Tonawanda News

January 1, 2014

TAKING CHARGE

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Politicians in the Twin Cities were sworn in on Wednesday with new Democratic leadership on one side of the Erie Canal and the continuance of a commanding Republican presence on the other. 

The New Year ceremonies took place in respective city halls as the City of Tonawanda's new mayor, Rick Davis, began his first term as mayor after defeating the Republican incumbent Ron Pilozzi, who lost his seat after eight years at the helm. 

Majority control will now tilt to the Democrats, with a 3-2 split on the council, in addition to Davis, also a Democrat. 

Democrats Jenna Koch and Jackie Smilinich and Republicans John "Jay" Hall and Charles Gilbert were inducted into office Wednesday — comprising an entirely new set of ward representatives from those on the previous council. They took the oath alongside Republican Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick and Acting City Court Judge Dean Lilac. 

In North Tonawanda, Mayor Rob Ortt launched his second four-year term following a lopsided victory over his Democratic challenger Janet Zehr, while the common council also added two new members to its corp. 

Donna Braun will take over in the Second Ward, replacing Rich Andres, and Bob Clark began his first full term after being appointed to the At-Large seat in August, succeeding Nancy Donovan. 

Andres became one of the Niagara County Legislature's newest members, representing the Eighth District and replacing Peter Smolinski. Randy Bradt, who ran unopposed for the Legislature's Ninth District, also took his first few steps into the political arena. Joseph Mantione will remain the Niagara County coroner. 

The North Tonawanda Republican Party will maintain its ubiquitous presence, capturing every seat and the mayorship during every election cycle since 2010. 

City Attorney Shawn Nickerson and Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka were reinstated for another term as was First Ward Alderman Russ Rizzo, an independent who has caucused with the GOP and who sources say is a favorite for council president, a vote that will take place tonight among the council to replace Andres. 

But as North Tonawanda seeks to sustain a steady drumbeat of development projects often backed by state and federal funding, the City of Tonawanda will search to begin its own legacy said Davis, who in part ran on a platform of expediting a solution to the city's longstanding economic woes. 

That point was referenced Wednesday during Davis' closing remarks, when he talked about working "collectively and collaboratively" with the council, moving away from an often fractured culture that has taken place in recent years.  

"We need to look at what other communities are doing," he said. "I for one have no doubt that we will work together." 

And while both municipalities, like much of Western New York, have for decades steadily lost portions of their populace, the economic momentum over the last several years has been decidedly tilted to the Lumber City, where millions of dollars have been brought in to its downtown corridor. 

Ortt noted that part of the city's slow, steady successes can be attributed to a unified council often working on the same page. State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, who presided over Ortt's oath summarized it this way: 

"Other municipalities look with envy on downtown North Tonawanda," he said. "We are clearly on the move."