Sources inside the Niagara County Legislature’s Majority Caucus tell us that Niagara County Refuse District Director Richard “Rick” Pope has emerged as the surprise leader in the battle for the county manager post being vacated by our old pal Greg Lewis. (Incidentally, our condolences to Lewis, who we understand was passed over for yet another county administrator gig that he interviewed for; keep trying, though, Greg—there’s still dozens of counties out there where you haven’t applied yet!)
Anyway, back to what we have learned: Republican legislators and party leaders met this past Saturday to discuss a number of topics, including the ongoing county manager search, and the temperature in the room had shifted decidedly toward Pope. Apparently Administration Committee Chairman Keith McNall, whose committee will ultimately decide the final candidate submitted to the Legislature for the county manager post, and who also serves on the county manager search committee, has long been impressed by the eager and energetic Pope—a view that is shared by Legislature Chairman Bill Ross.
Pope, who has managed the county’s landfills and refuse disposal services since the early 1990s, is an old hand at Niagara County government. He’s also apparently well-liked by many of the county’s employees, who, we are told, respect him both for his recent efforts to see one of his long-time subordinates receive a deserved promotion, despite county government’s soft hiring/reclassification freeze, as well as for his willingness to let landfill employees innovate to save money and improve services.
We also know that Pope is a favorite of State Sen. George Maziarz, whose office has worked closely with him to introduce a number of popular services, including pharmaceutical turn-ins and sensitive document and hard-drive destruction events, as well as Assembly candidate John D. Ceretto, whose duties in the Legislature have included oversight of the county’s refuse district.
We are also told that North Tonawanda lawmaker Paul Wojtaszek devoted considerable energy to the candidacy of a long-time friend from that city, and has been reluctant to publicly support Pope because the two are distant cousins, and he had wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety. However, in light of the shift of support to Pope, Wojtaszek will likely back him if McNall, Ross, and search committee chairman Gerry Farnham all back Pope as well.
We also hear that one member of the Minority Caucus has been quietly talking with the Republican Majority to work out a deal to support Pope in exchange for a department head appointment for a long-time Niagara Falls figure whose past activities as a Democratic appointee and officeholder would have likely ruled him out. Such a move would preclude the Republicans from having to rely on Ross’ tie-breaking vote on the search committee to advance Pope—a course of action we hear Farnham is somewhat eager to follow if possible.
All of this, of course, is speculative at this time, but regardless of the outcome, expect Pope’s stock in both county government and within the Republican Party to be on the rise in the months ahead.
Also rumored is that the Republican Majority will likely instruct the next county manager to appoint Sam Ferraro, the highly-regarded Economic Development commissioner, as the designated acting county manager—a duty now held by Social Services Commissioner Anthony Restaino. Majority lawmakers apparently view the energetic-but-low-key Ferraro as the right man to lead government in the event of turbulence.