Tonawanda News

October 31, 2013

OUR VIEW: North Tonawanda candidate endorsements

By The News' Editorial Board
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — For mayor

Four years ago we recommended North Tonawanda voters place their trust in a young but talented candidate, Rob Ortt, for mayor.

After a term in office to judge his performance we’re pleased to report much of the potential we saw has been realized and the Lumber City is better for it.

While we found his challenger, Democrat Janet Zehr, an engaging foil, we strongly recommend voters reward the mayor with another term in office. Here’s why:

The mayor made several promises when running four years ago. He pledged action on the long dormant city marina. Four years later, the marina is undergoing a needed renovation and a new restaurant has opened thanks to the public support Ortt engineered. 

He promised concerts would return to the city and, for the last two summers the city has again utilized its waterfront to stage shows at Gratwick Riverside Park. 

We’ve largely held the line on taxes and the city’s aging infrastructure and roads are receiving much needed attention. North Tonawanda’s streets are a smoother (albeit not entirely smooth) ride after Ortt’s four years in office.

Ortt has thinned the city’s workforce by 17 percent with few if any noticeable effects to public services.

We’ve seen an increased business presence downtown and proprietors generally speak well of their relationship with City Hall.

In short, all the issues that have needed attention for far too long are getting their due. In return, the mayor should get his.

On a larger level, we agree with the Democratic argument that city government is a closed shop. One party control isn’t healthy and voters would be wise to consider this when casting ballots in their council races. 

Ms. Zehr is a lifelong North Tonawandan and her passion for this city is evident. As in past campaigns she’s exhibited a strong grasp of the issues presented to her. Unfortunately for her, she’s up against an energetic first-term mayor in Rob Ortt whose record of results outshines his opponent’s statements of civic pride and responsibility.

The mayor has demonstrated solid leadership and vision in addressing the north side’s problems. We say four more years.

For the First Ward

Longtime Alderman Philip “Russ” Rizzo is seeking another term in office. His opponent, Democrat Dave Kelly had a good showing at our candidate forum. It made for a healthy debate among editorial board members over who to support.

We found ourselves weighing the merits of a fresh outlook versus a steady hand on the council.

Again, we discussed the need for a more open council that includes dissenting opinion. Rizzo, an independent who caucuses with his all-Republican colleagues, has gone along and gotten along so don’t expect him to make waves. 

Sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. Experience wins out in this ward race. For his steadying presence on the council and his experience manipulating the levers of government we recommend First Ward voters give Russ another term.

For the Second Ward

With Council President Rich Andres leaving the city council to pursue a Niagara County Legislature seat, voters in the Second Ward are in store for a new representative whether they like it or not.

We were intrigued to hear Republican Donna Braun speak about city issues after her experience on the North Tonawanda school board. Unfortunately, her church mouse-like performance during our debate left us wondering what all those years on the school board amounted to.

By contrast, we found Braun’s opponent, Democrat Lisa Spencer, more engaged with the problems facing much of her ward. Oliver Street is a problem and Spencer spoke authentically not only about what those problems are but how to address them.

As candidate endorsements go, this was a fairly open and shut case. Donna Braun has a tenure on the school board to her credit but we’re still left wondering why that — or any of her other experience — would benefit Second Ward residents. 

By contrast, Spencer seems like a strong advocate for her part of town — and a vote for her would provide some of that loyal opposition on the council.

We say Spencer for the Second Ward.

For the Third Ward

Councilman Eric Zadzilka has spent two terms on the council and we still haven’t seen an issue surface where he’s distinguished himself from his colleagues. That isn’t entirely a bad thing but as someone who’s now approaching veteran lawmaker status we’d appreciate some more vocal leadership on the council from him.

His opponent, Darlene Bolsover, is a first-time candidate and largely came off as such during our forum. She lacked a coherent answer when asked what she views as her ward’s largest problem. There wasn’t much to be gleaned beyond the obvious expressions of affection for the city and banal pledges to work hard as a lawmaker.

Constituents sing Zadzilka’s praises as an attentive representative who returns calls and follows through when made aware of a problem. It’s a vision consistent with his persona on the council — quiet but effective.

Here’s hoping he speaks up a little as he grows into his role on the council.

For Alderman at-Large

Rarely can we say there are two more likable or distinguished candidates running for office than Bob Clark and Beverly Loxterman.

Bob is a former Tonawanda News Man of Honor; Beverly is a former Tonawanda News Woman of Distinction. Both have long histories as civic volunteers and are the model of engaged citizens who make North Tonawanda a better place to live.

There is a genuine level of respect for both candidates and, truth be told, voters across the city can’t make a bad pick.

But an honest evaluation of the candidates’ skill sets and work history gives the advantage to Beverly.

Bob’s long and distinguished military service and time as first responder during and after 9/11 are laudable. He’s every bit the stand up guy.

However, Beverly’s experience on the joint Tonawanda-North Tonawanda Gateway Harbor Commission is a good start in fostering more inter-city communication and cooperation. Add in her time as an appointee on the city’s Waterfront Commission and you have a background better suited to the task of helping guide a municipal government. 

Narrowly, we recommend voters pick Beverly Loxterman as their at-large representative.

A NOTE ON THE PROCESS • The Tonawanda News editorial board, members of which are listed in the masthead on this page, evaluated a variety of factors in reaching a consensus on these endorsements. Candidates' responses during our debate factored in heavily. We also took into consideration any submissions candidates made to this page and our news coverage of this election and, where applicable, a candidate's history in public service.