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Voters in the rival Erie Canal cities of the Tonawandas will elect mayors on Nov. 4. While the titles are the same, the nature of the two jobs is different.

Tonawanda has adopted a new City Charter and will be electing a mayor with substantial powers for the first time.

North Tonawanda continues to have a mayor with lesser powers. The City Council has the real control -- over legislating and budgeting. But the mayor, as the only official elected by all city residents, does have the base to provide leadership and rally public support for initiatives. Both candidates for North Tonawanda mayor want to appoint a charter revision commission to propose changes in the way the government is structured.

The Tonawandas face each other across the Erie Canal and a county line. Tonawanda, in Erie County, is home to just over 17,000 people. North Tonawanda, in Niagara County, has nearly 35,000. Both are old cities with loyal residents but signs of wear.

Tonawanda: Roth

It was Mayor Alice A. Roth who appointed the Charter Revision Committee that recommended a strong-mayor form of government, subsequently approved by a wide margin of voters. Mrs. Roth, 53, a Democrat, is a forthright, honest person who tries her best for her community. She has been mayor under the restraints of the prior charter since 1990. She has earned a chance to function as a true chief executive under the new charter.

Roth promises to continue progress toward park development and other improvements along the Erie Canal. She has been working under a five-year plan for resurfacing city streets. To make the area more competitive, Roth looks to regionalism, desiring to link up with other municipalities in common activities, starting in non-controversial areas like purchasing. There is, she says, "real potential" in promoting economic development on a regional basis, rather than with every community acting on its own.

Thomas J. Christy, 46, former operations manager for a delivery company, is the Republican challenger. He served on the Common Council in 1994-95 and was chairman of the Water and Sewer Committee. He contends the city has to undertake "total reconstruction" of its roads, sewers, water lines and sidewalks. He wants the Erie County Sheriff's Department to take over law enforcement in the city. Overall, however, Christy presents no adequate case for dumping Roth's experience at this point in Tonawanda's history.

The candidates are contesting a four-year term for a job that pays $25,500.

North Tonawanda: Dawson

Mayor James A. McGinnis is not running for re-election. Campaigning to be his replacement in the $12,000 job, considered part-time, are Democrat Ronald R. Dawson, 31, a manager with Railway Express, and Republican Donald L. March, 58, a coordinator with Adelphia Cable.

Dawson, running for office for the first time, would bring new energy and ideas to the job. He is the better candidate.

Dawson vows to lobby Niagara County for a greater share of county services, wants to be aggressive in collecting back taxes and promises stronger housing-code enforcement. His pitch for a charter revision process includes interest in giving the mayor a greater role in budgeting.

March, a former alderman, asserts the city needs a master plan and says he would replace the chief of police and get more officers on patrol. However, he lacks the spark North Tonawandans should be looking for in their mayor.

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