During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, over half of the population of Niagara County lived in Niagara Falls. The construction trades, chemical and carbon manufacturing, and retail and business services drove the economy and provided living-wage employment for people throughout the area. By 1950, there were seven companies based in Niagara Falls that employed over 1000 workers each. In fact, at its height, Bell Aircraft alone employed over 10,000 area residents. Manufacturing supplied over half of the employment opportunities in the local economy. The overwhelming majority of those who lived in Niagara County worked in Niagara County; often for those companies located in Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls lost over 50 percent of its population during the last half century
However, by 1980, the population of Niagara Falls represented only one-third of the county’s population and today it is less than one-fourth of the total population. Niagara Falls lost over 50 percent of its population during the last half century while during the same period the population of Niagara County steadily declined, but not as dramatically.
There also have been significant changes in local employment opportunities. According to the latest U.S. Census update, approximately 56 percent of all jobs currently held by city residents are in the areas of retail sales, customer service, and clerical services. Most of these jobs no longer provide a living wage, but, rather, pay only minimum wage or slightly above. Furthermore, about 40 percent of the adult population of Niagara Falls is no longer in the full-time workforce due to retirement, disability, social service eligibility, or chronic unemployment.
While not to the same degree as in Niagara Falls, many of these same problems have stressed the resources of other county communities to the breaking point. Local governmental leaders are facing the same problem: What are the essential services that should be delivered and how to pay for them?
For too long now, local governments developed strategies to deal with complex economic and social issues as if they were participating in a zero-sum world; one community’s gain was the other’s loss. Local governments promoted a competitive environment in which the goal was winning an economic development project or a state or federal grant at the expense of a neighboring community. Governing and politics in Niagara County became polarized.
A New Governing Strategy
During this campaign, I have proposed a new governing strategy based on cooperation and collaboration. Governance in a Restaino administration would be focused on a positive-sum strategy whereby Niagara Falls and its neighboring communities would assess their respective strengths and weaknesses, and then reorganize the delivery of essential services according to the most efficient model designed to produce mutual benefits.
I understand that cooperation is difficult; especially when it involves political leadership that governs from a zero-sum mentality. As mayor, I will reach out to the leadership in other communities to explain my strategy for governing. The zero-sum order focused on competition is something you do to others. The new order of collaborative government will be focused on designing projects that we will do with each other. As mayor, I will propose a new governing order founded on tightly knit relationships and networks that bind Niagara Falls and its neighbors in a win-win strategy.
I propose a new governing order founded on tightly knit relationships and networks that bind Niagara Falls and its neighbors in a win-win strategy.
For example, the Falls of Niagara may be the attraction that brings millions of visitors to our area, but a collaborative strategy for tourism would focus on promoting water related activities from the southern tip of Grand Island to the southern shore of Lake Ontario. An outlet mall on Military Road may be the attraction that brings tens of thousands of shoppers to our area, but a collaborative strategy for retail development would focus on building the infrastructure that facilitates a shopper’s movement from Military Road to Niagara Falls Boulevard to Center Street and even Transit Road.
Obviously, my vision for collaborative government cannot be achieved overnight. It may not be achieved as I imagine it in the course of one term of office. Nevertheless, it will never be established if the effort is not put forth. Consequently, who best to assume the responsibility for proposing and promoting this new governing order than the mayor of Niagara Falls?
What I am proposing is the development of a functional set of collaborative relationships designed to reduce the downsides of competitive municipal policies. As mayor, I will lead the effort in combining the strengths of our area that result in coherent strategies for governing issues across municipal boundaries. We will work closely with our neighboring communities to prioritize objectives that result in the delivery of services through mutually acceptable and beneficial partnerships. I have tried to live my life by a simple truth expressed by Emerson, that “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”