|Francine DelMonte, always a
|Steve Broderick is running for
Lewiston town supervisor
Last week, the Niagara Falls Reporter offered a preview of countywide races and contests in the cities of North Tonawanda and Lockport.
This week, the Reporter will spend a few column inches delving into the other contests around Niagara County, among its 12 towns.
Any discussion of the towns begins with this caveat: this is heavily Republican turf; for every bit of Democratic blue in the DNA of Niagara Falls, there’s an even stronger dose of Republican red in the county’s towns, save the neighboring Town of Niagara, which means that, this year, while the City of Niagara Falls is at a rolling boil, politically, most of the towns are at a slow, low simmer.
There are, however, a few exceptions.
Most observers here expect a Republican victory for supervisor. The GOP’s standardbearer, Steve Broderick, is a political machine’s dream candidate. Heir to a political dynasty that once owned the county treasurer’s office and the county judge post, Broderick is a career sheriff’s lieutenant whose most immediately noticeable qualities are his towering height and his looks, which come right from central casting. His opponent, Mark Briglio, the current appointed deputy supervisor, is rated as the underdog at best.
But upsets are not unknown in politics.
Of much greater interest will be the race for Lewiston Town Board. On the Republican side, incumbent Bill Conrad, a Sanborn-based architect and honey farmer, and former Village of Lewiston Mayor Bill Geiben, a fixture on the Republican scene for the last decade or so, face off against Democrats Robin “Pat” Morreale, a body shop owner, and Francine DelMonte.
THAT Francine DelMonte.
She, who once was a powerbroker in Niagara County, an assemblywoman, who could compel favors from former governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.
Her political aspirations are a bit lower these days, ever since flip-flopping Born-Again Democrat John Ceretto drove her from high office while a Republican.
The word on the street, though, is DelMonte’s bid for townwide office amounted to a step on her path to a rematch and redemption. With Ceretto now wearing the Democrats’ colors again, the question will be how much effort she puts into a bid.
Conrad and Geiben are both strong candidates, hailing from opposite ends of town. This is a smart strategic move on the Republican organization, headed by local attorney Karl Frankovitch—seen by many as an acolyte of longtime Western Niagara County GOP high priest Jerald I. Wolfgang. Few in the GOP see Morreale as more than a “paper” candidate, and likely to finish a distant forth to the two GOP nominees and DelMonte.
At this point, we have to rate this a toss-up, though the GOP is almost certain to net no less than one seat, and given their historic antipathy toward DelMonte, expect a disproportionate expenditure of resources on what is normally considered a low-value political office, the town board seat.
Despite a less-than-overwhelming victory in his bid for the supervisor post once held by Steve Richards, Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee Wallace gets a pass this election, having spent his first year in office deliberately avoiding controversy.
Meanwhile, the departures of two high-profile town councilmen—Democrat Dan Sklarski, long a close ally of former GOP State Sen. George Maziarz, and his counterweight, bomb-throwing partisan Democrat Rob Clark, one of his party’s most loyal troops—have made the race for town board anybody’s to win.
In terms of pure name ID, late-entering GOP candidate Don Schildhauer is a strong bet in November, having narrowly lost to Wallace last fall, despite the county GOP essentially writing off Niagara a month before the elections. Schildhauer, a businessman who manages a local tire company, already has a network and a known name, but his loss to Wallace, and a years-earlier failed run for town highway superintendent means he has some baggage as well.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, self-identified “conservative Democrat” Richard Sirianni, a longtime officer of the Paper, Allied Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union, or PACE, is a strong bet to win. With high name ID and relationships forged over three decades as a union officer, Sirianni will do well in this town, where Democratic enrollment is several times that of the puny Republican organization in town.
Bet to see Sirianni take the Democratic line in upcoming primaries, along with one of two other Democrats in the race, Sam Gatto and Robert McDermott. The final configuration of the town board is anyone’s guess.
This normally tranquil Canalside town is plastered with political signs for candidates vying for a host of offices, but no contest seems to be drawing more resources than the town justice’s race.
A three-way contest has emerged there, with highly-regarded incumbent Tim Murphy bowing out to focus on his law firm. Two Democrats and one Republican are competing in all six primaries for the two major and four minor parties represented on the ballot.
On the Democratic side, experienced former Assistant District Attorney Susan Bjornholm, who now clerks for County Judge Sara Sheldon, is facing off against popular former union head Ed McDonald. McDonald has, in campaign literature distributed in town, reminded residents of his strongest qualification—that he is a “54-year lifetime resident” of town, which offers a considerable contrast to Bjornholm’s recent arrival. And, McDonald’s long involvement in the local volunteer fire company is a plus—although several brushes with the law may be problematic for the candidate, particularly when contrasted with tough-talking prosecutor Bjornholm.
Meanwhile, the Republican nominee, Kevin Mack, is a career sheriff’s deputy with at least 25 years on the force. Mack, like Bjornholm, is playing up the experience angle. The Reporter is told Mack was decorated for his bravery in a 2002 incident in Lockport where he chased down a killer and exchanged fire with the suspect.
This is another race that is too close to call.
Meanwhile, a battle is brewing for both the town board and the supervisor’s office.
