Differences define the candidates vying for Amherst’s top job - The Buffalo News
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Differences define the candidates vying for Amherst’s top job

The election campaign for Amherst supervisor has been a lot about taxes, development and a six-story hotel.

But in some ways, it’s also about two town candidates who couldn’t be more different.

Even Barry A. Weinstein and Mark A. Manna agree on that much.

“Absolutely,” said Weinstein, the Republican incumbent.

“As different as you get,” said Manna, a Democratic councilmember. “Style wise, personality wise and where we come from.”

Manna, 48, is a union negotiator.

Weinstein, 69, is a doctor with a law degree.

Manna is feisty, outspoken and quick with the one-liners.

Weinstein is reserved, meticulous and prefers not to speak off the cuff.

Manna has rallied neighborhood residents fed up with development encroaching on their doorsteps.

Weinstein is fixed on reducing town taxes and government spending.

“It’s a real choice for people,” Weinstein agreed. “I do the best I can to make my case.”

So far, the race has been surprisingly civil, aside from the usual election sparring.

On cutting taxes: “He takes credit for a lot of things he has nothing to do with,” Weinstein said of Manna. “I don’t think he has a clue how to budget.”

On development: “Do voters want a wealthy developer guiding us?” said Manna, referring to Weinstein’s prior real estate ventures. “Or do they want somebody who believes the residents should have their say?”

The contest is one of the premiere local races, and while it offers voters of Amherst two distinct choices, there are some underlying subplots to watch.

Manna has repeatedly used the flap over the Hyatt Place Hotel to push his agenda for smart growth.

But is the issue enough to rile up the voters?

Once a GOP town, Am- herst now has 4,300 more Democrats than Republicans, according to figures from the Erie County Board of Elections.

It also has 14,000 who are unaffiliated with any party.

Who will they vote for?

Weinstein, fewer taxes

It’s afternoon in Amherst Town Hall, and Weinstein – wearing black sneakers, an open collared shirt and peering over the glasses dangling on the end of his nose – hustles out of his office and down the stairs to talk to the comptroller.

He wants to make sure a bill from a vendor gets paid.

Besides being supervisor of this town of 122,000 people, Weinstein took on the duties of purchasing director at no additional pay.

He likes it this way.

“Purchasing goes naturally with being a supervisor who wants to cut costs,” Weinstein said.

The town’s expenses have been reduced by $20 million since he took over as supervisor in 2010, Weinstein said.

Rebidding the town’s trash and recycling contract has saved millions.

Privatizing the Amherst Museum slashed costs.

Amherst now operates with fewer department heads.

And that public composting facility that was losing money? Sold.

“My message is this: We lowered expenses over $20 million, and we’ve lowered taxes four years in a row,” Weinstein said. “We haven’t had any layoffs, and services are actually better.”

Manna, against hotel

Before Manna got into politics, he was just another Amherst resident who looked at all the new development around his home and said: “Geez, my neighborhood has changed.”

He started taking interest in town government. By 2008, the former Republican had won election to the Town Board as a Democrat.

Since then, he is known to side with residents fighting big development projects in their own backyards, although he bristles at the label “anti-development.”

“I resent that, actually,” Manna said. “I’ve never been anti-development, but the pendulum has swung too far. We need commercial growth, but we don’t need six-story hotels in people’s backyards.”

Manna – the lone Democrat on the Amherst Town Board – has referred often in this election to the Hyatt as an example of bad development.

In fact, he’s reaped thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from residents fighting the Main Street project, which is under construction but in litigation.

And he’ll need that money if he’s going to beat a popular incumbent, who is self-financing his campaign and has a much larger campaign chest.

“Win, lose or draw, I’m here for two more years,” said Manna, who is halfway through his second term as a councilmember, “but I’m winning.”

‘Meticulous’ Weinstein

Weinstein is a veteran of elective office, serving stints on the Town Board, Erie County Legislature and the Williamsville School Board, dating back to 1982.

But in other ways, Weinstein is not your stereotypical politician working a room.

“There’s no fluff with Barry,” said Carl Balmas, chairman of the Amherst Republican Committee. “What you see is what you get.”

“He’s very quiet. He’s not bombastic. He sticks to the facts,” Balmas said. “He’s very steady, very meticulous, very studious about everything that he does.”

In other words, he’s not your usual glad-hander, said Lisa Kistner, Weinstein’s longtime assistant.

“There are people who misread that for being aloof,” Kistner said, “but they don’t understand he’s got 40,000 things running through his head.”

“He comes in and knows exactly what he needs to get done,” Kistner said. “He has lists. He’s constantly revising them. He’s on top of numerous situations simultaneously.”

When he’s away from the office, Weinstein follows the Buffalo Sabres and is a Buffalo Bills season-ticket holder. It’s not unusual for him and his wife, Lois, to hop a plane to spend time with their grandchildren out of town.

On top of it all, Weinstein steps out of Town Hall from 10 a.m. to noon daily to maintain his private practice, which he’s had since 1974.

“He treats the town as he does his patients,” Balmas said, “with all the integrity and care he possibly can.”

Manna, union rep

Manna was a young man working at Tops Markets on Maple and Transit roads, when his union representative saw something in his personality, said Manna’s mother, Roseann.

The rep encouraged Manna to apply for a job with United Food and Commercial Workers Local One.

“He is a good talker – even in high school,” his mother said. “I think you’re born with that.”

Manna – who graduated from Clarence High School in 1983 – passed on college and has had a career with the union, where he is now a contract negotiator and pension trustee.

Richard “Skip” Wardynski, president of Wardynski’s meats, has worked with Manna at the union table.

“We could have 35 professionals or money managers sitting around the table, and you have a lot of stuff coming at you, just a lot to absorb,” Wardynski said. “He’s definitely engaged in making decisions, he’s thinking, he’s not just sitting there in the meeting. He’s a smart guy.”

Wardynski also has found Manna to be straightforward and open to compromise.

“There’s never been a situation where Mark hasn’t stuck to his word,” Wardynski said. “That kind of sticks with you, because if the guy didn’t, you’d be thinking of that, and it would be in the back of your mind.”

Manna and his wife, Cynthia, have a daughter, Madison. He likes to travel and read. In recent years, he has become involved in animal rescue.

“If he believes in something strongly, you can be darn sure he will fight to the end,” Roseann Manna said. “He’s always been like that.”

email: jrey@buffnews.com

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