by Autumn Evans and Joshua Maloni
The votes are in, the polls are closed, and Lee Wallace has been elected as the Town of Niagara's new supervisor.
"I'd like to think that they elected the right guy," Wallace said Wednesday. "I've been saying all along I have the experience in the municipal, governmental scene. I've worked in government and (the) public sector my whole life, either in Niagara-Wheatfield, or at Niagara County Community College, or I was the recreation director for the town.
"It's a different animal than the private sector. Private sector is basically profit-driven, and the public sector, government, is service-driven."
According to unofficial election results, Wallace received 948 votes, beating out opponent Donald Schildhauer, who received 851 votes. As of the time of this writing, absentee ballots had not yet been counted, but town Deputy Supervisor Sylvia Virtuoso said she was "pretty positive" that even if all the uncounted ballots were for Schildhauer, they still would not be enough to overtake Wallace's numbers.
Wallace will begin his term in January, at which point Virtuoso will step down and return to her position as town clerk and tax collector. She had only positive things to say about the new supervisor.
"I look forward to working with him," Virtuoso said. "I've known Lee for 15 years and I'm sure this is going to be a good transition for us."
Wallace said more needs to be done for Town of Niagara residents and businesses.
"Our customers are the residents and the businesses in the town, and I think that we need to do a better job of servicing our customers," he said. "In the last three, four years, if the Town of Niagara were a real, private business, we might not be in business anymore. When I was going door-to-door, constantly the continuous repetition of responses was, 'My complaint's not listened to. It's not heard.' That kind of thing.
"That doesn't mean that every time somebody squawks or complains that they're going to get their wish. It just means we need to listen. There's a difference between hearing somebody and listening.
"I think the first thing we need to do is listen to our customers. We need to build trust again with our customers. I don't believe that the citizens, the residents of the Town of Niagara, have a lot of confidence in the town government over the last few years. We need to do that, too. That's not going to be easy."
Virtuoso served as a bridge between former Supervisor Steven Richards, who resigned in May amid a charge of official misconduct, and Wallace, who will be sworn-in after the holidays.
Wallace said he's up to the challenge.
"I've always been the kind of guy that, if you tell me I can't do it, I'll do it. I'll try it," he said. "I've always stepped up to the plate, so to speak, when it comes to a challenge. I did the same thing at Niagara Community College when I took over the athletics program there. It was ... not doing real well. And, you know, roadblocks and dead ends every time you turned around. We built it up to a point over the 18 years I was there where we were respectable.
"It takes fortitude and a constant effort. You can't be discouraged by roadblocks - because you're going to get them. There's going to be naysayers and there's going to be people who don't agree with what you're doing, because you're not going to please everybody. And you just have to push forward.
"That being said, I don't know how much can actually be accomplished with regards to those kinds of things within a year. ... I'm not sure what can be accomplished in that first year."
Wallace is serving out the remainder of Richards' term, which means he'll only have one year in office. He said he intends to run for a full, four-year term in 2015.
"Oh, absolutely," Wallace said. "At this point in time, that was my intention. I would never have gone through this effort and all this energy to just do this for the one year."
Wallace intends to learn as much as he can about the supervisor's role in town government.
"The first thing I'm going to do is meet with every one of the employees and department heads on an individual basis," he said. "I'm going to open my door and put aside time on a day-to-day basis. I want to hear what every individual employee and every department head thinks are the good things and the bad things. What could be changed, and what shouldn't be changed?
"I want to be a sponge for about the first quarter. Let's put it that way. Everything I know up to this point, I know because I've been told by others. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong. It just means that I need to formulate my own opinion on every topic and everything that's going on. I can't do that until I'm in there on a day-to-day basis and I see what's going on, and I hear for myself what's going on, and see for myself what's going on.
"I'm not the kind of guy that'll walk in there and just start making all kind of wholesale changes. I think that's a huge error."
Elsewhere, Republican North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt defeated Niagara Falls Democrat Johnny Destino to lay claim to George Maziarz's State Senate seat. Unofficial election results show Ortt claiming 45,485 votes to top Destino's 20,564 votes.
Maziarz opted not to run for re-election in the 62nd District.
Voters turned out Tuesday to elect a new supervisor in the Town of Niagara. (photo by Autumn Evans)