LOCKPORT – Nancy L. Smith, Niagara County Democratic elections commissioner since 2000, is changing jobs with her deputy, Lora A. Allen.
Smith said she will serve as deputy commissioner only until she turns 55 in April and can begin collecting her state pension.
She is fully vested in the pension fund, having been county auditor and private secretary to the mayor of Lockport before coming to the Board of Elections.
The County Legislature received Allen’s appointment Tuesday, after its approval by the county Democratic Committee Monday night.
Allen, of Niagara Falls, becomes the first African-American woman to serve as an election commissioner in Niagara County.
Asked if she sought to supplant Smith, Allen said, “Absolutely not. I never seek anything … Nancy Smith has been an integral part of the Board of Elections for years. I think it’s a good move that she’s staying for a while.”
Smith said, “Lora treated me fairly.”
Asked if Democratic Committee Chairman Nicholas J. Forster treated her fairly, Smith said, “He’s letting me stay until April.”
The Democratic Committee had held off on renominating Smith for more than a month after the contentious Oct. 1 party reorganization meeting that elected Forster as party chairman.
Smith, of Lockport, eventually was renominated in November, but the Republican majority in the Legislature refused to act on her renomination in December.
That move placed Smith’s nomination on hold for 30 days, but the Democratic caucus, which could have installed Smith by itself after the 30 days ran out, did not do so. Smith has been serving as a holdover.
No vote was needed Tuesday, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. “After 30 days, they can appoint whoever they want,” he said.
Forster said the Democrats were up against a deadline to fill the position. “The language in the Election Law says you can’t submit the same name again,” Forster said.
Smith was criticized by some in both parties for the firing of former North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos from a part-time clerkship at the Board of Elections the day after Soos blasted Forster at the Oct. 1 party reorganization meeting.
A document that the county Human Resources Department submitted to the state Labor Department, which at first denied Soos’ unemployment benefits, asserted that Soos had been assigned to go to the Democratic meeting in his county capacity. That appears to have been erroneous.
The Republicans held a closed-door inquiry to question Smith about that incident, which led Soos to threaten to sue the county until he finally received his jobless benefits.
“Maybe it took some muckraking by the majority caucus [to get Smith out of office],” said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda.
“Paul Wojtaszek doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Forster said.