NIAGARA FALLS – Democratic voters in the city will have a September primary to choose City Council candidates for November’s general election.
Four candidates, including the three incumbents, turned in petitions to run for the three open Council seats by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Any petitions being submitted by mail to the Niagara County Board of Elections had to be postmarked by Thursday.
The candidates who filed petitions were incumbents Samuel F. Fruscione, Kristen M. Grandinetti and Charles A. Walker, along with challenger Andrew P. Touma.
The Niagara Falls Democratic Committee has not endorsed any candidates and will proceed with an open primary, said Chairwoman Alicia M. Laible.
The committee is looking ahead and trying to build bridges, and having an open primary “was for the best,” Laible said.
“I think we’re all trying to work really hard together,” she said.
Laible took over as city chairwoman about a month ago after the resignation of Nick D’Aloise, who left to pursue “an educational opportunity,” Laible said.
No matter who wins the primary, the committee will work to get those candidates elected in November, she said.
The Council is presently made up of five Democrats but is split with a three-member majority that is not aligned with Mayor Paul A. Dyster, also a Democrat.
Walker submitted petitions with 1,596 total signatures, followed by Touma’s 1,576, Fruscione’s 1,506 and Grandinetti’s 1,142, according to the county Board of Elections.
Democratic candidates had to submit at least 802 signatures in order to be eligible for the ballot.
Walker, 53, is the longest-serving incumbent, having been on the Council since 1999. He is the manager of community outreach at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
Walker said he believes the city committee should have made endorsements instead of moving forward with an open primary.
“I personally felt that over the years my service to the committee should have meant something,” Walker said.
The committee, Walker pointed out, continues to work for the candidates and circulate nominating petitions even though no endorsement was made.
Touma, 44, has worked for the Niagara Falls School District for 19 of the last 20 years in teaching and administrative roles. He also was an assistant principal at North Tonawanda Middle School for a year.
Touma said he agreed with the committee’s decision to have an open primary.
“This process allows the people to decide who’s best to represent them,” he said.
Touma’s cousin, Craig, has previously served as Dyster’s campaign manager.
Fruscione, who is seeking his third term, has been on the Council since 2006. He is a teacher in the Niagara Falls School District. He could not be reached to comment Thursday.
Grandinetti, 53, is finishing her first four-year term. She has worked for the Niagara Falls School District for 18 years, 12 of which have been as a teacher. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten.
Grandinetti said she understands the philosophy behind the committee’s decision to have an open primary and has no problem with it.
“I think they felt that they had four viable candidates,” she said.
Two Republican candidates filed petitions to appear on the ballot, and they intend to run in November’s election – Robert J. Elder and Russell F. Vesci. Both have received the endorsement of the city Republican Committee. Elder is a registered Democrat.
Tim Hutchins, whose name appeared on petitions filed Thursday, has chosen not to run, said Patricia Castillo, city GOP chairwoman.
Vincent M. Sandonato, a former county legislator, said he plans to file petitions for the Independence Party nomination.
News Niagara Reporter Thomas J. Prohaska contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org