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FAMILY TIES MAKE FOR UNUSUAL TOWN JUDGE RACE

In the race for Grand Island town justice, one thing is certain: somebody very close to retiring Judge Francis B. "Bud" Pritchard will succeed him.

All that remains to be determined is whether it will be his son-in-law or his personal secretary.

In this remarkable campaign, the race for town judge -- usually one of the more mundane in local politics -- is catching the spotlight this year on Grand Island.

When Pritchard, 79, decided to step down after 27 years on the bench, it was a surprise to no one. Nor was it much of a surprise when attorney Timothy J. Mordaunt, the husband of Pritchard's daughter Jackie, decided to run; for a few years, he had made it known he was interested in the position.

But when Sybil E. Kennedy, a registered Republican, accepted the invitation from the town's Democratic committee to run against him, local interest in the race soared. Although Ms. Kennedy and Mordaunt are not technically related, many in town consider them as close as family.

"I was shocked when Sybil came in and told me she was asked to run," said Mordaunt, 45. "In my mind, if you truly are members of a family, two members of a family don't run against each other. I found that unsettling."

Ms. Kennedy's response is simple.

"They asked me to run, and I feel I can do the job," she said.

Tuesday, the candidates will square off in the primaries. Mordaunt, who has the GOP and Conservative endorsements, has cross-filed for the Democratic line. Ms. Kennedy, who has the Democratic and Independent endorsements, has cross-filed for the GOP and Conservative lines.

Although Ms. Kennedy technically could bump Mordaunt off the ballot if she sweeps the primary, both plan to campaign through November.

Ms. Kennedy, court clerk for 29 years as well as Pritchard's personal secretary, is campaigning on her experience. She teaches, through the Office of Court Administration, incoming judges; belongs to a number of local and statewide advisory boards; was named New York State Court Clerk of the Year in 1995; and now serves as chief court clerk.

Mordaunt, an attorney with a general practice on Grand Island, cites his knowledge of the law and says the town justice should be an attorney. He also credits a diverse background as giving him a depth of experience: psychology teacher and counselor at Nichols School for five years; mediator in family and matrimonial law; and work in law enforcement as a campus security officer at the University at Buffalo.

The candidates say they're trying to avoid generating any hard feelings over the race on a personal level. They work in the same building and see each other often at family functions, holidays and dinner parties.

"No, I'm not uncomfortable," said Ms. Kennedy, 65. "I feel badly that my opponent is Tim Mordaunt. It's an unusual situation."

"Sure, it causes a little tension," Mordaunt said. "But we have tried to conduct ourselves as ladies and gentlemen in this race. We're not the typical candidates that start grinding their teeth and stealing one another's signs."

At the center of this uncommon race sits Pritchard. Not only is Mordaunt his son-in-law, but he was also chairman of the town's GOP committee for three years, during one of the judge's bloodiest campaigns. Not only is Ms. Kennedy his personal secretary, but she is also the mother of Pritchard's law partner.

Citing the judicial canon of ethics, Pritchard declined to indicate who he plans to vote for.

"They're both very efficient people, and they'd both make a good judge," he said. "I love them both."

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