NIAGARA FALLS - The most powerful politician in New York has intervened in the Niagara Falls City Council race.
Even the candidates themselves can't believe it.
"I think it's unprecedented," said Andy Touma, a Democratic newcomer who received an endorsement Tuesday from Cuomo, along with Democratic incumbents Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker.
In a media release, Cuomo said the three Democrats "share a clear vision for the city." He mentioned tourism as a major factor in his endorsement, which is an obvious reference to the three Democrats' continued support of Mark Hamister's hotel project in downtown Niagara Falls.
"Tourism is a major component of our economic plans for Western New York," Cuomo said. "Niagara Falls needs elected officials committed to capitalizing on the city's many strengths to generate jobs and economic growth."
Touma called the endorsement "surreal." Grandinetti said she's "never heard of that being done before," while Walker referred to it as a "huge sign." Walker, a four-term council member, said he cannot recall a governor ever making an endorsement in his race. The three Democrats will run against four other candidates next Tuesday- of the seven names on the ballot, the three with the most votes will win office. The challengers include Republicans Russ Vesci and Vincent Sandonato, as well Sam Fruscione, who lost the Democratic primary but announced this month he will run on Independent and Conservative lines. Robert Elder will also appear on the ballot, although he has chosen to drop out of the race.
Patricia Castillo, the chair of the Niagara Falls GOP, said Cuomo's endorsement of the three candidates is a "non-issue," claiming that a Democratic governor supporting Democratic candidates makes no difference in the election. But Grandinetti, Walker and Touma point to the endorsement as a sign that Cuomo has taken a special interest in the Falls, especially in light of the Hamister controversy. Cuomo has not endorsed Fruscione, who spent two months voting to table the project, thus preventing the council from bringing it up for a vote on the agenda. Fruscione never changed his stance, but a fellow council member finally changed his mind in September and effectively approved the project by breaking the majority.
Fruscione finished dead last in the Democratic primary in September, forcing him to run in the general election as a Conservative and Independent.
"I think the Governor is saying he's tired of obstructionists, and people getting in the way of development," Touma said.
With a population of roughly 50,000, Niagara Falls is not one of the ten largest cities in New York, nor has it traditionally received much attention from the governor. However, Cuomo made a personal appearance in Niagara Falls after the approval of the Hamister project, even though he originally said the controversy was simply a local matter relegated to local government.
"The governor's been hanging around a lot lately," Walker said. "And that's really encouraging for the city."