NIAGARA FALLS – The field of candidates running for Niagara Falls City Council in November just got more crowded.
Russ Vesci, a lifelong city resident, said last week he will seek one of three contested seats on the council, joining two others who previously announced.
Vesci, 46, has spent two decades working for the Niagara Falls Water Board on the buildings and grounds crew of the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
“I’ve worked on every street in this city,” he said. “I don’t believe anybody knows it better than I do. I’m out in the neighborhoods people don’t see.”
Working for the water board is a path that Vesci said has prepared him for public office – and one that Glenn A. Choolokian followed earlier this year to the council chairmanship.
Vesci, a former block club leader and martial arts instructor, is sounding the same tones as Choolokian and the council majority that has challenged Mayor Paul A. Dyster this year.
“This has been a decades-old problem: somewhere along the line, overspending just got out of control,” Vesci said. “You can’t tax and spend, tax and spend. I think of it like I do a regular household. If you’re broke, you can’t go buying a big-screen TV.”
That means projects like the $44 million International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center need to re-evaluated, Vesci said.
Vesci said the current council, which has pushed to cut city spending, is going in the “right direction.”
But while he said he wants to “continue that train of thought,” Vesci stressed that he wasn’t recruited by Choolokian and wouldn’t owe anything to him or the current council.
“I don’t owe allegiances to anyone,” he said. “I am my own man.”
Taxes need to be lowered, Vesci said, so that city residents aren’t forced to sell their homes and move elsewhere, like he once contemplated doing.
Vesci believes that strategy will help bring the city the economic prosperity of days gone by – days that exist in his memory from stories his father once told him.
“Through his eyes, I saw the decline of this city,” he said. “To hear the way he described this place, with the businesses, the tourists, the Honeymoon Capital, it truly saddens me to see what has been done to my town.”
Vesci, who lives on the city’s East Side, joins Joe Swartz and Andrew Touma as announced candidates for the council.
Swartz, 23, is a telephone operator at the Seneca Niagara Casino. The city’s first openly gay candidate, he is running as a Democrat but has been critical of both Dyster and the council.
Touma teaches third grade at Geraldine J. Mann Elementary School in the Falls. A LaSalle resident, he has pledged to bring the art of compromise and “a voice of reason” to City Hall.
The three candidates will run against Councilman Sam Fruscione, the former council chairman; Councilman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti.
All three sitting council members are expected to run, and council members are elected on an at-large basis, with no geographic significance to each seat.