Democrats will retake control of the Erie County Legislature in January after four years in the minority. The Republican-supported majority, which managed to keep a slim, one-vote lead since 2014, lost a key seat Tuesday night.
That race made all the difference, as Democrats now will have a one-seat majority.
Incumbent Republican Ted Morton lost his seat in the 8th District, which includes the towns of Alden, Cheektowaga and Lancaster, and the villages of Lancaster and Depew. His Democratic challenger, political newcomer John Bruso, won the seat with 53 percent of the vote.
Moreover, the Republicans were unable to take any seats away from the Democrats. Republicans had pinned their hopes on unseating veteran Democratic Legislator and Minority Leader Thomas Loughran.
Instead, Loughran soundly defeated well-financed, two-time challenger Guy Marlette to win a seventh term in the Amherst-based 5th District.
Loughran, owner of the popular Loughran’s Bar and Restaurant in Snyder, has won re-election over and over despite being outspent by large margins. His seeming invincibility was reinforced Tuesday, with his victory presenting a bitter disappointment to the Republican-supported majority.
The 5th District encompasses some of the town's most densely populated neighborhoods, including Eggertsville, Snyder and Williamsville. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4,000.
Bruso, 58, is a retired UPS worker who started his career as a driver and worked his way up to a supervisory position in the company's human resources department. He defeated Morton, 58, who was running for his third two-year term.
"We're gonna make good things happen," said Bruso in his victory speech Tuesday night.
Both Bruso and Morton had named the opioid drug epidemic and the need to clean up Como Park Lake as key priorities in their campaigns.
But Morton had difficulty overcoming controversy regarding his failure to properly file financial disclosure forms in 2013, and his $5,000 fine in 2013 by the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency for borrowing $315,000 from seven of his clients, resulting in his firing by LPL Financial.
Morton sued the county in connection with an Ethics Board fine of $500 in 2016 regarding his financial disclosure forms. The fine remains unpaid.
Meanwhile, Loughran defeated Marlette in a repeat matchup. In 2015 Loughran fended off a serious challenge by Marlette, a former Amherst councilman who even aired television advertising – considered unusual in a County Legislature contest. Despite Marlette gaining the Conservative Party endorsement this year, which had previously gone to Loughran, he was unable to gain any ground.
Loughran, 66, is a former Amherst Planning Board and Town Board member who serves as the Legislature's minority leader. He listed his top accomplishments as holding the line on taxes by providing oversight of the budget, downsizing the Legislature and revitalizing Erie Community College, especially the North Campus.
The re-election of Loughran and the defeat of Morton will give the Democrats a one-vote edge in the 11-member governing body.
Meanwhile, Joseph Lorigo, the current legislative leader of the Legislature's Republican-supported majority, staved off an aggressive challenge by Democrat Michelle Schoeneman to win re-election in the 10th District, which includes West Seneca, Elma, Marilla, Aurora, Wales, Colden and Holland.
Lorigo, 35, had risen to majority leader in the Legislature, a position he will lose in January with the Democratic takeover. He's a lawyer who works at the same firm as his father, Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo.
His challenger, Schoeneman, 45, is a part-time literacy teacher at Springville-Griffith Institute. She waged a serious fight against Lorigo, garnering 45 percent of the vote, in what was expected to be a long shot challenge for the seat, one that Democrats wanted to win to improve their chances of regaining control of the Legislature.
Legislator Lynne Dixon won re-election to her 9th District seat, which encompasses part of South Buffalo, Lackawanna and Hamburg, where Democrats have the majority. Dixon is the Independence candidate who usually votes with the Republicans.
She was challenged by Democratic Hamburg town Councilman Michael P. Quinn Jr.
Dixon, 52, who was a journalist for 22 years before winning her first legislative election in 2009, said she considers her work public service. Dixon is chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee and said she is proud of the Legislature's efforts battling the opioid crisis.