oct. 1 Democratic reorganizational meeting as a county employee, as long as he didn’t speak out.
Soos, the former North Tonawanda mayor, spoke against the candidacy of Nicholas J. Forster, who was elected party chairman that night. He was fired from his county job the next day by Smith, who, according to Soos, told her she had been directed to do so by Forster.
Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said Smith “violated the public trust. She, plain and simple, lied to the committee.”
Virtuoso bellowed, “You’re using powerful words. You’re an attorney. You know better.”
Smith’s nomination can be ratified by the Democratic lawmakers alone after a 30-day time limit expires Dec. 19.