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Fontana, Smith expected to take Council leadership posts

Updated: 2:38 p.m.; 4:09 p.m. -- with comments from Demone Smith.; 6:58 p.m. -- links to documents involving claim of "illegal meeting."

The Common Council's majority leader said today he has the necessary votes to make him the next Council president, a move that forms a new majority in the lawmaking body that some view as more friendly to Mayor Byron W. Brown. Fontana_headshot

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana (pictured at right) said he has votes from at least five of his colleagues to take the reins of the city's legislative branch when it reorganizes in January.

Fontana, who previously expressed interest in the presidency, also said there are at least five votes to make Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith (pictured below) the new majority leader.

Smith_headshotCurrent Council President David A. Franczyk, who has held the post for eight years, said the expected shift on the Council weakens the body's independence.

"He's giving the mayor control of the Common Council," Franczyk said today.

Fontana disputed Franczyk's claim, saying he's worked on behalf of all Council members and plans on continuing to do so.

"I've always been an independent Council member and I'm not going to change that as Council president," he said.

Smith said that him taking the majority leader post is one scenario that could play out.

"There's a lot of people that want to be majority leader," Smith said.

In terms of Fontana and the Council presidency, Smith said there are five lawmakers solidly behind him.

"We think we need a change," he said. 

The move represents a departure of Fontana from the ruling majority, which also included South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto and Francyzk.

The new majority would include Fontana, Smith, Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

A Council majority has various powers, including being able to decide which lawmakers become chairs of various committees, as well as on staffing appointments in the City Clerk's Office and to the Council's central staff.

The reorganization of the Council, which happens every two years, was supposed to be discussed during a caucus held Tuesday night at a Seneca Street restaurant. The official votes on reorganization happen in early January.

Instead, after some lawmakers called television news crews and made claims about a potentially illegal meeting, no Council business was discussed Tuesday night, lawmakers who attended said.

Here's the Channel 2 report and the Channel 4 report

The Buffalo News received no prior notice of the meeting, even though a memo dated Dec. 7 about the planned meeting was circulated to Council members.

Fontana today produced an opinion from interim Corporation Council David Rodriguez -- a mayoral appointee -- that found no violation with the meeting.

Compare the latest meeting notice to the one Franczyk sent out for the 2009 reorganization meeting.

Stay tuned for updates. That's all for updates for today. Check out tomorrow's paper for more.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN


City of Buffalo | Common Council | Demone Smith | Rich Fontana
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Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

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Tom Precious

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Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

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