NIAGARA FALLS – Glenn A. Choolokian appears poised to become the next chairman of the City Council.
Choolokian said last week he will nominate himself for the position – to be voted on Monday – and two other lawmakers said Choolokian has their votes as well.
Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti said she is also seeking the position but acknowledges she does not have the votes and doesn’t expect to win.
That appears to pave the way for Choolokian, who has won the support of current Chairman Sam F. Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr.
“Niagara Falls government is moving in a direction that it has not gone in a while,” Choolokian said. “We’re going in the right direction.”
Choolokian was elected to the Council last year to replace outgoing Councilman Steven Fournier, winning a race against political newcomer Alicia Laible.
Since then, he has emerged as a key member of a 3-2 Council majority that has been increasingly at odds with Mayor Paul A. Dyster.
Choolokian’s political star rose with last year’s tense budget negotiations, where Dyster and the Council fought over how the city would plug a budget hole created in part by the Seneca casino dispute.
Fruscione has given Choolokian credit in recent weeks for taking the lead on budget negotiations for the Council.
Dyster first proposed a tax hike of 8 percent and nearly two dozen layoffs, and suggested the city take an advance of funds from the New York Power Authority to bridge the gap.
That drew the ire of residents who felt the city should not take the bailout and should have budgeted the Seneca casino revenues more conservatively.
The Council made enough cuts to Dyster’s budget to eliminate the tax increase and restore most of the jobs.
Choolokian, 47, has stressed fiscal conservatism, questioning the city’s spending of the casino revenues and other Dyster projects, such as the $44 million train station on Main Street.
But while he has at times criticized Dyster’s department heads, Choolokian has also shown a willingness to cooperate with the mayor on certain issues, such as the city’s funding of the Niagara SPCA.
Choolokian, 47, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2003, then was appointed in 2004 to serve an unexpired Council term. He also ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2009 before gaining office this year.
He has worked as a buildings and grounds employee at the Niagara Falls water and sewage treatment plants for more than 20 years, and he also owned two Main Street nightclubs in the 1990s.
The water board in July drew criticism when it awarded Choolokian – an advocate of fiscal restraint – a nearly 10 percent raise.
Board members are chosen in part by the Council, and some board members saw the move as political patronage.
But Choolokian denied those allegations and said the raise saved the city money because it prevented the city from having to hire more workers.
Grandinetti said she is running for the position strictly on principle and, barring any last-minute change, she does not expect to win.
She said she has become increasingly disenchanted with the Council majority.
“I am proud of the way we worked together and did the budget, but I am fearful of the direction [they’re] going in,” Grandinetti said. “So much of what they do seems personal as opposed to the good of the community.”
Chairwoman or not, Grandinetti last week said she will run for re-election in November.
She said the city needs to focus on consolidation of the community development and economic development departments and should provide more security on Third Street.
City resident Joe Swartz has also announced his intentions to run for one of the three open Council seats.
Choolokian, meanwhile, appears ready to take the reins of the Council chairmanship after a tumultuous year in city government.
The dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians figures to be the top issue in City Hall once again.
Leaders say the fight over gambling exclusivity will be decided in arbitration later this year, and Dyster has budgeted $7 million in expected casino revenue for this year’s city operations.
“The casino issue is going to be a major issue,” Choolokian said. “I think we got through a tough year, and we’ve got to move ahead.”
Fruscione, the Council chairman since 2008, said Choolokian has done “a fine job” and has earned the position.
He said the Council under his leadership has provided the checks and balances needed in government.
“I think Glenn can do the exact same thing,” Fruscione said. “You can’t have a shill sitting there, and Glenn will definitely not be a shill. You need an independent person who’s willing to work with the administration and the City Council.”