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VOTE SMART WHO'S RUNNING, WHAT ARE THE ISSUES -- AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Anyone notice that there's an election coming up soon?

A week from today, to be exact.

But in a year when there's no presidential race, not even a contest for the Senate or the governor's mansion in our state, the election is often considered a yawner.

Big mistake.

Next week, there are plenty of local offices up for grabs, from the mayor of the City of Buffalo to, perhaps, the supervisor of your town.

And even if you aren't voting age yet, you should pay attention and know what's going on. That's called being a responsible citizen.

If you're in a school district participating in the Kids Voting program, you will have a chance to go to the polls and cast your ballot. With luck, you're up to speed on the candidates and the issues.

But for all the under-18-year-olds in Western New York, let's take a few minutes to see who is running for what office this fall. And why we should care.

County races

In Erie County, there are several important races:

Sheriff: Rocco Diina (a Democrat), Patrick Gallivan (a Republican) and Charles E. Burkhardt (Right to Life Party) are running for the job of the county's chief law enforcement officer. The winner will serve a four-year term, and take the place of retiring longtime Sheriff Thomas Higgins.

County Court judge: There are four judges who sit on the County Court bench and they are elected to 10-year terms. During this election, two seats are up for a vote. The candidates are Timothy J. Drury and Joseph P. McCarthy, who currently hold seats on that court. Both candidates are running on several party lines.

What goes on in County Court? It handles both civil and criminal cases and also hears bail motions, arraignments on new indictments and impanels Grand Juries.

County comptroller: Nancy Naples (Republican), the current comptroller, is being challenged by Joan Rogacki Warren (Democrat) for this job as the chief financial officer of Erie County. The winner serves for four years and must devote full time to the duties of the office, which is like being the county's top accountant.

County legislator: The Erie County Legislature has 17 seats, and all are up for election. The legislators serve two-year terms, and these are the men and women who represent your interests when it comes to adopting county laws, appropriating money for county projects and deciding county taxes (like the sales tax). Find out what candidates are running in your district.

Supreme Court justice: There are 11 judicial districts in the state; the eighth district is headquartered in Buffalo and serves all eight Western New York counties. There are 24 Supreme Court justices in our district, and Patrick H. NeMoyer and Gene Pigott, endorsed by all major parties, are running unopposed for two seats on the court.

On the state level

There will be propositions on the ballot that deal with the funding of school construction around the state, civil service credits for veterans and the monetary jurisdiction of the courts -- all very complicated issues. But the first question voters will be asked to answer (yes or no) is whether a convention should be called to revise the state's Constitution.

For students filling out Kids Voting ballots, two other propositions, which deal with important issues to local kids, will be voted on:

Do you think the mandated wearing of school uniforms has a positive effect on student achievement and school environment? And:

Should applicants for a New York State driver's license be required to have a high school diploma?

Local races

We can't list all the the races for offices like council member, town clerk, superintendent of highways, receiver of taxes and assessor, but you can bet that at least a few of those races are taking place where you live.

In Buffalo, for example, the mayor is being elected (the candidates are Anthony Masiello, Republican and Democratic candidate; James Pitts, Liberal Party candidate, and James Griffin, the Right to Life candidate) and so are some Common Council members.

In the City of Tonawanda, Alice Roth (Democrat) and Thomas J. Christy (Republican) are running for mayor. Lackawanna voters will pick the members of that city's Council. And in Amherst, Susan Grelick, the Democrat current town supervisor, is being challenged by William Kindel, the Republican candidate. Amherst voters will also elect council members, a town justice and a town clerk.

Details, details

How can you learn more about the races being held in your back yard?

Talk to your parents about the election. Read campaign fliers that land on your doorstep. Notice all the campaign signs that have sprouted up around your town. And read articles in the newspaper that deal with your town's election.

Why should you care?

Today's adult voters aren't doing such a great job when it comes to supporting the democratic process. (We're talking democracy here, not the Democratic Party.) It's estimated that only 30 percent of adult registered voters bother to cast a ballot in a local election, like the one next Tuesday. That means 70 percent stay away from the polls.

Kind of embarrassing, wouldn't you say?

You'll be able to vote in a few years, and there's no sense waiting until then to learn what it takes to cast an intelligent vote. It means finding out who is running for what office, and what they plan to do as your elected official. It also means knowing how government runs -- from your town or city government all the way up to the state and federal governments.

And you thought that what you were learning in social studies had no basis in real life!

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