Rejected by his own party, Lancaster Village Trustee Edward M. Marki is coming out swinging in his re-election campaign by forming an Integrity of Choice Party and railing against the Citizens Party – a “political machine” whose backing he sought last fall.
“With one party ruling everything, how are you going to have your needs addressed?” Marki said in an interview.
Now, the Citizens Party – whose members include nearly every appointed and elected official in the village – is fighting back, raising concerns about Marki’s suitability for office and defending the party’s dominance.
“He loved the Citizens Party up until he didn’t get the endorsement. Now we’re a machine?” said Lancaster Mayor Paul M. Maute, whose party endorsed Marki in 2007 and 2009.
In a village where government decisions typically are made by unanimous consent, the increasingly nasty tenor of the campaign is highly unusual.
The political dispute has spilled over into recent Village Board meetings, where trustees, village officials and members of the audience have sparred over where to place the voting machines in next month’s election and which band to hire for Lancaster’s Fourth of July celebration.
Still, if Marki and his running mate, Russell W. Sugg, can collect enough valid signatures, residents will see a choice on their ballots for the first time since 1997.
“I think it’s the Democratic process. This is what makes America America,” said Trustee William C. Schroeder, who did win the Citizens Party nod for his re-election.
In Lancaster, a village of 10,300, politicos form organizations including the Community Pride Party, People’s Party or Independent Party instead of running as Democrats or Republicans.
Longtime Mayor William G. Cansdale and others founded the Citizens Party in 1990, and the party slowly consolidated power.
Today, every Village Board member belongs to the Citizens Party, as do the village attorney, community development officer, public works superintendent, village justice and numerous other employees.
Asked to name someone on the village payroll who doesn’t belong to the Citizens Party, Chairman Jeffrey Stribing wondered about the school crossing guards before naming the acting village justice.
“I think the community has been very happy with the job that we’ve done over the years,” said Cansdale, who served as mayor from 1993 to 2012, when he accepted appointment as public works superintendent.
The last trustee who didn’t belong to the Citizens Party was Joseph E. Dennis Sr., who won a write-in campaign in 2006 by running against the village’s dominant party, but the last time someone from another party was on the ballot was in March 1997, according to election records.
Next month, Marki and Schroeder are up for re-election. They and three others sought the Citizens Party nod.
At a vote of the party membership in November, Schroeder received the most votes, followed by Marki, but party officials said candidates must earn at least 51 percent of all votes cast. Schroeder cleared this threshold, but Marki didn’t, and in a second round of balloting, Jennie Smith, the village’s special events coordinator, passed Marki and won the endorsement.
Marki said he had “no idea” about the 51 percent threshold and he believes party officials fixed the rules for Smith because her husband, Greg, is the party vice chairman and wanted his wife to win the endorsement.
Party members say Marki was well aware of the by-law and the vote was fairly conducted.
A frustrated Marki said he formed his Integrity of Choice Party, with Sugg as his running mate, because he wants to end the “nepotism” and spoils system in the village.
Marki is particularly critical of Jennie Smith, saying she has received $1,200 raises each of the past three years and has failed to raise enough sponsorship money from local businesses to help pay for village events.
Jennie Smith said she has done her best to bring in sponsorship money, and said events such as the Fourth of July celebration break even. She pointed out that Marki supported the budgets for her department.
With Marki firing shots at the Citizens Party, some party members are firing back at him, complaining about use of his village cellphone and his recent poor attendance at village meetings.
For the last three months, Marki has used far more cell minutes than any other employee, averaging 1,756 minutes per month, village records show, or 600 minutes more each month than the next-highest user. Also, Marki for about four weeks used his village cellphone as the number for his business, Mebs Games, which opened in November, until phone service could be installed at the shop.
Marki responds that the Village Board agreed to allow trustees to use their village-provided phone for personal and village uses, and no one has ever questioned his cellphone use.
At the work session preceding the Jan. 28 board meeting, Trustee Dawn M. Robinson attacked Marki for missing at least seven village meetings since December. Marki replies that he has had a good attendance record but said he missed meetings recently for personal and job-related reasons.
In addition to Marki and Schroeder, fellow incumbents Maute and Robinson – who is running to fill the remaining two years on the seat Maute vacated to take over as mayor – and Village Justice Paul T. Bumbalo also are on the March 19 ballot.
This article was updated on Feb. 12 to reflect the following correction: Michael E. Stegmeier, the village’s clerk/treasurer, is not a member of the Citizens Party. Stegmeier said he previously belonged to the Citizens Party, for about one year, but left prior to his appointment as clerk/treasurer.