Decades of Republican rule in Amherst will be tested again next Tuesday when voters elect a majority on the seven-member Town Board -- a supervisor and three board members.
The GOP enjoys a 4-3 edge on the present board, but three of its seats are up for grabs, compared with just one for rival Democrats.
Amherst Democrats can seize control of the board for the first time in the town's history by winning one of the three board seats and the supervisor's race, in which their entry, incumbent Susan J. Grelick, is favored.
Ms. Grelick and the newly elected Democrat would join holdover Democratic board members Peggy Santillo and Michael G. McGuire to form the party's first majority in Town Hall.
The situation is identical to 1993, when the supervisor, also a Democrat, and three Republican board members were running. Needing to win three of four races to keep its majority, the GOP swept all four.
This time around, GOP political analysts rate Ms. Grelick as a much more formidable foe than was former Democratic Supervisor Daniel J. Ward four years ago. That, they say, underscores the importance of the contest for the three Town Board seats.
Simply put, if the analysts are right and Ms. Grelick defeats Republican William L. Kindel, GOP will have to win all three board seats or face minority status for the first time.
The singular importance of the board race is substantiated by GOP fund-raising efforts, which have been concentrated almost totally on the board races, leaving Kindel to fend for himself.
The Republican candidates for Town Board include two incumbents, Jane S. Woodward and James P. Hayes, plus the town's Conservative Party chairman, Robert C. Simmons. Simmons, a town Planning Board member, is considered the most vulnerable because he isn't as well known as his running mates and has a poor position on the ballot.
The Democratic candidates for Town Board are Daniel J. Ward, supervisor from 1990 through 1993; Daniel A. Longo, the current town clerk; and Dr. Todd E. Shatkin, a dentist making his first bid for public office.
Political leaders give Ward, an attorney, the best chance of knocking off one of the Republicans. They say Ward's tenure as supervisor left him with relatively high name recognition and partly as a consequence, the ability to raise more money than his running mates, both of whom are new to campaigning.
Recognizing the threat posed by Ward, the GOP has focused much of its campaign against the Eggertsville Democrat.
One GOP leaflet accuses Ward of trying to raise taxes by 21 percent while he was at Town Hall, omitting the fact that Republican town boards raised them 23 percent.
Another leaflet maintains that Ward voted against the donation of 750 acres of wetlands to the town, when what Ward actually opposed was the town having to approve a big office park for the wetlands donation to occur.
On the positive side of the campaign, Mrs. Woodward, Hayes and Simmons have advanced multipoint plans for reducing town taxes, arguing that Ms. Grelick's plan to hold the town tax rate at $6.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation isn't good enough.
The GOP slate also has a strong advantage in experience. Mrs. Woodward is the board's senior member, having served since 1990. A former Williamsville Village Board member, Hayes is completing a four-year Town Board term, while Simmons has been on the Planning Board for several years. Mrs. Woodward also used the Planning Board as a stepping stone to elected office.
Experience on the Democratic side of the ledger is limited to Ward's four-year term as supervisor and, before that, as a councilman, and Longo's 10 months as town clerk.
Amherst Republicans have traditionally espoused aggressive economic philosophies grounded in the conviction that healthy development means a growing tax base and more job opportunities. At election time, the party has almost always been well supported by contributions from the town's development and business community.
Town Democrats invariably propose campaign finance reforms to curtail or end the heavy flow of money from developers to Republicans.
But the crux of the Democratic platform rests on pillars of a more controlled, selective development policy; a crackdown on allegedly indiscriminate tax abatements for industrial and office park clients, and more emphasis on preserving green space.
In land-use disputes, Democrats charge that the GOP-controlled Town Board pays more attention to the property rights of developers than it does to the wishes of neighbors.