NIAGARA FALLS – Seven City Council hopefuls tackled a wide range of issues during a candidates forum that lasted more than three hours on Monday night.
Many spoke with an eye towards a brighter future, such as having more attractions downtown, while making pledges to lower taxes and decrease the costs of government.
But the conversation was often brought back to reality with mention of the hard-to-escape difficulties facing the city, such as a dwindling population, crime and economic hardships.
Soaked in purple lights on the stage of the Rapids Theatre, the four candidates in next month’s Democratic primary – incumbents Samuel F. Fruscione, Kristen M. Grandinetti and Charles A. Walker, along with challenger Andrew P. Touma – along with the three Republican candidates on the November ballot – Robert J. Elder, Vincent M. Sandonato and Russell F. Vesci – offered their ideas of what they would do if elected.
They discussed a variety of issues, including housing; arts and culture; tourism; the management of city government; education; and assistance for the less fortunate.
At stake are three seats on the Council, each with a four-year term starting in January.
“If I can make this once-great city great again, I will,” said Elder, who has a process-server business, “because each and every one of you deserve it.”
Vesci, who works for the Niagara Falls Water Board, said he believes a big concern for many in the city is crime.
“People in many areas of the city do not feel safe,” Vesci said. “They don’t feel safe walking down our city streets.”
Vesci said he would give the police department the resources they need to advance their skills.
Sandonato, a law student, put forward a platform focused heavily on finances and taxes.
Sandonato pledged to audit every city department to “focus on finding where we are wasting money and duplicating services.”
He also noted he would look for ways to privatize services offered by the city in order to decrease costs.
Fruscione, an elementary school teacher, emphasized what he described as his ongoing efforts to keep an eye on government spending.
Fruscione also raised the issue of eminent domain in taking under-utilized properties back from developers, in particular a Falls Street property near the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park on Falls Street.
“We need to take some of this property back,” Fruscione said.
Touma, an educator in the Falls, pledged to work to bring the Council and the mayor’s office together in a “spirit of cooperation.”
“The expression of my views will always be done respectfully and with dignity,” Touma said.
Grandinetti, also an elementary school teacher, said she’s spent more time than she would like “combating lies and dealing with infighting” on the Council.
“I’m running again because we have to keep progressing,” Grandinetti said, “and we cannot let negativity win. We do not have the time to waste.”
Walker, manager of community outreach at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, challenged statements made by others on the Council about so-called “Buffalo interests” and their involvement in the Falls.
“I think these are things that hurt our city, not help us,” Walker said.
There were 14 questions issued by a seven-member panel, and before half the questions were asked, many of the candidates had already repeated aspects of their platforms multiple times.
The event was organized by Rick Crogan, former head of the Main Street Business and Professional Association, and Michael Murphy.
The forum’s panelists, who developed the questions of the candidates, were Brook D’Angelo, Danielle Grace-DePalma, Samika Sullivan, Karen Mock, Jack Hornung, Robert Pascoal and Matt Green.
The Democratic candidates will participate in a live debate hosted by The Buffalo News at 1 p.m. Friday. The 45-minute event will be streamed on BuffaloNews.com.