Fought to expand economic opportunity in LaSalle
Niagara County Legislator Vincent M. Sandonato, R-LaSalle, announced his resignation from the County Legislature today. The resignation becomes effective June 20.
Sandonato was notified this week that he had been accepted to law school, which he felt made continuing to offer his neighbors in LaSalle "full-time representation" difficult, he said, and he elected to depart county government "rather than become a distracted part-timer being paid for what is, in reality, a full-time job."
As the freshman rapidly climbed the ranks of the Legislature's Majority Caucus, Sandonato gained a key leadership role as vice chairman of the Legislature's Economic Development Committee. From that perch, he led the fight for economic opportunity throughout Niagara Falls, winning final approval earlier this week of a plan to expand the boundaries of the tax-abating "Opportunity Zone" program to include nearly all of LaSalle, as well as downtown.
In his resignation, Sandonato also signaled confidence that state leaders would approve legislation expanding the USA Niagara Development Corp. to all of the City of Niagara Falls - something he says is key to creating jobs in a city that lost 10 percent of its population over the last decade.
After turning in his letter of resignation, Sandonato offered a blunt assessment of his accomplishments and what remains to be done.
"The work is not done for LaSalle," he said. "We have moved mountains in less than two years, but the person that follows me in this Legislature still has the challenge of sustaining momentum and fighting for the interests of the portion of Niagara Falls with the largest tax base."
Sandonato was, from the start, a different kind of legislator. He identified himself as being from LaSalle - a neighborhood - before noting his role as a legislator representing Niagara Falls. But despite that singular focus on LaSalle, he also was the organizer of a joint, bi-partisan delegation for Niagara Falls - an effort modeled on the success that state lawmakers from Western New York have seen in recent months as they've linked arms to push key regional agenda items.
"The people of LaSalle are passionate about the future of their community and righting the wrongs that have held this community back for decades," Sandonato said. "But to do that, we've had to work with the rest of the city to advance a Niagara Falls agenda that includes LaSalle."
Sandonato made economic development in LaSalle the centerpiece of his time in the Legislature, regularly consulting with Economic Development Committee Chairman Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, and Commissioner of Economic Development Sam Ferraro on how to best make use of county economic development strategy to benefit LaSalle. Despite his success with expanding Opportunity Zones and USA Niagara, Sandonato's proudest accomplishment may be the one that didn't happen.
"When I had only been in office a few months, I fought hard to persuade Niagara County Community College officials to locate their Culinary Arts Institute at the Wendt's Dairy site on Buffalo Avenue," Sandonato said. "Ultimately, after several months of debate, that site wasn't selected. But what it did do was change the relationship that other entities had with LaSalle. After that, every level of government began to at least give LaSalle a seat at the table that had been lacking for so long."
On departing the Legislature, Sandonato was circumspect.
"I'm proud of what we accomplished in less than two years," he said. "I've worked with some great people, and found out that people who live in Wheatfield and Lockport want to see LaSalle and Niagara Falls succeed just as much as I do. And I'm going to miss many of my colleagues."
Sandonato said that he believes his successor needs to continue to focus on economic development.
"In the years ahead, all levels of government should work to foster economic development and a fair return for the people of LaSalle on the taxes they pay," Sandonato said. "Buffalo Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard should become the anchors of a new, prosperous Niagara Falls that leads our region in private-sector job creation."