The town board fight will largely be resolved in next week’s Republican primary, when GOP-backed candidates David Leible, a seasoned incumbent, and Sheriff’s Captain Todd Ostrowski, square off against party-switching Republican Mike Forster, who is being backed by County Democratic Chair Nick Forster in November. Forster has waged a fierce campaign making himself the champion of efforts to prevent a natural gas compressor station from moving to town.
However, Forster may have just shot himself in the foot after National Fuel, the compressor station’s main backer, announced Monday they were siting the behemoth structure not in farm fields in the town’s lightly-populated northwestern corner, but adjacent to a heavily-populated area of Bear Ridge Road. Worse for Forster’s hopes of winning a GOP primary, that area is heavily Republican. Republican voters are likely to realize that Forster’s campaigning against the compressor being constructed in farm country led directly to it being re-sited—in their neighborhoods.
That leaves November, where local volunteer Fire Chief Joel Maerten is battling incumbent Democratic Supervisor Jim Riester in this increasingly Republican town, where Republicans have in recent years gained a strong enrollment edge. Riester barely hung on two years ago, eking out a narrow victory of less than 200 votes against attorney Dominic Saraceno—who had lived in town for less than six months. Many wonder if Riester, a Catholic schoolteacher, will be receiving last rites come November—or will pull off a political “Hail Mary” and stave off the popular fire chief.
Town of Lockport
Very little of note is taking place here, except the interesting County Legislature race vying for retiring Majority Leader Dick Updegrove’s seat, and featuring local libertarian activist David Mongielo. More on that, and other, Legislative races next week.
Somerset provides an interesting test case for the limits of one-issue activism. Incumbent Supervisor Dan Engert, who has spoken with this newspaper on a number of occasions, is the Republican nominee and headed into November with no major-party opposition in this lakeshore town where the only thing rarer than a Democrat is an ATM machine. With a primary challenge by Republican Paul Oliveira blocked due to petition irregularities, Engert should have a free ride to a third term.
However, Oliveira DID qualify for the ballot on an independent line, the “Somerset Independent Citizens Party.” Oliveira certainly means well, having jumped into the race to oppose wind turbines that would have transformed this sleepy town into a very different landscape, but that seems to be essentially the same position Engert arrived at after holding extensive outreach to town residents in this tiny town of 2,800 people.
Given just how small the electorate is, and the potential for an issue like wind turbines to give an election a real jolt, the Reporter cannot completely rule out an Oliveira insurgency turning into a rout of Engert. But it seems extremely unlikely.
Somerset’s southern neighbor, Hartland is about as far from Niagara Falls as you can get without leaving Niagara County. There, the Republican Party rules with an iron fist, the result of years of control by former Supervisor William Annable, and now his son, Ross. Ross Annable regularly jokes that Democrats aren’t allowed in this town, which could easily be confused with TV’s Mayberry.
However, this town, like Pendleton, is the epicenter of a three-way race for town justice—in this case, for two seats.
Incumbent Joanne Sullivan, like Bjornholm, clerks for county judge Sheldon, and is expected to easily win a third term on the bench.
However, with an empty judge seat up after Judge Brian Fitts left office mid-way through his term, and candidates Lisa Trakas and Brian Gross vying for the ballot, Sullivan is expected to gain a coworker in this town of 3,800.
Like Pendleton, this race features a member of the volunteer fire company—Gross—facing off against a retiring public official, in this case, the Barker Central School District’s district clerk, Trakas. Gross, however, benefits from the muscle of the local GOP organization as a sitting member of the town board. It’s hard to imagine Trakas managing the heavy lift of overcoming the vaunted Annable machine, although publicly Annable is taking a position of detached interest.
Advantage: Sullivan, Gross
This town’s race is gearing up to be a repeat of the race two years ago, when incumbent Bob Cliffe destroyed Democratic challenger Thomas Larson by nearly 25 points on election night. Nothing of note has occurred in the meantime to suggest any different outcome two years on.
Incumbent Supervisor Joe Jastrzemski is the GOP nominee for county clerk, and the race tilts to him, although it’s not yet a lock.
However, in his hometown, his old office is up for grabs, with GOP-backed Doyle Phillips facing Democrat Janet Hoffman.
Hoffman is the administrator of the Wilson Community Food Pantry, located at the local Catholic Church, St. Brendan-of-the-Lake, and has strong ties to Village of Wilson Mayor Bernie Leiker, one of the handful of elected Democrats in Niagara County outside the city limits of Niagara Falls.
Phillips, meanwhile, owns a small farm he tends after a long career as a small business owner, having operated Doyle’s Welding and D. Phillips Utilities for more than 30 years. The depth and breadth of his community involvement is significant, however, and he is said to be a favorite of former Niagara County GOP honcho Mike Norris.
Still, despite an occasional victory by a Democrat running townwide—County Treasurer Kyle Andrews’s successful bid for the Legislature a dozen years ago comes to mind—it’s hard to imagine Democrats pulling off an upset here, although Hoffman’s reputation as a caring member of the community will help.
Next week, the Niagara Falls Reporter will handicap this fall’s Niagara County Legislature races.