In Tonawanda, the police union is officially endorsing town candidates for the first time.
In Hamburg and Orchard Park, it is possible that the entire town board could be replaced … in part because they are now just three-member boards.
And in West Seneca, the names of two competing candidates are so similar that voters are going to have to play close attention when they mark their ballots.
The election is just over two weeks away and campaigns across the suburbs are in full swing.
Here is a rundown on what is going on in several of the communities.
Town of Tonawanda
The town police officers’ union last week entered the political fray for the first time in its history by endorsing the three Republican challengers for Town Board, a decision the Democratic incumbents say was motivated by contract issues.
“For reasons which will become increasingly clear over the next few weeks, we have chosen to support Gigi Grizanti, Ann Morelli and Michael Vishion,” said a statement from the Town of Tonawanda Police Club.
The union criticized current board members for reducing the number of police officers and eliminating posts.
Board member Joe Emminger said that while the union may claim its endorsement was made over public safety concerns, the real reason is differences about the contract and health insurance.
“The police have always had the support of the Town Board,” said Emminger, who is running with fellow incumbents Lisa Chimera and John A. Bargnesi Jr. “There is nobody at our meetings in the last four years that has ever said there’s a public safety issue with the town.”
Police Club President Chris Kaiser denied that the union was using the endorsement as leverage in its contract negotiations.
Town police have been without a contract since the beginning of the year. Some of the younger police officers pay for a portion of their health insurance while the town covers the full cost for more senior officers.
Health insurance for all town employees and retirees in 2014 is projected to cost $16.3 million, which represents 16 percent of the total budget, according to town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana’s tentative budget.
“You can’t have health insurance costs at what they are and not have employee contributions,” Emminger said. “And what they contribute, that’s negotiable.”
The Police Department’s $20 million budget accounts for 21 percent of total spending, town officials said Oct. 10 at a budget work session. Of that $20 million, 92 percent goes to personnel costs, officials said.
At the session, Police Chief Anthony J. Palombo was asked by the board in the aftermath of the Joe Hollywood incident if the chief has enough equipment and personnel. He replied that he did.
– Joe Popiolkowski
City of Tonawanda
Change could be coming to all but one of the city’s elected offices after November’s general election. And the fate of a proposed housing development could hinge on the results.
The races for the Common Council’s four wards and mayor’s office feature only two incumbents – Republican Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi and 3rd Ward Councilman Richard Slisz.
The 1st Ward seat was vacated in September by Heather D. Little, leaving Republican Charles Gilbert to face Democrat Paul Brunner. Council President Carleton R. Zeisz, who is not up for re-election, has said the winner will be appointed to fill the remainder of Little’s term before taking office in January for the full-term.
Zeisz also has said no action will be taken on a tentative deal with Natale Builders for a 56-unit housing development in the 1st Ward’s Veterans Park until the seat is filled.
Brunner, a home energy conservation worker, said he opposes the tentative deal to sell the land because it offers permanent property tax breaks in the form of condominium status. The request for proposals issued in 2009 said the developer should not expect any tax breaks for homeowners, Brunner said. “I think it’s a raw deal,” he said.
Gilbert, an electrician, said he supported the request for proposals when he was on the Council in 2009 but questioned the effect lost revenue will have on the school district.
“Overall, I don’t think it’s a great plan but it’s one I can live with and support,” said Gilbert.
In the 2nd Ward, Jackie A. Smilinich, who defeated incumbent Blake R. Boyle in a Democratic primary, will face Republican Jonathan R. Juliano. The 3rd Ward has Slisz facing Republican John J. Hall. Newcomers Brian M. Jopp, a Republican, and Jenna Koch, a Democrat, will contest for the 4th Ward seat currently held by Tyler J. Kossow, who is not seeking re-election.
The battle for mayor pits Pilozzi against Democrat Rick Davis, a former 4th Ward Councilman.
– Joe Popiolkowski
Hamburg/ Orchard Park
It’s possible that newcomers could be running the towns of Hamburg and Orchard Park come Jan. 1.
It’s another byproduct of downsizing the town boards from five members to three in 2009.
But if incumbency and name recognition have anything to do with the voting on Election Day, turnovers may not be likely.
