Does he run for Mayor or wait for Cuomo to give him six-figure job?
By: Frank Parlato
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster is facing a dilemma.
He has been mayor for 12 years, winning election three times, yet he does not have enough time in to get his state pension. He will be 65 in April, but his state pension won’t kick in until he is 68.
He would have to live on social security – like many of the seniors here, as they struggle to pay the highest taxes in New York State in one of the poorest cities.
Dyster was supposed to get a lucrative state job from Governor Andrew Cuomo – something in the $120,000 plus range – in return for his unquestioning obedience to Cuomo, even when it cost his city a lot of money. But, so far, the governor has not come through with anything.
Dyster makes $78,000 as mayor. But his term ends this year and, if Cuomo does not come through, he has to make a decision.
He may not be employable in the private sector for most good private sector jobs do not allow employees to drink microbrew beer on the job, starting at 11 am.
If Cuomo won’t come through, Dyster’s only hope to stay above the poverty line – like many of the people in this city – is if he runs for reelection as mayor, and wins.
Then he can stay on the taxpayer-funded payroll and glide through a fourth term – until he is old enough to cash in on his pension – which will be about 70 percent of the average of his highest three years of annual salary for the job he has done to the public.
But consider his chagrin. If the governor had come through with a $120,000 per year job for Dyster, he could work at this new job for three years and retire with an $85,000 per year pension.
As it stands now, he will only get about $50,000 per year pension, based on his pay as mayor. The governor not getting him a job might cost him $35,000 per year.
Either way, he still needs income. His social security check would be less than $2,700 per month. Even the lowest paid workers at city hall make more than that – thanks to Dyster, who hiked salaries at city hall more, during his 12 years there, than all mayors before him put together.
Dyster invented the $100,000 per year department heads – because he wanted the best and brightest working for him. And while the results may be hard for some to fathom, in terms of improvements for the city, it is indisputable that he hiked everyone’s pay at city hall – which resulted in him getting a lot of votes from family members, as well as a steady hike in property taxes to pay for the most expensive government in Niagara Falls history.
Even cities with far more population don’t spend as much – and that is part of Dyster’s legacy – generosity to others with taxpayers’ money.
There is no city in America this size and this poor and this expensive. Niagara Falls, by numerous studies, using different metrics, is one of the poorest cities in America – and this is no small feat since, unlike other small cities, Niagara Falls has a world-famous tourist attraction and the greatest natural hydropower in the world.
But Dyster always supported the governor’s power structure to keep Albany in control of our hydropower and our tourism. Time and again, Dyster supported initiatives of the governor to keep Albany in control of the city’s greatest assets.
Dyster even supported the governor, when any other mayor would have been furious, when Cuomo forgot, or deliberately failed to include any payment from the Senecas to Niagara Falls when he renewed the Seneca compact for their tax-free casino.
Time and again, Dyster has been loyal to the governor – even over what would appear to be the best interests of the city. He called it loyalty to Albany. Sure, many of the people who elected him felt that he should have been loyal to the city, but no one can doubt he was always consistent, always putting the interests of Albany and the governor as his highest priority.
So now he must be feeling betrayed.
He may have to run again. Time is getting short. The state moved the primary this year from September to June and now petitions to run for reelection have to be done in February and March instead of June and July. If he is going to run for reelection, he has to make a movement or get off the pot.
The situation is complicated by the fact that one of his appointees, department head Seth Piccarillo has announced he is running for mayor. Seth was thinking, like Dyster – that Dyster was going to get the big job from Cuomo and he could slip in and continue to do the job Dyster has done on the city.
Dyster, in support of having his assistant take over to do the job on the city, shifted his job position from Community Development to Code Enforcement – something Piccirillo has no experience in – so that he would not violate the federal Hatch Act – which forbids people with partially federally funded jobs from seeking the office of mayor.
Actually, Seth was not supposed to announce he was running for mayor until Cuomo got Dyster the big job, but Seth, being young, shot his mouth off and told the media he was running. Dyster took him into his office and yelled at the boy, but, at that time, there was still hope Cuomo was going to come through.
Now Dyster has a dilemma. If Dyster doesn’t get the Cuomo job in the next few weeks, he may have to run against his own appointee Seth or get him to back down. Or fire him.
But who would hire Seth for anywhere near the $80,000 per year job he has. The average income in Niagara Falls for the people who pay the taxes is about $30,000. Seth would either have to back down and let Dyster run, or run against him and risk being fired.
On top of that – and this is problematic – Dyster does not really want to run for reelection. He wants a nice, easy $120,000 per year job and, in the alternative, is prepared to cut his expenses, brew more microbeer, take it easy, and live off the kindness of all the people he helped in this city when he was mayor.
