The races are taking shape for this November’s elections in the Town of Lancaster, where Republicans are fighting an uphill battle to wrest control of the Democratic-controlled board; the Town of Tonawanda, featuring the spirited return of a Republican who nearly won last time; Kenmore, where the battle for trustee appears to be over; and Amherst, where tens of thousands of dollars are pouring into the town supervisor race.
Here’s a look at some of the most-watched contests this fall.
The spotlight on Lancaster political circles this fall shines on the Town Board race and whether Republicans can pull off the daunting challenge of wresting majority control of town government from the Democratic stronghold that has dominated for years.
The challenge is undoubtedly a steep, uphill climb, given the Democrats’ successful performance in the primary – when they crushed the Republican Town Board candidates’ hopes of picking up minor party lines heading into the November election.
Add to that the fact that the sole Republican on the Town Board – Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli, who is in the middle of his term after defeating veteran Democratic Supervisor Robert H. Giza – also believes the GOP cannot sweep control of the council.
“I don’t think we’re going to get the majority,” Fudoli said. “An honest assessment, I think, of what will happen, is we’ll pick up one seat. I think (Ronald) Ruffino is the weak link.”
The Lancaster GOP pins its hopes on political newcomers Patrick F. Sportelli and Robert Leary to unseat entrenched Democratic incumbents John M. Abraham Jr., a teacher and force on the board for four years; and 12-year veteran Ruffino, a banker seeking his fourth term.
Sportelli brings a background of finance and real estate and serves on the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Leary is a former federal law enforcement officer and assistant vice president in the surveillance and investigations unit at First Niagara Financial Group.
Lancaster Republican Committee Chairman Robert J. Matthews holds out hope that the GOP will be successful in its bid for Town Board seats.
“Our candidates are still pretty motivated. They’re out on the streets every day, and that makes all the difference,” Matthews said.
How much of a long shot is it for the GOP to nail majority control?
Some political observers say the race already is over, but not Matthews.
“Absolutely, I think they have a crack at it,” he said. “I think our chances are pretty good to turn over the board to Republican control,” Matthews said. “I think the voters are looking for a change. I think they like the fact that the supervisor reduced taxes for the first time in over a decade.”
Matthews also said the town infrastructure needs addressing, and “that’s something our candidates are out banging the drum on.”
On its Facebook page, the town GOP portrays itself and the candidates’ slate as “the comeback team.” The party’s campaign theme is about fighting to build a new majority in the town – from council seats to the highway and town justice offices. This fall also marks the first time in decades that the town Republican leadership is running a full slate of candidates.
Fudoli said his party will aim to inform residents that neither Democratic candidate is a “true conservative.”
“How do you vote for tax increases and call yourselves conservatives?” he asked.
The Democratic team, however, is confident in its mission – believing residents are satisfied with the job it’s doing as the party in power, and, of course, buoyed by its candidates’ success in the recent primary in securing minor party lines.
Even so, Lancaster’s Democratic Committee chairman is cautiously optimistic.
“It’s not over ’til it’s over, and there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Chairman Paul M. Tarapacki. “You can’t take anything for granted, and I don’t think our candidates do.”
Tarapacki praised the Democratic council incumbents’ credentials.
“They have a proven track record of fiscal conservatism. There’s a reason why the Town of Lancaster is one of the fastest-growing communities in the area, and I think it’s because of what the Democratic leadership has offered,” he said.
The primary results were paramount.
“That was huge,” Tarapacki said. “It was a battle in the war. It was definitely a defining moment, and the primaries generally are, and set the stage for the general election.”
Fudoli says that the big problem centers on the political parties.
“Party bosses are picking candidates, and not values,” he said. “The political parties get in the way and do not look out for the taxpayers. They look out for their special interests.”
Also drawing voter attention is the town justice race between two well-known attorneys – Town Democratic Councilman Mark S. Aquino and Republican candidate Anthony J. Cervi – that is rapidly heating up. They are vying to replace retiring Town Justice J. Michael Kelleher.
