Two new mayors were elected in Niagara County earlier this week.
A Democratic deputy mayor squeaked by a Republican trustee to lead the heavily Republican Village of Wilson.
And a 34-year-old Barker trustee upset an incumbent mayor with 20 years of government experience.
Bernard “Bernie” Leiker, who has served as Wilson’s deputy mayor for nearly three years, edged out trustee Gerard “Jerry” Kadryna by 10 votes in Tuesday’s voting to take the helm in this village of 1,300, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 4 to 1. The election tally was 224 to 214.
“I think it had to do with the kind of campaign I ran,” said Leiker. “I never said anything against my opponent, and I went door-to-door and met with people at their homes.
“I’ve done a lot of things in the past three years in the village, and I stood by my record.”
Meanwhile, Aaron Nellist, who is finishing his first term as a trustee, defeated Herbert “Herb” Meyer, 69 to 43 votes, in the Village of Barker.
Meyer, 78, is finishing his first term as mayor, having served on the Planning Board for 17 years before joining the Village Board as a trustee in 2010. He was elected without competition to the mayor’s post two years ago.
“Many older residents in the village are beginning to look to downsize, and the village is steadily filling in with younger families because our schools are a great draw,” said Nellist, a 1996 Barker High School graduate.
“I can relate to these younger people, and I think our ability to get them out to vote made the difference.”
Nellist campaigned on the Transparency in Government line, while Meyer ran on the Better Barker Party line.
Nellist and Leiker will be sworn in April 1.
Leiker is only the second Democratic mayor in the Village of Wilson’s history.
Leiker, 64, was elected a trustee in March 2010 by a 16-vote margin over Republican Keith Douglas, tipping the three-person board to a Democratic majority for the first time in village record books. The tide had begun to change the prior year, when Patrick Kelahan was elected the village’s first Democratic mayor in its 151-year history, upsetting incumbent Republican Mayor Thomas Bateman, who served unopposed for eight years.
Kelahan resigned the post last fall when he moved with his family to Newfane.
Leiker, as deputy mayor, and Kadryna, who was elected to a four-year trustee term last March, have been running the village as a two-man board ever since. Leiker is expected to make a trustee appointment for a one-year term at the village’s reorganizational meeting April 1 to restore the full three-person board.
“I want to choose the best person for the job, and I don’t care about the affiliation, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, man or woman,” Leiker said. “I want to canvass the whole community and have the best people come forward and see if they want to partner with me and talk about the issues.
“I have a short list of people I’d like, but I want them to approach me,” he said. “They need to have a vision for the village and want to see the village grow. And I don’t always have to agree with everything they have to say – I’m not afraid of disagreement.”
Wilson resident Jim Madan said he would concur.
“Bernie is not afraid of diversity of opinion,” Madan said. “I’m a registered Republican – and not that that should mean anything in a small village – but I have seen that he’s consistently inclusive of people who don’t agree with him.”
Leiker, an English teacher and administrator from Williamsville who moved to Wilson with his wife, Colleen, when he retired six years ago, said the village leaders’ top priority has to be business.
“We really need to create new businesses and support our old businesses,” he said. “Everything here starts with that. If we could get someone to come into the old Pfeiffer’s plant (which closed in 2009), our sewer rates would decrease. We do have Dollar General coming in, but we need to keep growing the village. Woodcock Brothers Brewery will soon be distributing the beer they’re making here, so they’ll be using more water, and then it won’t just be 550 households using water.”
“I’ve been talking to Wendel about plans for a regional sewer treatment plant, maybe to bring in Newfane and Ransomville, and then we could go from 550 users to 10,000 users, which makes it much easier to get state grant money,” he said. “This is just in the very beginning stages, but it’s something that could be shared. “
In Barker, Nellist also will be overseeing a board with a mix of old and new, including political newcomers Mark Wilson, 29, and Gregory Kerth, 65.
Both were unopposed Tuesday in their bids for two vacant trustee seats. They join Scott Matheis and Patricia Fuller, who were each elected to two-year trustee terms last year.
Nellist, who works for the State Canal Corp. as a maintenance assistant, will juggle his full-time job with the part-time mayor’s post. In addition, he is a youth baseball coach and vice president of Local 527 for the State Canal Corp.
Nellist is looking forward to working more closely with the Town of Somerset in examining what areas the two governments might share services.
“Supervisor (Daniel) Engert has had an open line with me – he’s been there for me if I have had questions,” Nellist said.
Potential shared services, the redevelopment of the former Birds Eye processing plant land, and the upcoming village budget – with a hearing set for 7 p.m. April 1 – will be topics under discussion during the new mayor’s two-year term.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” he said last week.
Matheis, who served on the board with Nellist as a trustee, said, “He’ll do very well. He’s conscientious and asks the right questions.”
“We had a big turnout this year, so maybe people will start coming out (to board meetings), get more interested, and that’s a good thing.”