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Amherst's business community left this morning's debate at the University Inn with one clear impression: Real differences separate candidates in some of the area's hottest political contests.

Congressional combatants Bill Paxon and Thomas M. Fricano, for example, tangled over the minimum wage and welfare reform.

Amherst supervisor opponents William A. Pauly and Susan J. Grelick squared off over the need for a new master plan.

But some of the sharpest differences emerged in the red-hot Assembly race between incumbent Republican Richard R. Anderson and Democratic challenger Susan Y. Peimer over the role of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.

Mrs. Peimer issued a strong call for a regional IDA to prevent raiding nearby communities, while Anderson defended the Amherst agency's independence.

"I support a regional IDA," Mrs. Peimer said. "The original purpose of the IDA legislation was to bring jobs to New York State -- not to move jobs from one area to another."

Mrs. Peimer, who is mounting one of the state's strongest challenges to an incumbent Republican, said several IDAs that offer competing incentives programs defeat the purpose of economic development.

She added she opposes offering incentives only in depressed areas if a countywide agency replaced town entities. Her fundamental problem, she said, lies in luring business out of places like the City of Buffalo.

"If the City of Buffalo crumbles, it affects all of us," she said.

But Anderson called himself a strong supporter of the Amherst agency, pointing to its efforts as one reason for the town's economic growth.

"AIDA has had a non-partisan, business approach that aggressively pursues business from not only Western New York, but outside New York," he said. "Business came to Amherst because of that aggressive technique. I think that's good."

Anderson added that worrying about which local community attracts new business detracts from the main issue of creating new jobs.

"I'm not being provincial here," he said. "I just want everybody in Western New York to have better job opportunities."

Democrat Fricano and Republican Paxon, meanwhile, once again presented the stark contrasts in their campaigns on national economic issues. Paxon said he co-sponsored the TEAM Act because it would have allowed groups of workers within companies to address issues with management.

"This legislation moved (labor) laws into the '90s and even the 21st century," Paxon said.

Aides to Fricano, regional director of the United Auto Workers, characterized the tone of business group's question as "anti-labor."

But Fricano answered it by saying, "It would have allowed employees to go back to the old company union days. ..and circumvents the laws on collective bargaining."

President Clinton vetoed that legislation.

They also differed sharply on the minimum wage, with Paxon complaining such legislation smacks of unwarranted government mandates, while Fricano recounted a number of human stories he said justifies the action for people in need.

Ms. Grelick, the Democratic Amherst town clerk, outlined her clear differences with her GOP opponent for supervisor, County Legislator Pauly. Both defended continuation of the Amherst IDA, but with twists. Ms. Grelick said some type of penalties might be instituted to prevent "raiding" nearby communities, and Pauly called for IDA concentration on some of Amherst's older commercial strips.

Ms. Grelick called for a revised town master plan to guide development, providing developers with "defined" areas for growth. Pauly defended the current plan, noting the "reality of life" makes Amherst a desirable target for development. He said town government acts best when it considers each development proposal on a case by case basis.

Also participating were Town Board candidates Edward F. McKee, Democrat, and Thomas Loughran, Republican incumbent. Their debate centered mainly on their individual qualifications.

Republican State Sen. Mary Lou Rath discussed various issues, though Brian M. Walczak, her Democratic opponent, was absent. Republican district attorney candidate Russell P. Buscaglia did the same in the absence of his Democratic opponent, Frank J. Clark.

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