Yes, she is angry. That is why she took the time late Tuesday afternoon to drive down Harlem Road, pull into the parking lot and walk through the smoke billowing from a voter-enticing chicken barbecue to the polling place door.
Voting is a civic duty, or so most people think when there is a presidential race on the ballot. Or a congressional contest to pull them off the couch. Or a gubernatorial or some other sexy, high-profile set-to going on. When there is None of the Above, as was the case Tuesday, there has to be a local drama or a particular race to break the apathy for many folks. What hit close to home for Sue Crofts is the seven-story hotel going up that shoulders against her neighborhood – and Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein and a Republican-controlled Town Board she blames for it. Nothing short of wild horses would have kept her away from the Harlem Road Community Center.
“I’m typically a Republican, but I voted all Democrat this time,” said Crofts, a nurse from Snyder, a quaint slice of Americana in the midst of Amherst’s rattle-and-hum. “We’ve got to turn over that Town Board. They overstep their bounds when they rubber-stamp a signature seven-story hotel on the edge of a residential neighborhood.”
This is how it went Tuesday, in every village, town and city across Erie County. With no big-ticket, federal or state race on the ballot, the folks who showed up – other than habitual “prime” voters – came out for a particular candidate or a certain issue. In Amherst, the motivator for most of nearly two dozen people I spoke with was opposition to overdevelopment. Specifically, to the Hyatt going up in Snyder and, to a lesser degree, the six-story Wyndham Garden hotel that just opened on Main Street.
The hyperlocal focus this Election Day was the essence of democracy. The races closest to home have the biggest impact on people’s daily lives. Republicans in Washington pushing government to the brink of default make headlines. A hotel rising within punting distance of your back door casts a shadow on your life.
Don’t like the gridlock in Washington?
Good luck turning it around anytime soon. Bagging a tea party zealot in a congressional district changes one face out of 435 on Capitol Hill.
But changing the makeup of the Amherst Town Board might insert a slower-growth, smarter-development sensibility that makes it tougher to build another high-rise hotel.
At least that’s what some voters hoped.
Albert Sterbak is a retired teacher who has spent his adult life in Amherst. He came out Tuesday to cast an anti-hotel vote.
“You used to be able to drive across the bridge out of Williamsville, and you could look to the right and see green space,” Sterbak told me. “Now it’s gone.”
Sterbak’s wife, Diane, seconded the emotion. “Weinstein says his hands were off the hotel approval, but I’m not buying it,” she said. “All these variances got approved, and people were not allowed a voice. He and the board have to go.”
Mark Manna is the Democratic member of the Town Board who ran on a “smart growth” platform against Weinstein. In the end, he fell short, getting about 45 percent of the vote to Weinstein’s 55. Long before the polls closed, he was at the community center pleading his case.
“It’s not just about the hotel,” he told me. “You’ve got drive-thru windows for fast-food places that are 30 feet from someone’s bedroom window. The hotel just galvanized the development issue. People buy into a neighborhood, and they don’t want it ruined by irresponsible development.”
He didn’t have to convince Crofts. As she double-timed it back to her car after casting her vote, she offered a final thought.
“These politicians are about the money; they don’t care about the aesthetics of Snyder,” Crofts said. “I grew up here. I care about it.”
Politics doesn’t get closer to home than that.