Bhopal on the Niagara

I could spend hours trying to decide which third world country or Banana republic Erie County and Buffalo most resemble. We are clearly not of the first world here, and it has mostly to do with visionless excuses for leadership with which we have been saddled over the past post-industrial decades. We even market ourselves as a domestic Bangalore (see Geico, e.g.). 

But up in Niagara Falls, they have a special way of appearing small-minded, petty, outrageous, and stupid. That is, of course, when they’re not engaging in outright illegality and graft.  Niagara Falls is unique in western New York – if not America – in that it is essentially a toxic waste dump with streets and buildings – all cruelly punctuated by a natural world wonder. Bhopal on the Escarpment. It has seen its main industry – the manufacture of toxins – dwindle over the past several decades. It has lost population to the point where it is on the verge of losing its eligibility for federal assistance. It is, for the most part, an empty shell of its former glory, made up of poverty and broken dreams. It is as if every decision the city has ever made has exploded, creating a daily irreparable calamity. 

Immigrants used to say the streets in America are figuratively paved with gold. 

The streets of Niagara Falls, USA are literally paved with slag; depleted uranium. 

Its current mayor, Paul Dyster, is unique in that he is the first mayor in a generation to have won re-election. A technocrat by nature, he is desperately trying to wrap a tourniquet around the city’s bleed. No one’s perfect, but Dyster is also unique because he’s honest and forthright. 

The city of Niagara Falls has reached out to various charitable foundations, some of them based in Buffalo, in an effort to help fund initiatives that may help attract attention, if not money and business, to the Falls. I’m not always a big fan of Buffalo’s big-money foundations because of their cozy elitism. But Niagara Falls needs all the help it can get.  Literally. 

Mayor Dyster applied to the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Oshei Foundation for a paltry $4,000 in order to become a member of a “Great Lakes and St Lawrence Cities Initiative,” which Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, WI describes as, 

Mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative are a prominent voice in efforts to protect and restore the vitality of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and improve the quality of life for the residents of the region. Through an integrated approach to environmental, social and economic agendas within their communities, U.S. and Canadian mayors of the Cities Initiative are leading a movement that will sustain our freshwater resources long into the future.

Astonishingly, three city council members in Niagara Falls opposed this $4,000 grant to enable Dyster to join a group of Great Lakes mayors to help forge alliances for the region’s future growth. They rejected it. 

“I’m very uncomfortable with this,” Choolokian said. “Is it time to get the FBI in city hall? I don’t understand this.”

Choolokian said he was alarmed with the amount of involvement that Buffalo philanthropic groups have shown in Niagara Falls during Dyster’s administration.

“I’ve been in the system for 27 years and I never seen Buffalo get involved in Niagara Falls like it has since you became mayor,” Choolokian said.

Fruscione said that he did not understand how being part of the a group that is dedicated to saving the Great Lakes would benefit the residents of Niagara Falls.

“They’re picking up $4,000 so you can join a club,” Fruscione said. “What about the taxpayers and residents? It’s not benefitting them at all. First of all we’re on a river, we’re not on the Great Lakes. We’re not a St. Lawrence city”

Choolokian, Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. voted against the resolution, turning away the awarded grant money.

Councilman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti supported the measure.

Walker said he does not understand how the other council members can justify turning down a grant when the city is in a tough financial situation with the delay in casino funds.

“It’s not wise to turn away funds when you are in a good financial situation,” he said.

Walker said he views the foundation’s interest in helping the city as a sign that Niagara Falls is worthy of an investment.

“I think we should look at that as more of a compliment, that our input is important to this process,” he said.

Dyster sought the grant after funding for the membership dues was cut from his proposed budget during the amendment process.

“I knew that there was a chance that the Community Foundation would pay my dues,” Dyster said.

Dyster said the reason the city seeks the help of Buffalo philanthropic groups is because most of the groups in Western New York are located in Buffalo.

“I think when times are tough we should be seeking help where we can get it,” the mayor said.

Dyster said that he is not sure where the allegations that these groups are trying to buy influence with grants are coming from, but said that there is no truth to the assertions.

“There are no strings attached to the grant other than we were asked to do some reporting, to file a report,” he said.

The only things missing were allegations that this was a plot involving the Bilderbergs, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the New World Order. 

$4,000 doesn’t buy a lot of influence, but it does buy Dyster a membership in a regional club. While Councilman Fruscione is correct that Niagara Falls isn’t “on a lake” but on a “river”, he is forgetting that the river connects two Great Lakes. To ignore or reject that the fate of the lakes’ environment affects the Falls is laughably ignorant. 

