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DEMOCRATS HEARTENED BY STRONG PRIMARY SHOWING

Savoring dual victories in Tuesday's primary election, Democrats running for the Amherst Town Board are planning to challenge their Republican opponents as being too cozy with big developers.

While that may have a familiar echo in Amherst politics, Democrats appear to have picked up momentum in primary balloting. In addition to their own party endorsements, Democrats also captured two of the three ballot positions in the closely watched Independence Party primary.

At stake is control of the seven-member Town Board.

"Everybody was pretty sky-high," Town Democratic Chairman Dennis Ward said Wednesday. "It was a very, very heartening win.

Adding to the Democratic victories was Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, who beat her Republican opponent, veteran Council Member William L. Kindel, by 20 percentage points in the tiny Independence Party primary.

Three Town Board seats are up for grabs in the general election Nov. 6, two of them currently held by Republicans Jane S. Woodward and Bob Brewer. That means Republicans must capture two seats to prevent a Democratic majority from taking control.

Woodward, a veteran of nearly 20 years in town government, is widely regarded as the stronger candidate, while the first-term Brewer has gained a reputation for being brusque.

And, according to Democrats, they are preparing to make development the key issue.

"There's still a lot of energy in the development issue," Council Member Daniel J. Ward said Wednesday. "People are fed up. . . . I think the Democrats are going to do a lot better job of putting that issue squarely on (Woodward)."

Said Woodward: "I think it's an old issue. . . . Democrats have been complaining about that for a long, long time, and it's never proved to amount to anything."

In the Democratic primary, Ward and fellow Democrats James J. Twombly and Deborah Bruch Bucki easily overcame a challenge by independent Democrat Paul A. Beyer.

Beyer, who will stay in the race on the Conservative Party line, blamed his loss on a "deceptive, negative" campaign by Amherst Democrats who portrayed him as the handpicked candidate of Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.

"The Pigeon issue was a bunch of smoke and mirrors created by the local party bosses," Beyer said. "They couldn't beat me on the issues, so they beat me with deceptive, negative campaigning."

In the Independence Party primary, Twombly, Ward and Republican Woodward edged out Brewer, Beyer and endorsed Republican newcomer Shelly Collora Schratz.

Observers say the minor-party endorsements are significant because the Independence line often attracts votes in the general election from Amherst's more than 12,000 unaffiliated voters. Currently, the town has 29,500 registered Republicans and 27,400 registered Democrats.

According to Dennis Ward, the Democratic successes were even more heartening because he asserted the two-week delay in balloting caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks worked more to the advantage of the incumbent Republicans.

"The delay hurt us more than the Republicans. It just gives us two weeks less to get our message out," Ward said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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