Once again, Mayor Robert Restaino is being accused of racism against Black people in the City of Niagara Falls. For those keeping score – this is the second series of complaints of this nature against the mayor this month. This time, the complaint is coming from members of the Niagara Falls Fifth Annual Juneteenth Committee.

Mayor Robert Restaino is once again being accused of racism against Black People. [Photo credit: Buffalo News]

On June 5th, several local Black business owners told WGRZ’s Nate Benson that their businesses were unfairly targeted and issued cease and desist notices erroneously. Mayor Restaino denied the allegations of unfair treatment and racism. In response to Restaino’s denial, Councilman Donta Myles told the Reporter, “The Mayor used code enforcement to shut down all those Black owned businesses with a cease and desist… but for White businesses, the city only sent them a letter.”

Jacob Fleming, Sr. alongside his son Jacob Fleming, Jr., Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul. The Flemings serve as parade marshals for Buffalo’s Juneteenth celebration.

Councilman Myles is a member of the Juneteenth Committee, which has organized the official Juneteenth parade, festival and celebration for the City of Niagara Falls since 2019. This group, led by Jacob Fleming, Sr., has been responsible for organizing the city’s Juneteenth festivities for five years. They are now encountering Mayor Restaino’s corrupt politics.

Councilman Donta Myles has been critical of Mayor Restaino’s administration, and of the mayor’s alleged mistreatment of People of Color.

Myles claims that Mayor Restaino has used his political position and the power of his office to oppress marginalized people and suppress their voices. Says Myles, “The mayor utilized his power to effect a population of people for the Juneteenth celebration, and that sounds pretty racist to me.”

The conflict between Mayor Restaino and the Juneteenth Committee has been covered by several local and regional news outlets.

In an interview last week, Mayor Restaino told WKBW: “If they could come together — create a festival that they can all support and be proud of it and get us involved early so that we can engage and participate.”

The real trouble with Restaino’s statement is the idea of “they” (meaning Black people) and “us” (meaning the City of Niagara Falls). If Restaino was exclusively referring to the Juneteenth Committee, his sentiments of “them” creating a “festival that they can all support and be proud of” does not make any sense. Therefore, he must have been referring to Black people, and by saying “they” and “us” in this context; Restaino has separated Black people from the City of Niagara Falls in his mind.

The Juneteenth Committee already had a festival that they were proud of, one which they fully supported for the past four years; and Restaino tried to take that away from them. For whatever political reasoning, the city planned and executed a separate Juneteenth event which was ostensibly sponsored by the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center. Observers such as Dante Richardson have pointed out that “there aren’t even any Black board members at the NACC.”

Jacob Fleming, Sr. is a community advocate and co-founder of the Niagara Falls Peacemakers and the Niagara Falls Lion’s Club. He is also the founder and organizer of the Niagara Falls Juneteenth celebration.

“I’m in fear that we’re going to end up having a segregated city at this rate,” Fleming told the Reporter with no hint of sarcasm in his voice, “If Mayor Restaino had it his way, we’d all be drinking out of colored-only water fountains.”

Fleming told the Reporter that he began the process back in February to gain the permit for the Juneteenth celebration to be held at Legends Park; but the city kept moving the goal posts by changing the wording in the insurance and other documents, right up until the day before the event; at which point, corporation counsel Thomas DeBoy must have known that the permit was impossible to secure. 

Says Fleming, “The city kept changing the requirements for insurance. Once I had the coverages, they asked for new endorsements in the policy. I got the endorsements, then they said they weren’t happy with the wording so they wanted that changed. I have the emails. They told me that the policy stated it was a rental property… and because I wasn’t renting the property… that it had to be changed. They said I wouldn’t be covered because of that wording. This is what [corporation counsel] Thomas DeBoy told me, despite the fact that I was using Warren Buffet insurance.”

Niagara Falls City Corporation Counsel Thomas DeBoy [Photo courtesy of LinkedIn]

Councilman Myles told the Reporter, “DeBoy is supposed to be the city’s attorney but I say he’s the mayor’s lawyer. That’s his lawyer, and the mayor had his lawyer drag it out til the last minute and then deny everything. They sent Fleming an email stating you can’t have the Juneteenth parade, but you can have a picnic at Legends Park.”

To be clear, anybody can have a picnic in a public park.

Says Myles, “It’s the same insurance we’ve used every year, but the mayor chose this year to add all of these new stipulations regarding insurance.”

Fleming continued, “I got a call and I was told that the flag raising and the event was all set up. I spoke to Mayor Restaino when I ran into him and I asked him if he’d help me out with these issues, and if he could suggest not having two separate Juneteenth parades. He said, I got you Jacob, rest assured we’ll make that happen. He agreed that the flag raising would be done by our organization. While I was still in the process of negotiating regarding the wording in the policy, the city sent out a press release on Monday the 17th stating that Mayor Restaino would be having a flag raising at City Hall.”

Mayor Restaino told WGRZ that he tried helping Fleming and his committee secure the permit, but they were simply unable to get the insurance needed for that to happen.