Niagara Falls has its hand out for everything and anything – including planting pretty flowers. It is the state’s basket case. But $4k from the evil Buffalo philanthropic institutions?! Perish the thought. 


  • As a resident of Niagara Falls, it is so completely frustrating and embarassing to hear the comments of Fruscione & Choolokian. What’s crazier about it is that Fruscione is actually a teacher. I CANNOT comprehend how they can continue to detriment our city and embarrass themselves so badly without care.

  • You could have been a little more kind to the community Alan, but as to the 3 stooges — Right on!

  • Ridgewaycynic2013

    I have taken my comment in the BN article, and reposted here, hoping the esteemed gentlemen of the N.F.N.Y. council will reply. After doing some research online, I’ll pose these hypothetical questions
    to Councilors Choolokian, Fruscione, and Anderson. If Frank Parlato
    Jr. had offered to pay the fee, how would you have voted? If Andrew
    Rudnick had offered to pay the fee, how would you have voted? If
    Catherine Walker had offered to pay the fee, how would you have voted?
    If Peter Mio had offered to pay the fee, how would you have voted? Now
    there’s no foundations listed there to cause you angst over who is
    hiding behind what title…let’s just say four equally civic minded
    folks looking to help.

  • Technically, Niagara River is not a river but a strait, usually defined as “a narrow passage of water connecting two seas or two large areas of water.” So, yeah, 100% of the water in the Great Lakes flows by their front door.

  • 3 Stooges at it again, but this time mostly the 2 main stooges, Choolokian and Fruscione. You are both truly embarrassments to our wonderful city.

  • OR what about; a chemical company, a fracking company or waste disposal company? Or
    what about collecting nickels in cans next to check-out counters, or what about ‘donations’ from the
    Mob? Haven’t all of those things already happened? So what’s to be suspicious
    of…? We aleady know it’s influence peddling.

    However, WHY should any municipality be run on outside monies? There’s sure
    the appearance and possibility of some impropriety going on, ahich is exactly why previous, similar money from GBF and the like was said to be “annonymous.” No tracking. No conflict. Come on! Since this membership is an
    ala-carte, not-in-the-course-of normal business for the city, and an extra, why
    shouldn’t Mayor Dyster pull from his own pocket for these junkets? I don’t want to give him $4,000 and I’m not political about this. If BNP or anyone else wants to pour $4,000 worth of concrete sidewalks in front of some old couple’s house, that’s different and I’ll push the wheelbarrow. This does appear to be “slushy.”

    Rather than the
    Three Stooges, these three council members could also be thought of as Athos, Porthos and
    Aramis, The Three Musketeers. To me. it seems they exercised their proper
    oversight powers and fiduciary duties (which certainly is being scrutinized by the feds).

    • Ridgewaycynic2013

      Lou, you do make some very good points. Perhaps if the councilors had framed it as you did instead of showing somebody was asleep during grade 4 geography class, it might carry more weight. I’d now be willing to expand my “4 people” questions to all the council, and the mayor as well. It almost seems the distrust there at council has created a situation where ONLY the “can of nickels” funding is truly free of influence. Just remember, councilors…the media (left AND right) is watching. And christ almighty, do some of you look stupid, no matter how noble your ideals MAY be.

  • Hello Alan:

    FYI – Paul Dyster has and does claim to be a member of the Council on Foreign Relations!

    At least he does this when he feels “forthright.” See below/

    I really liked the Bhopal – Niagara piece you wrote in yesterday’s issue. Lots of
    parallels with some serious enough to question everything down to a $4000
    “charitable act.”

    In anything that involves either Niagara or Bhopal, it could be said to be pretty serious.

    The track record around Niagara Falls regarding these kinds of Erie County monies
    coming in is now and always has been quite murky, to be nice and to say the
    least. There’s probably now more money than in recent years coming in exactly because of the
    vacuum of real leadership and the shrinking-pie economic phenomenon that happened
    in slow-motion over the last several decades.. I’m glad that some people are seeing that.

    Any “scale”- of propriety, or decency, of conflict and pandering in Niagara
    County … collapsed under it’s own weight long ago and was scrapped in the local metals
    yard. This really is the old west here now, minus the horses, just with
    ‘wide-open landfills’ instead of ‘spaces.’

    There’s a parody cowboy song in there somewhere!

    Anyway, Nice piece. Peace and


    Lou Ricciuti

    Paul Dyster – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Education and public relations‎: Dyster was a Fellow of International Affairs for the
    Council on Foreign Relations from 1987 to 1988. Dyster was a …

    Paul Dyster – Summer 2011 ASAIHL Conference – Keuka
    Paul Dyster was elected Mayor of Niagara Falls in a landside victory on November …
    After serving as a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, Dyster was…

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