Republicans will stay in control, Democrats will pick up a seat and the conversation over irresponsible development in Erie County’s largest suburb will carry over from the polls.
That’s what the political landscape looks like in Amherst now that the dust has settled from Tuesday’s election, which saw Republican incumbent Barry A. Weinstein win a second term as supervisor.
The 1,152 absentee ballots – which will be counted in several days – still have the potential to swing the close four-way race for two Town Board seats, but it appears Republican incumbent Steven D. Sanders and Democratic newcomer Ramona D. Popowich are headed for a victory.
Races in at least three other communities – Hamburg, Orchard Park and the City of Tonawanda – are also waiting on the absentee ballots.
In Amherst, the Republicans – who campaigned on reducing costs and taxes – would keep control of town government next year with a 3 to 2 Town Board majority that would include Weinstein, Sanders and Council Member Guy R. Marlette.
However, Council Member Mark A. Manna – who lost the supervisor’s race to Weinstein but still has two years left as a council member – would now have a Democratic ally with the addition of Popowich.
“At least, if we pick up a Democratic seat, there’s more of an opportunity for discussion,” Manna said Wednesday.
Manna and the other Democrats ran on a “smart growth” platform and held up the controversial Hyatt Place Hotel on Main Street as the type of irresponsible development frustrating Amherst residents.
While that issue certainly struck a chord in the Snyder neighborhood – where hotel opponents were backing Manna and rallying voters – it apparently didn’t resonate enough throughout the rest of the town to vote the Democrats into office.
More than 24,000 voters cast a ballot in the supervisor’s race on Tuesday, which is comparable to four years ago but is still a low turnout for Amherst’s top race.
“At the end of the day,” Manna said, “I wanted the conversation to be about taxes and responsible development and, in that respect, it was a rousing victory for me.”
“We changed the discussion on development going forward,” he said.
Weinstein – who captured 55 percent of the vote – thought his margin of victory would be greater and believes the union support for Manna kept the race closer.
Weinstein also acknowledged the unhappiness among some of the voters and, as supervisor, wants to take a closer look at the town’s zoning code.
But outside Eggerstville and Snyder, Weinstein said he heard very little from residents about development.
“He was very good about getting out his message. Our message did not get out,” Weinstein said. “We are in favor of smart growth and we are as concerned about neighborhoods as he is.”
In the Town Board race, Sanders had 26 percent of the vote and Popowich 25 percent.
Fewer than 200 votes separate Popowich from the other two candidates, Republican Howard Cadmus and Democrat Patricia S. Dunne, but both acknowledged Wednesday it would be difficult to close the gap with absentee ballots.
“We have to wait 13 days for military and overseas ballots to arrive,” Erie County Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said.
He said candidates in the close races will be contacted to set up a time that day to be present when absentee ballots are opened and the other votes are canvassed.
Candidates for supervisor in Hamburg and Orchard Park and City of Tonawanda Common Council are waiting for absentee ballots to be opened Nov. 15.
Hamburg Supervisor Steven J. Walters, a Republican, captured 51 percent of the vote, and is leading his challenger, Walter Rooth III, by 158 votes. There were 461 absentee ballots returned to the Board of Elections by Election Day.
The supervisor will be working next year with two Democrat newcomers who were elected Tuesday, a shift in the majority control from Republicans who have controlled the board for six years.
In Orchard Park, Supervisor Janis A. Colarusso and her opponent, Patrick J. Keem, are having a weird kind of déjà vu. Four years ago Colarusso beat Keem by 99 votes, but the race was not certain until two weeks after Election Day.
Today, Keem is leading Colarusso by 132 votes, 51 percent to 49 percent. There are 259 absentees that have been returned so far.
“It’s that kind of race again,” Keem said.
And in the race for the Second Ward in the City of Tonawanda, Democrat Jackie A. Smilinich is leading Republican Jonathan R. Juliano by a single vote.
There were 135 absentee ballots returned as of Tuesday.