Dante Richardson [Photo credit: Yahoo! Finance]

Dante Richardson is an award-winning venture developer and entrepreneur who holds a Master’s degree from Stanford University. This year he joined the Juneteenth Committee as a strategic advisor. “Mayor Restaino is a piece of shit,” Richardson told the Reporter, “he stopped the Juneteenth event because of who was involved. The city kept changing the rules on what we needed to get the insurance.”

In addition to Jacob Fleming, Sr., Councilman Donta Myles and Dante Richardson, the Juneteenth Committee also includes mayoral candidate Carl Cain, former City Councilman Vincent Cauley and radio show host Frank Handley as members.

Carl Cain, a Black Republican candidate for mayor in last year’s election; lost to Restaino in a close decision.

Councilman Myles and former Councilman Cauley both happen to be Black, and both have had ongoing feuds with Mayor Restaino regarding lack of transparency, gentrification, and reckless spending of taxpayer dollars. 

Dante Richardson says that he has clashed with Mayor Restaino since August of last year, “I tried to bring Stanford University here to create a partnership between the university and the city. Restaino didn’t want any part in it, so I partnered up with Donta Myles and that upset the mayor,” says Richardson, who claims that he tried to bring “tech jobs starting at $60k to $75k” to the Falls.

Donta Myles told the Reporter, “I received a call from a trusted source who said that they heard ramblings stating the Mayor said he gave us such a hard time for the Juneteenth festival because Donta Myles and Frank Handley are hard to work with.”

Radio station owner and host Frank Handley is a member of the Juneteenth Committee. [Photo courtesy of Covenant of Grace Ministries of WNY]

All things considered, Fleming and his crew decided to change the location of the Juneteenth celebration at the last minute. The event was moved to Christ Redemption Tabernacle Church at 339 22nd Street.

Perhaps the group that was the most impacted by this situation were the vendors who had already signed on to be at the Juneteenth event. 

“The city told us we could have a picnic at the park, just no vendors.” Says Myles, “These vendors had already spent thousands of dollars on food. We don’t need a permit to have a picnic at the park. You gotta think about these vendors who had already paid for everything.”

With the event moved to the Church, those vendors were able to set up and operate under insurance coverage from the Western New York Films, Arts and Media Inc. 

However, that apparently wasn’t enough for Mayor Restaino’s administration who sent the city’s health inspector to the Juneteenth celebration.

“The city health inspector was sent to the church where we had the Juneteenth celebration, and I’m pretty sure they were sent by Mayor Restaino. He wanted more blood. He’s pretty spiteful and pretty racist,” Donta Myles told the Reporter.

Former Niagara Falls City Councilman Vincent Cauley.

Former Councilman Vincent Cauley joined the Juneteenth Committee this year. He told the Reporter that he’s not sure if Mayor Restaino is racist or not, stating “Restaino is a tyrant whether you’re black, white, red or yellow. If you disagree with him, you’re cast out. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, or what your skin color is. It’s whether or not you agree with him that determines if you can do business in Niagara Falls.”

Mayor Restaino is setting the clock back a century, according to Jacob Fleming, Sr. and his colleagues.

Jacob Fleming, Sr. disagrees. He told the Reporter, “If things continue at this rate, we might as well just change the name of the city from Niagara Falls to Master Restaino and the Klans People. It’s sad that the City of Niagara Falls has taken a holiday that is supposed to represent love and unity, and converted it into a holiday of separation and hate.”

“I’d like to add one more thing that I think it’s important for people to hear,” says Myles, “It’s despicable and a shame for Restaino to, during his campaigns, go to the Black churches in our city and pander to Black people while lying to them with promises of what he’ll do for those communities. Then he goes and puts a road block up for the celebration of Black freedom. You’re in our churches lying and using certain token Black pastors to parade you around in our Black churches to lie to our people. Then the very next year you choose to try and cancel the very celebration that celebrates our freedom.”

Father and son duo Jacob Fleming, Sr. and Jacob Fleming, Jr. raising the Juneteenth flag at Niagara Falls State Park with NYS Assemblyman Angelo Morinello and NYS Parks Niagara Region Director Mark Mistretta.

Fleming added, “Throughout this entire process, nobody ever told me that if we don’t get the insurance we won’t be able to have the event but that we could still raise the flag at City Hall. They never did that, despite the fact that you don’t need a permit to raise a flag.”

He continued, stating “Something is going on with the current administration. They don’t care about the common man. They don’t want the people to have a rich city like we used to have back in the day. I don’t know why, but they want to keep this city in shambles. Whether it’s because of redlining or for them to steal other people’s property through eminent domain. The gentrification is apparent. Look at how high the rents are but the properties aren’t better, the streets aren’t better.”

“There was an event that was supposed to happen on Saturday called A Day of Prayer. Kiera Agee has done that event as long as I’ve been doing Juneteenth. They canceled that poor girl’s event,” said Fleming with frustration in his voice. “ At one point, the mayor said that we needed a ‘real’ sponsor for the Juneteenth event. Well, I want to thank M&T Bank and Niagara Falls Redevelopment, as well as the Niagara Falls Republican Committee for their generous donations. We had sponsors, and we had the insurance but they kept changing it.”

Despite the hurdles put in place by Mayor Restaino’s administration, Fleming did manage to have a flag raising at Niagara Falls State Park. “It may be the first ever Juneteenth flag raised in a New York State Park,” Fleming told the Reporter.