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Legislature stays clearly Democratic Only 3 from GOP winning, including newcomer Rath

Democrats in the Erie County Legislature will go into 2008 with their veto-proof majority intact, 12 strong against a trio of Republicans.

A few incumbents thought to have serious challenges won easily on Tuesday. For example, District 10 Democrat Michele M. Iannello of Kenmore was cruising to re-election over Republican Rus Thompson, an aggressive campaigner linked to the Primary Challenge movement. Iannello took 60 percent of the vote.

Democrat Kathy Konst of Lancaster collected 55 percent of the vote over Republican Tom Ulbrich and locked up a second term, even though District 5 leans Republican and her party had soured on her when she bucked the Democratic caucus on several issues.

In District 14, Legislator Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst, also a Democrat, easily survived a challenge from Republican Bradley W. Rowles. As returns flowed in, Loughran held 62 percent of votes cast.

District 15 sent a newcomer to the Legislature. Republican Edward A. Rath III, grandson of the first county executive and the son of State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, defeated Democrat Cheryl Knox-Whitehead. The district has a Republican edge and usually sends a Republican to the Legislature.

Barry A. Weinstein of Amherst has represented District 15 for most of the last 10 years. Weinstein chose to leave the Legislature this year so he could run for the Town Board.

Aside from Weinstein, only one other legislator will not return next year. Cynthia E. Locklear of West Seneca lost her Democratic primary contest to a party-backed challenger, Timothy Wroblewski, in District 9.

Wroblewski was a county legislator before Locklear defeated him in 2005. He was taking around 85 percent of the vote late Tuesday against Republican Julie C. Lewinski.

Here is a run-down of other County Legislature races:

Districts 1, 2 and 3 lean Democratic, and Democratic incumbents won easily. Daniel J. Kozub of Lackawanna took almost 70 percent of the vote in District 1 from Republican Vincent Tobia. District 2's Timothy M. Kennedy of South Buffalo ran unopposed; and Barbara Miller-Williams, running unopposed, emerged with her first Legislature victory in District 3.

Miller-Williams, a Buffalo police officer and former Common Council member, was appointed to the vacancy created this year when George A. Holt Jr. was deemed unfit for office because he had pleaded guilty to tax violations.

In District 4, Republican Michael H. Ranzenhofer of Amherst defeated Democrat Alan J. Bedenko, a lawyer and operator of the Buffalo Pundit Web site. Ranzenhofer, the Legislature's longest-serving member, built a 72-28 percent lead.

Districts 6 and 7 in Buffalo are Democratic strongholds. In District 6, Maria R. Whyte, the Democratic majority leader, ran unopposed. So did Betty Jean Grant, who filled the District 7 vacancy created when Demone A. Smith joined the Common Council this year.

District 8 voters returned Thomas J. Mazur of Cheektowaga for another two-year term. He ran against Republican Jeffrey N. Sell and a minor-party candidate, Deborah S. Kubiak.

In District 11, Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat, won easily over Republican Ernest J. Norman, who collected less than 30 percent of the vote.

District 12 Legislator Robert B. Reynolds of Hamburg, chairman of the Finance and Management Committee, seemed to have another term in hand. He led James Liegl, a Primary Challenge-inspired candidate, 55 percent to 45 percent with most results counted.

District 13 Democrats this summer thought they might wrest the seat from first-term Republican John J. Mills of Orchard Park, the Legislature minority leader. However, Mills led Democrat Suzann Cushman 58-42 percent late Tuesday.

Legislators this week will return their focus to the proposed 2008 budget and, sometime before the start of the year, decide their leadership.

Marinelli has been chairwoman the last two years, after Party Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan helped her through the selection process. But others are interested in the top spot, which adds $10,000 to the base salary of $42,588. Marinelli does not have a lock on the post for 2008. But the fact she won re-election so handily doesn't hurt.

"I think this was one of my highest votes ever since running for office," she said. "I'm honored that my voters gave me their support. And I helped us get a 12-3 majority again. I am a candidate for another term as chair."

The Legislature's leader will set the tone in working with the next county executive, Christopher C. Collins. Marinelli repeated that she will invite the county executive-elect to leave his stamp on the 2008 budget, because his team will have to manage it after Joel A. Giambra leaves office.

Collins had hoped for a voter mandate, and he seemed to get it Tuesday, gathering nearly two of every three votes cast. Among his priorities: Kill the Erie County law that forces contractors on county jobs to offer an apprentice-training program, a requirement panned as harmful to taxpayers because it narrows the field of firms able to bid on public projects.

He also wants to refigure the way Erie County distributes sales tax income to towns, villages and schools.


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