Dunkirk City Councilman Hopeful Reportedly Questioned On Petition Signatures

DUNKIRK — Dennis Welka stepped out of the race for First Ward councilman in the city of Dunkirk last year due to health issues. Despite publicly acknowledging he’d be dropping out before the election, he obtained 450 votes.

If healthy again, Welka says he’ll run for the seat that’s currently held by Don Williams Jr. But even if Welka’s well and willing to run, he says he may be prevented from ever doing that.

In a recent sitdown with The Post-Journal, Welka acknowledged that he’s been contacted by investigators out of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office regarding a petition he submitted in late July 2017 for an Opportunity to Ballot on the Republican line. He said he’s being questioned about the petition, and specifically how he transferred signatures from an incorrect petition he had to a correct one.

Welka says he denies any wrongdoing as he never stole signatures nor copied signatures from other petitions he had onto the Republican petition.

“I didn’t steal signatures. I didn’t deceive anybody while I was collecting them either,” he said. “I didn’t take Republican signatures who signed for somebody else who didn’t sign for me and put them on the petition. I didn’t do any of that stuff. I think this is political stunt to keep me off the ballot … to keep me from ever being able to run.”

Welka, a Democrat who pushed for the Opportunity to Ballot on the Republican line, began to collect signatures July of last year. The goal was to get to a primary.

He needed a Republican to witness the signatures of Republicans since he was a registered Democrat. He brought his girlfriend, Amy, who was a Republican, as a witness.

When it came time to hand in the petition, Welka said he was told the petition he had his signatures on was the wrong one. He said he subsequently had them transferred from one petition to the correct one not knowing at the time that it was the incorrect thing to do.

He said he learned about the mistake during a September hearing in Mayville with the Chautauqua County Board of Elections where officials ruled the petition invalid. The hearing came after a complaint filed by Williams. Board of Elections officials stated that the petition submitted by Welka didn’t possess the original signatures, but rather copies.

“I went to a local place to transfer signatures to this petition,” Welka said. “I picked it up and turned it in. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong due to the fact they were signatures I went out and got. At the hearing, I knew it was wrong and that was the end.”

On May 11, Welka said he answered a phone call from a female district attorney from Erie County who wanted to talk to him about documents he submitted last year. He said the call he received was a week after he hinted toward another possible run for the First Ward seat on his Facebook page.

Welka said he met with the district attorney and an investigator at Tim Hortons that day. Welka said they had his Republican petition with them as well as ones he had for Working Families and Women’s Equality. Welka said they questioned him on how he transferred the info onto the correct petition.

Weeks later, they requested to speak to Amy. Welka said his girlfriend and Larry Wilcox, who assisted him by giving and submitting the petitions, didn’t do anything wrong.

Many months have passed since he submitted the petition, and Welka said he wonders why the investigation is happening now. The Post-Journal reached out to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office regarding its investigation on Welka. In response, the DA’s office said they cannot confirm nor deny an investigation into the matter.

“A district attorney out of Erie County … I know they’re trying not to make it political,” Welka said. “But our district attorney’s mentor is from Erie County. It’s all political.”

Welka says he’s a Republican now as he no longer wants to affiliate himself with the Democratic Party’s leadership.