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GOP boosts majority in Legislature

The Republican majority in the Cattaraugus County Legislature will begin 2008 slightly larger -- with a 12-9 edge.

The new configuration will eliminate a two-member Conservative caucus and will bring 10 new faces, some elected due to term limits on five outgoing lawmakers and three beating out veteran legislators who failed to secure new terms.

Meanwhile, two last-minute campaign mailings may yield a backlash well into the new term.

One of those was a disturbing postcard received by voters over the weekend and Monday, and it is sending shock waves across Olean's Legislative District 10. It depicts Minority Leader Linda Witte, D-Olean, a former Olean alderwoman, and City of Olean's Ward 7 Alderman John J. Padlo, two of 10 Democratic candidates seeking five seats in the district.

The two drawn figures are shown wearing bull's eyes on their backs, sighted in the scope of a hunter's gun. The card states hunting season is over and lists several issues, including hikes in water and sewer rates. The card charges that the two already killed the city with their votes.

"This went over the top," said Witte.

Democratic Party Chairman Dan McCandless said he is certain the mailing was sent by Republicans because they had access to Board of Elections mailing labels for the recipients -- key Democrats in Ward 7 who voted in the last three elections.

He said the District Attorney Ed Sharkey has advised that the mailing probably is not criminal, but party members are investigating campaign finance records and other evidence.

"I think it violated the election law. It's almost like stalking somebody," McCandless said.

He refused to comment on another worrisome mailing that was received by some registered Republican voters in District 5. That mailer, also sent in the final days of the campaign, advised against wasting votes on incumbent Legislator and Republican Party Chairman Jerry E. Burrell of Franklinville, incumbent Legislator Charles W. Couture of West Valley and retired county nursing home employee and past CSEA Chairman Donna Vickman of Farmersville Station.

The three shared campaign billing on signs and endorsed each other in the six-way race for three seats held for many years by Republicans in District 5. The unofficial results show Burrell 1,372 and Vickman 1,127, as the top vote-getters. The district's third seat was taken by a Democratic newcomer from Ellicottville, Charles F. Hebdon, with 1,147 votes. Couture received 1,055 votes.

Burrell said Thursday the postcard's statements seemed puzzling, though partly true, when he first saw it last Saturday. But he concluded it had little impact because two of the three candidates went on to victory.

"Jerry Burrell," states the card, "is fleeing the state and moving out west. Donna Vickman is a registered Democrat."

"Chuck Couture has earned over $10,000 and there's nothing to show for it." Burrell said he could not explain the vague accusation about Couture's earnings. But Burrell admitted he had just bought plane tickets for an upcoming trip to Texas and is interested in visiting New Mexico, denying any plans to move to either state. He added that Vickman's pre-election filing to change her Democratic Party affiliation to Republican took effect Wednesday.

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