IRVING – Barry Earl Snyder Sr., a 72-year-old battle-scarred political veteran who already has served four terms as Seneca Nation president, was returned to office Tuesday night by voters.
Snyder’s election followed one of the most bruising and hard-fought elections in the history of the region’s most-high-profile Indian tribe.
The dominant figure in Seneca politics over the past 40 years, Snyder defeated five other candidates, beating his closest challenger, Tribal Council Chairman Richard E. Nephew, by 225 votes. The election followed a nasty campaign marked by harsh accusations that the outgoing president, Robert Odawi Porter, and Nephew made against Snyder.
Nephew and Porter accused Snyder of malfeasance in connection with a crooked land deal for a Lewiston golf course and with fundraising for a charity group to help people with diabetes. At one point in the campaign, Nephew and Porter supporters sent a postcard with Snyder’s photograph on the front, bearing the caption, “How much money can one man steal from the Seneca Nation?”
Snyder denied the accusations, and voters put him back in the office he last held from 2008 to November 2010.
“I want to thank the Seneca people for once again believing that leadership of our nation is by the people,” Snyder said. “The past two years have broken the spirit and confidence that our people have in Seneca political leadership. We will not look back, but we will move forward with an open and transparent government ... Now is the time for the Seneca.”
Snyder’s archrival, Porter, was defeated by Snyder running mate Rodney Pierce for the office of treasurer. Pierce is Porter’s brother-in-law.
Six candidates – the largest number in decades – sought the presidency, which pays an annual salary of $185,000 and carries the power to hire and fire thousands of people. The Seneca president is believed to be the highest-paid elected official in Western New York, making $80,000 more than the mayor of Buffalo and $82,000 more than the Erie County executive.
Pierce defeated Porter by a count of 1,105 to 786.
Geraldine Huff was elected tribal clerk.
Elected to the Tribal Council, the Senecas’ governing body, were Jeff Gill, Christina Jimerson, Linda Doxtator, Shelley Huff, Morris Abrams, Arlene Bova, Kevin Printup and Mike Williams.
Keith White Sr. and Kara John were elected chief marshals. Lance Cooper, Darby Leroy, Diana Maybee, David Isaac, Clifford Pierce, and Randy White were elected marshals. Elected as assessors were Stanley Jimerson, Terry Nephew, David Pierce, Brenda Redeye, Sally Huff and Ronald Kenjockety.
Elmer Logan and Jason John were elected highway commissioners, and Llona Leroy and Rae Lynn George were elected poormasters. Porter ran for treasurer because tribal laws prevent anyone from serving as president two terms in a row.
With so many running for president, the Senecas said, the voter turnout of 2,636 was among the largest they have seen in decades.
Wednesday, many tribe employees were locked out of their offices as leaders prepared for what could be a rough transition of government control.
According to Seneca officials, police marshals were posted at the tribe’s two main government buildings in Irving and Salamanca to keep employees – many of them loyal to the current, outgoing administration – from reporting to work.
“The offices were locked down to protect the integrity of Seneca government records and functions,” said one Seneca source who is familiar with the situation.
The lockdown occurred just hours after Snyder was elected president.
Porter will remain president until Tuesday, when Snyder will be sworn in, Seneca officials said. But Snyder has already begun to take over the operations of a government that has 1,300 tribal employees, the officials said.
“Barry will reorganize the government. People will be fired or laid off. New people will be hired. This is what happens when you elect a new president every two years,” a Seneca official told The Buffalo News. “We’re going to be in turmoil for a while.”
Snyder and Porter, political archenemies, were both unavailable to comment Wednesday.
After Tuesday’s election, Snyder could face some challenges in dealing with the Tribal Council. Nine members of the Council were people who have been loyal to Porter’s political group, while seven have been tied to Snyder’s group.