WHEATFIELD – The Republicans who enlisted the aid of Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster to try to win offices in Wheatfield took it on the chin Tuesday.
Primary voters in both major parties rejected the Town Board ticket of Karen McKernan and Michael E. Kislack, while Thomas J. Larson, a Republican who was granted the Democratic nomination for supervisor, was defeated in the GOP primary by incumbent Robert B. Cliffe.
Cliffe polled 567 votes to 312 for Larson in the Republican contest, but Larson, who avoided a primary on the Democratic side when James P. Zetes quit the race in July, will have another chance against Cliffe on Nov. 5.
“I think it’s pretty gratifying,” Cliffe said.
“Our party is very strong, and people are interested in the facts, what’s really going on. They’re not interested in the garbage,” he said.
In the battle for two councilman positions, incumbent Arthur W. Gerbec and political newcomer Randy W. Retzlaff, the endorsed Republican ticket, beat McKernan and Kislack in the GOP primary.
Complete but unofficial returns showed Retzlaff, nephew of retiring Councilman Kenneth Retzlaff, leading the field with 547 votes, while Gerbec had 525. McKernan received 320 votes and Kislack 316.
On the Democratic side, the ticket of town party chairwoman Shirley J. Joy and Judy A. Blake defeated Kislack and McKernan, who were authorized to run in the Democratic primary in a close and controversial vote at a July 15 meeting of the county Democratic Committee. Joy collected 297 votes and Blake 274. Kislack received 185 votes and McKernan 175.
The results could be read as a blow to Forster, who had said he authorized Larson, Kislack and McKernan for Democratic candidacies because the Wheatfield Democrats haven’t elected anyone to town office since the 1990s, despite an enrollment advantage over the Republicans.
The GOP regulars also might see it as another snubbing for former Supervisor Timothy E. Demler, who lost to Cliffe in a bitter 2009 Republican primary and again in 2011.
Cliffe accused the Larson-Kislack-McKernan team of planning to create a new job of town manager and appoint Demler to that post.
Cliffe admitted he had no proof, while the candidates and Demler himself denied the accusation.
Larson, Kislack and McKernan denied being close to Demler, and Forster denied conspiring with the former supervisor.
However, financial disclosure forms showed the three challengers bought campaign T-shirts from a Demler-owned business, and a photo was posted on Facebook of Demler allegedly attending a McKernan fundraiser.