The highway superintendent race showcases Democratic incumbent Daniel J. Amatura, who many political insiders laud, against GOP challenger Joseph M. Brainard, who co-owns Double Down Transportation Services and who supporters say is knowledgeable for the position.
Town of Tonawanda
Nearly two years after the Tonawanda Town Board terminated his concessions contract following a failed bid for a seat, businessman Michael R. Vishion is back for another run.
While Vishion says the episode motivates him, he’s not dwelling on what he characterized at the time as “political reprisal.”
“I really don’t have a desire to make it the cornerstone or the focus of my campaign,” said Vishion, 37. “It is what it is. I think at this point those who have heard about it understand it and I don’t want to come off as sour grapes.”
The board voted in December 2011 for the town to take over concessions at Brighton and Sheridan Park golf courses and revoke its agreement with Vishion’s consulting firm VCMS, doing business as Comfort Concessions and Catering. Incumbent Councilman Daniel J. Crangle had won re-election the previous month with 53 percent of the vote to Vishion’s 47 percent.
Board members at the time said the move was made to maximize profits and increase revenue. Voters this November will choose from a field of six candidates for three open seats on the Town Board. Vishion is joined by Ann Morelli and Gigi Grizanti as Republicans try to gain a toehold on the board, which has five Democrats.
The three incumbents up for re-election – Lisa Chimera, Joseph H. Emminger and John A. Bargnesi Jr. – were swept into office in November 2005 at the beginning of a new era of Democratic dominance in town government.
Chimera, a Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda teacher and curriculum learning specialist, pointed to a list of accomplishments by the board, including the creation of a four-year plan for the budget, adding school resource officers and providing services for senior citizens such as the senior center and Meals on Wheels.
“That four-year plan has been instrumental in making sure that the town was in great financial shape,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Ken-Ton Republican Committee announced it won’t field candidates this fall in the Village of Kenmore.
Incumbent Trustee Paul P. Catalano, a Democrat, is seeking re-election, while Republican Sam Muscarella, who has been a trustee since 1995, is retiring, leaving an open seat.
Republicans had planned to run Leonard Rollo, 19, but he bowed out due to family and work commitments, said GOP Chairman Mark Tramont.
That means the seat will go to Democrat Kathleen E. “Katie” Burd, a lifelong resident of the Ken-Ton area who has been active in community affairs.
Village Justice Scott F. Riordan will also run unopposed.
Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein has reloaded for his November re-election bid, adding $35,000 to his war chest since July.
The donors? Himself.
Campaign disclosure forms filed last week show the Republican continues to self-fund his own campaign.
“I’m going to be completely independent,” said Weinstein, who has worked as a doctor, lawyer and real estate developer.
“I haven’t had a fundraiser in three-plus years,” he said.
Meanwhile, the most recent financial filings show his opponent in the supervisor’s race, Council Member Mark A. Manna, raised $350 between the July and September reporting period.
Still, the $33,000 Manna has amassed since last year should be enough to make this an interesting election.
Together, the two have raised more than $91,000 – and counting.
“I was outspent 2-to-1 in the last council election, and I was still the top vote-getter,” Manna said. “Residents respond to hard work and a good message.”
“When it’s all said and done, I’m confident that I’ll have the resources to wage a high-caliber campaign,” Manna said.
Weinstein came into the race with $25,000 his wife loaned him late last year, and he received three contributions totaling $600 between Jan. 1 and July 15. He contributed $35,000 of his own money on Sept. 16 and has $58,093 on hand, after advertising and other campaign expenses.
Manna, a contract negotiator and pension trustee, has on hand $33,635 – more than a third of that coming from opponents of the controversial Hyatt Place hotel project on Main Street, near the Youngmann Highway.
Manna has received a total of $12,413 from residents of nearby Livingston and Lakewood parkways.