But, sources say, his wife is too smart for that. She better understands human nature and knows that in politics the adage is “What have you done for me lately?”
Sources say she has ordered Dyster to run if he doesn’t get the job from Cuomo. She is not going to permit this – as some call him – “stumble bum” to be just a stumble bum. He can at least be mayor.
And while Dyster readily admits he always has the last two words in arguments with his wife, which are “yes, dear”, he has to obey her like he always obeys his leader Cuomo.
So this is a lousy place to be for a mayor who has given so much to so many of taxpayer money and asked for so little in return for the city.
Consider, Dyster was the best supporter of the governor of any mayor and few mayors would sit content to have their city’s assets taken and shoulder the blame publicly for the poverty of the city – like Dyster did.
He was always willing to turn the other cheek. Always humble. How many times Cuomo privately called him a clown and a drunken fool, but Dyster stood loyal and true. When the governor failed to include a payment from the Senecas to the city of Niagara Falls – costing the city some $20 million per year – Dyster still did not complain, even though it was like Dyster getting his allowance cut off – for Dyster largely controlled the Seneca money and spent more than $200 million of it over the years.
Never has a mayor of a small city had so much discretionary money to spend in the history of small cities in America. He gave it all away to all kinds of people who were supporters and friends. Now where are these friends when he needs them? Are they writing letters to the governor telling him that in the name of simple decent quid pro quo he should get the mayor a job?
Some understand that Dyster got little results from the $200 million. It must have been tough to know what to do. It was not as if he had to deal with growing pains of a thriving city. The population dropped during Dyster’s years as mayor from about 55,000 to a city of well under 45,000 today. Almost 20 percent of the people left during his administration.
And this was despite the mayor’s best efforts to lure in people. By supporting publicly-funded housing – he attracted hundreds of people on public assistance from New York City to move here and enjoy the same welfare benefits they had there but with much cheaper rent. His generous work with parole combined with low rents also helped bring new people. Because of the high crime and the large number of vacancies caused in part by all the new public housing, it helped attract a record number of people who were recently freed from prison and must register on the sex-offender registry.
During Dyster’s tenure the city soared to first place in the ratio of sex offenders in New York State.
And who can forget his valiant effort, with Seth, to pay two-year college grads to live here? That attracted 7 people at a cost of only $200,000.
Despite his efforts and against his wishes – although in conformity with his policies – working people still left under his administration faster than he could bring in public assistance recipients from New York City or people convicted of sex crimes looking for a new start and a new place to live.
As Dyster said, welcoming them, “They have to live somewhere.”
But is Dyster to blame for the mass exodus of working people? After all, he was just following Cuomo’s orders. Sure, during his term, the city became the highest taxed in the state, one of the fastest shrinking, while being one of the poorest, and, at the same time, achieving number one status for having the highest violent and property crime rate in New York State.
But Dyster spent money as if the city was on the verge of being prosperous. He built a new train station, for $45 million, which is larger than the train stations in major cities, even though there are only about 20 riders per day. It cost plenty in upkeep. But it was a great payday for his supporters at Wendel Engineers who made millions managing construction.
Dyster built a courthouse that is larger than any small city its size. It was a great payday for his supporter Lou Ciminelli, now convicted for corruption and bid rigging, and his old high school chum Gary Coscia. Under Dyster’s management the courthouse came in at the highest square foot price in the history of America, about double the cost of most courthouses.
As former Senator George Maziarz said, “Dyster built a $20 million courthouse for $50 million.”
And who can forget how he went to bat for Mark Hamister? Hamister donated a lot of money to Cuomo and the least he could do was get him a free hotel. Even though Hamister committed what appears to be fraud, using taxpayer money, in building an $18 million, third rate, amenities-poor, roadside hotel– sticking it to taxpayers by inflating the price – through what appears to be paper contracts – then claiming he spent $40 million on it and getting subsidies based on that inflated price. But Dyster was loyal to Cuomo, even promoting the Hamister hotel as the tipping point development of the city.
Dyster even gifted the $2 million vacant land to Hamister for $100,000. In other cities, this would have sparked an FBI investigation, but Dyster, always loyal to his friends, used his influence with Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, who is married to then US Attorney Bill Hochul, to ensure that Hamister got the extra taxpayer money without any further scrutiny.
And now, after all this loyalty to Cuomo, Dyster faces a bitter choice. If the governor is not going to come through and get him a six-figure job, he almost has to run for mayor.
And this is the point: If anyone is entitled to a six- figure job at taxpayer expense it is Dyster. After being so generous with taxpayers’ money for others, is it unreasonable to for him to expect others to be generous with taxpayer’s money for him?
Why isn’t that the way the game is supposed to be played?