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THOMAS' EASY VICTORY BELIES CONTROVERSY OVER ABOLISHING VILLAGE POLICE DEPT.

Under the leadership of Mayor John S. Thomas, Hamburg Village Hall has had its share of proud moments since 1994.

And there have been the controversies -- notably, the uproar over a bid to abolish the Police Department in favor of contracting with the Town of Hamburg.

But Thomas' overwhelming victory last Tuesday that won him a second four-year term humbled some of his toughest critics.

In a four-way race, voters handed the Hamburg High School health teacher 1,021 votes -- more than twice that of of his closest competitor, Trustee Martin E. Moot, with 490 votes.

Thomas' performance mirrored the outcome of the 1994 mayoral election, when he also was the top vote-getter in a field of four. His ascendancy came after a two-year stint as trustee.

"I had quiet confidence," Thomas said of election night. "I just felt the people knew the job this board has done -- the things we stood up to. I attribute this to the rest of the board sticking together through the tough stuff, like the police issue."

"We never backed down, when the people could have made us buckle," Thomas said.

A few of the key players who fought the board's plan to eliminate the village Police Department and thwarted an attempt to hold a referendum, did not fare well in the election.

Among them were Donald S. Po-Chedley, a vocal critic of Thomas and the board, who placed third in the mayoral race, with 348 votes. Moot and unsuccessful trustee candidate Alexandra Morlock -- both endorsed by the village's Police Benevolent Association -- also came up on the losing end.

Mrs. Morlock, whose husband, Glenn Morlock, is a village police officer and heads the police union, received the fewest votes, 348, in a seven-way race for two trustee seats.

Yet Thomas D. Bard, also backed by the police union, ended up winning a trustee's seat with 820 votes -- second to Planning Commission Chairman Thomas P. Tallman, with 858 votes, who will resign from the planning panel.

Bard and Tallman credited active door-to-door campaigning with their wins. Both succeed Trustees Patrick Lalley and Robert Brogan, who chose not to run.

Po-Chedley, whose campaign efforts became hampered after he was injured in a car crash, in early March, said he was somewhat surprised by Thomas' strong showing.

"I think the course is pretty clear now. John Thomas got a strong mandate now -- what he would consider a landslide," said Po-Chedley, co-chairman of the Village of Hamburg Citizens Committee, an outgrowth of the police controversy.

Now, Po-Chedley says he will back away from active board-watching. "I've done my part -- it's taken its course," he said. "And now I will go into anonymous apathy."

Voter turnout Tuesday was 2,031 -- about a third of the village's 6,789 registered voters. More voted in the village's 1994 general elections, and the police referendum in 1996 sparked one of the highest voter turnouts in the village at 3,334.

Moot, who has two years left in his term as trustee, said he is confident the board can move ahead. Critics, he added, "will now reflect that (Thomas) is doing a lot more for what the majority of voters want. "

One issue at the top of the village's agenda is the formation of a municipal gas utility to act as a purchasing agent and buy natural gas on the open market. Such a move would help reduce residents' heating bills.

By nearly a 3-1 ratio, residents Tuesday also gave the village the go-ahead to proceed with the plan.

Moot says board members will fully study the gas issue before fully committing to it.

"I'm not 100 percent sure this is the way to go," Moot said. "I did think we definitely had to look at it, but I still want to see the costs. We have to look a little closer at this, and not do it automatically."

Savings estimates from the village's consultant have ranged from 8 to 25 percent.

Thomas will shepherd an aggressive capital-projects program for his next term, including rehabilitating streets and sidewalks, planting trees and playground upgrades.

"I think the people know that we've certainly meant business and are running the village more like a business," he said. "It was a time in the village's life that decisions had to be made -- like the police issue, police clerks and (changing) employees' health insurance -- that the board had to stand by its convictions."

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