Change begets change. Good things have been happening in Niagara Falls for a couple of years now and on Tuesday, another one occurred: Samuel F. Fruscione was voted off the City Council and newcomer Andrew P. Touma was voted in. With that, the Council stands a chance of becoming an entity that works to the benefit of the city’s residents.
That’s because Fruscione was part of a three-member power bloc that saw its obligation as thwarting the agenda of Mayor Paul A. Dyster rather than looking out for the good of the city. It would have been comical if it didn’t threaten to undermine development in a city where, by rights, development should be as natural as water spilling over a cliff.
The most recent example was the Great Hotel Embarrassment of 2013 in which Fruscione and his co-conspirators, Councilman Robert A. Anderson Jr. and Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian, blocked plans by Buffalo developer Mark Hamister to build a new hotel in downtown Niagara Falls. The project proceeded only after the intervention of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, under whose influence Anderson agreed to change his vote.
With Fruscione’s banishment, Dyster is expected to have a Council majority that he can work with: Touma, a veteran teacher in the Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda school districts, together with incumbents Charles A. Walker and Kristen M. Grandinetti.
That changes the balance of power and, with any luck at all, the tone and the good sense of the City Council. That doesn’t mean the trio will or should be rubber stamps for Dyster – there is a reason we have multiple branches of government – but if the new majority is willing to listen to Dyster and to make wise decisions on behalf of the city’s residents, then the turnaround will be total. As it stands, the outgoing majority was a rubber stamp opposing whatever Dyster wanted to accomplish.
There is a lot to build on right now. The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute has been a great success. In addition, plans are being developed to remove a stretch of the Robert Moses Parkway to the north of the city, restoring river access to residents who for decades have been cut off from one of their primary assets. And high-wire artist Nik Wallenda continues to plan an attraction that could help draw people to Niagara Falls, and keep them there longer.
And, there will be a new hotel.
Touma’s election represents a hopeful moment for Niagara Falls. There are plenty of challenges ahead, but with a new and more rational Council majority, the city has improved its chances of dealing with them sensibly.