Amherst Council Member Daniel J. Ward officially launched his campaign for county executive today, unfazed by what appears to be the insurmountable advantages of incumbent Republican Joel A. Giambra.
Ward began his drive toward Nov. 4 with a morning news conference on the steps of County Hall, kicking off a campaign he said will target Giambra policies that "reek of arrogance, opulence and extravagance."
"Joel Giambra's hollow promises and old-time political dealing just aren't good enough for this county any more," he said.
The challenge begins at an almost unheard-of late date for a major office such as county executive. As a result, the new candidate wasted no time in setting a theme that accuses Giambra of failing to deliver on promises to provide a new direction and vision.
"On all of these fronts -- creating jobs, saving money, bringing our children home, cutting taxes, regionalism and tight fiscal management of our hard-earned tax dollars -- Joel Giambra has failed us," Ward said.
The new candidate said that while Giambra's 1999 campaign emphasized revitalizing the economy, he is now obsessed with winning re-election.
"Opportunity and promise have been exchanged for old-style, business-as-usual politics with jobs and contracts for the connected," he said, "and more taxes for the rest of us."
After unsuccessfully searching for a candidate for the past six months, Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan said Monday that Ward will not disappoint. He said Giambra's failure to spur the kind of economic development that characterized the promise of his 1999 campaign will serve as a major theme.
"The grand promises have not materialized," Lenihan said. "The situation has degenerated into business as usual and a 'politics at its worst' situation."
Ward, 55, is also emphasizing his role in developing the Town of Amherst into one of the few economic bright spots in Erie County.
"My record is clear -- successful economic development can occur when leaders balance business and the concern of homeowners, neighborhoods and green space," he said.
He also said he is a Democrat who is "tough on spending and respectful of taxpayer dollars," claiming he has opposed every tax increase he has encountered.
Lenihan expects Ward to take Giambra to task for suggesting a 9 percent sales tax (in exchange for a state Medicaid takeover) and for failing to deliver on a campaign promise to provide the jobs that will bring back those forced to move away to find work.
"That 9 percent tax isn't going to bring back any kids to the community," Lenihan said.
Ward is also expected to emphasize his experience as a prosecutor, county legislator, Amherst supervisor and Amherst Town Board member.
He said he expects Ward to point to the Town of Amherst, where business has mushroomed and jobs have been are created, as one of the few economic bright spots in Erie County.
"He understands economic development and has been part of a government success story," the chairman said, adding that the City of Buffalo has been left to "stagnate" at the expense of the entire county.
He also said Ward's record as an opponent of urban sprawl and advocate of controlled growth in Amherst will be highlighted.
"You're going to see a responsible and intelligent discussion about sprawl and what it takes to build a community," Lenihan said.
Giambra, who declined to comment on his opponent's announcement, enjoys tremendous advantages over Ward.
Giambra retains all the perks and powers of incumbency, records healthy approval ratings in polls, is universally known throughout the area and expects to collect about $1.7 million in campaign funds.
To date, Ward has no money in his campaign treasury.
"You can have all the money in the world," Lenihan said. "What Ward has on his side is the issues."