Now that Mayor Byron W. Brown has won the Democratic primary in Buffalo, attention turns outside the city, where suburban politicians are battling to run 25 towns in a world of development, tax caps and state mandates.
In Amherst, the well-financed incumbent running on low taxes faces a challenge from a board member riding a populist wave over a hotel development.
In Hamburg, the incumbent, running on his eight years delivering services, faces an opponent with great name recognition.
And in Orchard Park, the race is a do-over of the last election, with a retired dentist facing off against the incumbent who has spent 20 years in elective office.
Town races are “critically important” to the county parties as a whole, said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “This is where the rubber meets the road, this is the government that’s closest to the people,” he said. “It’s the town officials making sure the citizens get the service they pay for.”
The race for Amherst’s top job is likely to hinge on voter turnout and whether recent controversies dominate the final weeks of the campaign.
Incumbent Republican Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein would benefit from increased attention on his notable efforts to consolidate services and cut taxes throughout his first term.
But challenger Mark A. Manna, a council member, has been riding a wave of financial support from those who oppose several high-rise developments along the Main Street corridor. The hotel controversies have died down in recent weeks but could arise again as lawsuits on the matter make their way through the courts.
The supervisor’s race also has huge implications on the overall balance of power in town government. Two Town Board seats are up for grabs, and a third will be eliminated as part of a voter-approved effort to downsize the board to five seats.
Weinstein currently sits atop a 5-1 Republican majority on a board that counts Manna as its lone Democrat. The seat belonging to Republican Council Member Barbara S. Nuchereno – who is running for town justice – will be eliminated as part of the downsizing.
That means a dizzying array of scenarios could play out to leave the Town Board with a 4-1 Republican majority (with either a Republican or Democratic supervisor), a 4-1 Democratic majority, a 3-2 Democratic majority with a Republican supervisor, or a board of two Democrats and two Republicans split over the appointment of a fifth member (which would happen if Manna wins the supervisor seat.)
Incumbent Council Member Steven D. Sanders joins Howard D. Cadmus on the Republican line for Town Board, while Ramona D. Popowich and Patricia S. Dunne will challenge for the Democrats. Incumbent Republican Councilman Richard “Jay” Anderson is not running for re-election.
Turnout is likely to be a key factor, as Amherst – surprisingly to many – has more Democratic voters but has not had success historically getting them out to the polls.
Key issues: Hotel development, taxes and cost-cutting measures.
Hamburg is one of the more important races for Democrats as well as Republicans.
Democrats see Walter L. Rooth III as their best chance to recapture the supervisor’s chair from Steven J. Walters Sr.
Walters was an inexperienced candidate of 30 when he upset longtime pol Patrick H. Hoak in 2005 to become the first Republican to head the town since Jack Quinn left the seat to serve in Congress in 1992. Walters easily beat back a challenge four years ago, and has honed his skills and built his reputation on fiscal stability and cost-savings and the town takeover of operations at Woodlawn Beach State Park. But he also must deal with a split Town Board that can bog down in in-fighting.
Rooth, 45, a former assistant district attorney, is a lawyer like Walters. His father, Walter L. Rooth, is a longtime town justice. A volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels and former member of the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department, Rooth wants a return of professionalism, civility and fiscal responsibility for public officials.
“We’re really excited about the prospect of taking back the Town of Hamburg,” said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner. “We feel the government has been dysfunctional there for a few years, and we think it’s time the Democrats take that board back.”
But not so fast.
“Walters has an excellent record to run on, probably one of the most reform-minded record of anyone in the county,” Langworthy said. “Steve’s record is stellar, when you look at the budget being less than it was when he took office.”
All three seats on the Town Board are up, and there is the potential for the 2-to-1 Republican majority to swing to the Democrats. Incumbent Republican Amy Ziegler is seeking a second four-year term against challenger Michael P. Quinn Jr. Newcomers Lawrence J. Speiser, a Republican, and Democrat Cheryl L. Potter Juda are seeking the two-year seat.
Key issues: Woodlawn Beach State Park, bickering on Town Board.
Like Hamburg, there is also a possibility that all three members of the Orchard Park Town Board could be new next year, which is a product of downsizing to three members.
The supervisor’s race is a replay of the close contest four years ago, when Democrat Janis Colarusso eked out an 87-vote win over retired dentist Patrick J. Keem. It may be a different story this year. Keem appears to have beaten Colarusso as a write-in candidate in the Conservative primary last week, although the results are not final.
Colarusso has developed the support of many senior citizens with her support for a new senior center. She presided over a review of the Police Department, which led the Town Board to keep the department and add civilian public safety dispatchers, and she advocated creation of a separate public safety budget to show how much is spent in that department.
Keem, the founder and owner of Aurora Dental Care in East Aurora, is past chairman of the Erie County Citizens’ Budget Review Commission, and served on the Erie County Records Commission, Orchard Park Public Safety and Comprehensive Plan Implementation committees. He has looked for “common sense” government. He’s also a member of the Orchard Park Senior Council that is raising money for a new senior center.
Where that may be, and how much it will cost, remains to be seen.
Colarusso is the only Democrat on the Town Board. Councilman Eugene Majchrzak is being challenged for a four-year seat by Democrat Lynmarie Phillips, who was leading Majchrzak in the Independence Party primary by five votes, but absentee votes are yet to be counted. Republican Michael J. Sherry is unopposed for a two-year seat.
Key issue: Future of senior center.
While Lancaster does not have a supervisor’s race, Republicans are making a play to take control of the board, giving some backup to GOP Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli, who was elected two years ago.
Incumbents John M. Abraham Jr. and Ronald Ruffino are running against Robert Leary and Patrick Sportelli.
Another hot race in Lancaster is town justice. Councilman Mark Aquino, who is in the middle of his Town Board term, is running for judge against Anthony Cervi. Both are attorneys. Joseph M. Brainard is trying to unseat Highway Superintendent Daniel J. Amatura.
City of Tonawanda
In the City of Tonawanda, the battle for mayor pits incumbent Republican Ronald J. Pilozzi against Democrat Rick Davis, a former 4th Ward Councilman and a federal meteorologist at the Buffalo airport. The City Council’s four wards are also up for grabs.
In the 1st Ward, Republican Charles Gilbert faces Democrat Paul Brunner. 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 Democratic incumbent Richard Slisz facing Republican John J. Hall. Newcomers Brian M. Jopp, a Republican, and Jenna Koch, a Democrat, will contest for the 4th Ward’s open seat.
Town of Tonawanda
In the Town of Tonawanda, voters will select from a field of six candidates for three seats on the Town Board.
Incumbent Democrats John A. Bargnesi Jr., Lisa M. Chimera and Joseph H. Emminger face Republican challengers Ann M. Morelli, Gigi E. Grizanti and Michael R. Vishion. Chimera, Morelli and Grizanti will also appear on the Independence Party lines. The board’s five seats are all currently held by Democrats.
In Kenmore, two trustees on the Village Board – Democrat Paul P. Catalano and Republican Sam Muscarella – are seeking re-election. Joining them on the ballot are newcomer Leonard Rollo, a Republican, and a Democrat expected to be named after the party’s caucus meets this month.