In Hamburg, eight-year incumbent supervisor Steven Walters is running for a third term, and in Orchard Park, supervisor Janis Colarusso is seeking a second term.
Incumbent Hamburg Councilwoman Amy Ziegler is waging a campaign for a second term against challenger Michael P. Quinn Jr., as is incumbent Councilman Gene Majchrzak against Lynmarie Phillips in Orchard Park. There will be at least one new councilman in each town, because incumbents decided not to seek re-election.
Supervisors in the towns said there is a lot of on-the-job learning for Town Board posts.
“Obviously, there’s a learning curve coming in,” Walters said, describing his first year in office. “Things as simple as knowing the names of the people here, knowing where things are.”
Downsizing eliminated two council seats in each of the three towns as those terms expired two years ago. That left two council seats and supervisor terms that are up at the end of this year, instead of the usual staggered terms to prevent a total turnover.
One council seat is for two years, and one is for four years.
In 2015, the two-year seat will be up again, this time for a four-year term that is staggered from the other council seat.
If three newcomers captured the Town Board seats, “you would be backtracking for about a year, because none of them would know what they are doing,” Colarusso said.
Of course, that’s not what their challengers are saying.
Dentist Patrick J. Keem, the founder of Aurora Dental Care, is promising engaged leadership and efficient management in Orchard Park.
Attorney and former prosecutor Walter Rooth III says he is the right person to “repair the damage” to Hamburg’s image.
The third seat in Hamburg is a match between Democrat Cheryl Potter-Juda and Republican Larry Speiser.
In Orchard Park, Michael Sherry, a newcomer who has cross endorsement, is running unopposed for the third seat.
– Barbara O’Brien
It was possible that a turnover in board membership also could have occurred in Alden this year, because it too has become a three-member board.
But candidates there are unopposed.
“There’s always going to be changes on town boards,” Alden Supervisor Harry F. “Bud” Milligan said. “Unfortunately, with a three-person board, it’s kind of a radical change when it happens.”
The Alden Town Board would know.
Councilman William Weber died unexpectedly Oct. 9. Milligan said he and Councilwoman Mary F. Riddoch will work as a two-member board until Jan. 1.
“It would have been much easier with a five-person board,” Milligan said. “It’s been difficult enough with three because we couldn’t talk to each other.”
All three board members were unopposed in the general election. Milligan said the name of Town Clerk Ralph P. Witt will be substituted for Weber on the ballot. Witt is stepping down as clerk this year.
“You have to understand budgeting to be on the Town Board, where the money comes from and where it goes out,” Milligan said.
– Barbara O’Brien
Voters need to pay close attention when filling out the ballot for West Seneca’s Town Board race, because two candidates have similar last names.
Both William P. Hanley Jr. and Jim Manley are registered Democrats. They’re vying for the seat occupied by Democrat incumbent John M. Rusinski.
Rusinski won the Democratic primary for a two-year term in 2011, when Hanley was among the contenders, and went on to win the seat. This time around, Hanley received the endorsement of the local Democratic Committee and topped Rusinski in the Democratic primary, then knocked him off the ballot entirely with a write-in victory for the Working Families line.
Manley, who said he’s changing his registration to Republican, was endorsed by the town’s Republican Committee – he approached them after they declined to back either Hanley or Rusinski.
“I was not selected by any party bosses, so therefore I have no obligations to anyone except the people of West Seneca,” Manley said. “In fact, if I did not choose to run, there would have been virtually no choice for the voters to make come this November.”
This year’s race is for a four-year term; the two-year term was created so that the election of members to the downsized, three-person board would be staggered in the future.
Hanley is a longtime employee of National Fuel, where he currently holds a management position, while Manley is a retired records management clerk and webmaster for the town, and had served as chief of staff for former Erie County Legislator Christina Bove.
Both candidates identify reducing property taxes among their campaign platform agendas, as well as addressing neighborhood issues – particularly dealing with abandoned properties. They’ve been campaigning the old-fashioned way, walking door-to-door in the town.
“To date, I have visited over 1,400 homes, getting my message out to the residents of West Seneca that it’s time for real change,” said Hanley.
– Janice Habuda