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With more than 121,000 residents by the latest Census estimate, Amherst continues to add people rapidly and to grow in regional economic clout. That combination of qualities makes it stand out among towns in Erie County.

Because of Amherst's growing size and importance, this year The News is offering its recommendations not only in the town's supervisor election, but for the three councilmanic seats up for election as well.

This is an important election year for Amherst.

First, the contest is a lively one. Historically a GOP stronghold, Amherst still has more voters registered as Republicans than as Democrats, but the margin is narrowing, and a large number of independent voters carry increasing sway. The weakening of one-party dominance in the town creates a forum for newly substantive debate and competition.

Second, Amherst's very size and success are presenting it with new issues. Growth no longer seems attractive to some residents, a situation creating conflict with those who still look for new housing or business opportunities there. Meanwhile, the older parts of the town are beginning to show their age, presenting Amherst with redevelopment questions of a kind that will be increasingly important to all inner-ring Buffalo suburbs. And as Amherst's economic dominance grows, questions are arising about what role it will take in regional leadership and cooperation.

Guide to the race

All the Amherst offices in contention this year will be filled in townwide elections; the town has no district representation. For the council seats, voters can choose any combination of three candidates from the field of seven. The board also has three other members who will be up for re-election in 1999.

Town councilmen in Amherst serve four-year terms and earn $20,580 annually. Their jobs are considered part-time. The town supervisor, who is the town's chief administrative official and also a Town Board member, works full time and earns $65,100 a year.

For supervisor: Grelick

Incumbent Democrat Susan J. Grelick, 43, has earned the chance to serve a full four-year term as supervisor.

Winner of a special election a year ago, this former town clerk is interested in examining old habits and shows an openness to innovative change.

Like all candidates this year, Grelick stresses the advantages of low taxes. She has advanced a doable plan for cost-cutting and enhancing non-tax revenues through such ideas as more competitive bidding for professional services and for stimulating competition among banks for town deposits to bolster interest earned on idle funds. Outside audits have identified savings, such as $100,000 in overbilled utility costs. She wants to explore consolidation of special districts, as with lighting, in the town.

Her town summits have sought out public input. She backs cooperative arrangements with Buffalo and adjacent towns, among them the University at Buffalo's South Campus Initiative.

Her Republican opponent, Bill Kindel, 64, a veteran town official and political leader in Amherst, is justifiably proud of his record of support for parks, green space and conservation measures, especially north of Maple Road, over many years.

He opposed the financing arrangements of the $18.3 million ice arena approved recently. "It is $6 million more than it should be," he says. He says he favors sharing some kinds of services, such as collection of vital statistics, with other towns.

Unfortunately, Kindel displays an unsettled record of leadership and handling of issues. He has displayed a Griffinesque flair for destructive rhetoric, as with his hysterical comments about Buffalo Democrats overrunning the town or his analogy of Buffalo as a drowning man. Sometimes practical and level-headed, sometimes mercurial and heedless, Kindel comes across as an unsteady force.

Grelick has betrayed awkward moments of leadership in trying to translate abstract ideas into concrete reality. But she has impressive academic credentials as an attorney with a master's degree in business administration, along with the year's experience, and generally she has performed well.

She deserves a chance to put her reform ideas into practice.

For council: Ward

Daniel J. Ward, 50, a former supervisor and durable Democratic leader, continues to reflect a robust distrust of development interests and a thoughtful platform of reform for town government. Of developers, he says: "They've gone too far. Developers are still running the town."

Ward continues to favor a strong executive form of government -- as with a mayor or county executive, and a separate legislative body -- along with an elected comptroller, an independent watchdog over money that a town as large as Amherst should have. He supports shared services to cut costs, but not consolidation of different towns and villages. The Amherst Industrial Development Agency, he believes, has been too generous with its tax abatements.

Ward's experience and ideas are assets voters should not discount.

For council: Loughran

Beaten in the GOP primary, Thomas A. Loughran, 46, is a gutsy Republican incumbent running for his first full term with third-party endorsement. Loughran upset GOP leaders with his opposition to the financing of the $18.3 million ice rink. He also ruffled feathers with his reformist plan -- backed by a bipartisan majority in the Town Board -- to separate the positions of attorney for the Town Board and the industrial development agency and with his dissent over who should get the jobs.

"In Amherst," he says, "the development got ahead of the infrastructure. We have to manage the development."

A former member of the Town Planning Board, Loughran expresses sound ideas about trying to "refocus" the industrial development agency. He wants to tighten up on tax abatements and pay more attention to redeveloping "at-risk" older sections of the town. He's a fiscal conservative with wholesome instincts -- and the courage of his convictions. Loughran has emerged as an independent watchdog in town affairs. He picks and chooses thoughtfully among development issues. As such, he can become an invaluable force on a governing body closely matched between major political parties.

For council: Woodward

Republican Jane S. Woodward, 54, also formerly on the Planning Board, is seeking a second full term on the Town Board. Woodward is bright, decisive, candid and capable.

Sometimes almost blindly favorable to commercial development and business, she nonetheless deserves credit for working to retain Ingram Micro, with its hundreds of jobs, in Western New York. She believes misconceptions abound about Amherst Industrial Development Agency tax abatements. "All businesses in Amherst pay taxes," she stresses.

She concurs that taxes in Amherst should be cut, even after three years of no increases, supporting several of Grelick's proposed reforms. She's an unabashed champion of Amherst. But she calls the issue of urban sprawl "legitimate" and supports conservation of open space and farmland in northern parts of the town, as well as discerning economies in shared services.

As for Amherst's expanding role in Western New York, Woodward is unambiguous. "We are not the focus of the region," she says. "That is Buffalo. Buffalo must remain the hub. We are a successful suburb, but that's it. Period."

The rest of the field

Democrats Daniel A. Longo, 48, and Todd E. Shatkin, 32; Republican James P. Hayes, 33; and Conservative Robert Simmons, 66, round out a generally respectable field of council candidates. But choices must be made. Ward, Loughran and Woodward are, in different ways, those with the most to offer.

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