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This is the fifth of a six-part series in which Buffalo News reporters talk with residents of various neighborhoods about the presidential election.

The Town of Tonawanda is a meat-and-potatoes kind of place.

Around here, people care about the issues that hit them at their front doors -- the draft, flu shots, Social Security, schools.

Which means that they've been thinking a lot about the presidential election.

And which means that most people on these quiet, meticulously manicured streets made up their minds on whom to vote for -- John F. Kerry or George W. Bush -- a while ago.

Now they're just counting the days until the election.

"Basically, I think people are getting tired," said Fred Hemmer, a retired high school science teacher, "but they're very focused on it."

In this first-ring suburb, which until recently was a predominantly Republican town, lots of votes will undoubtedly go to Bush.

But in some pockets of the town -- such as these streets of modest homes tucked off of Niagara Falls Boulevard near Sheridan Drive -- there are high levels of support for Kerry.

It makes sense: Democrats in the Town of Tonawanda overall now outnumber Republicans.

But the Kerry support in these neighborhoods is coming from some registered Republican voters as well -- and it's hitting home in intimate ways. Some households that have generally voted Republican are splitting their loyalties this year over the heated contest for the Oval Office.

"Since the last election, I haven't had a lot of positive feelings about President Bush," said Hemmer, a registered Republican who has lived on Carpenter Avenue since 1971. "My wife is the opposite. She's voting for Bush, so we're going to cancel each other out."

"We almost had to watch the debates in different rooms," he added, laughing.

A similar scenario played itself out a few streets over at the Choboy residence on Moore Avenue, where retirees Bob and Jackie Choboy found themselves -- for the first time in memory -- differing over the presidential candidates.

Usually they both vote Republican. Not this time.

Here's Jackie, in the Kerry camp: "I just think we're ready for a change. Definitely. I keep thinking about the draft -- I've got grandsons that age. I don't want that to happen."

And here's Bob, firmly for Bush: "Bush took us to war, and we've got to back him up. Terrorism is not a big issue to (Kerry), and that's totally wrong to me."

On the streets in this neighborhood, Republicans still hold a slight edge -- 299 of the enrolled voters in this election district are Republican, compared with 273 Democrats, according to the Erie County Board of Elections.

Many of the small homes in this area -- homes that date from the suburban building boom after World War II -- belong to older couples who have lived in them for decades and reared families in them.

The Choboys, for example. They've lived in their 1945-era home for the last 36 years.

But there are lots of young families on these streets as well. A full 25 percent of the population in this area of the town is younger than 18, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

These families were attracted by the good schools, the affordable housing -- the median value of a home is $83,700 -- and the nice quality of life. Poverty in this area of town is at 7.3 percent, and home ownership is high, at 80 percent, census data shows.

Laura Ciffa, 28, represents one of these young homeowners.

A young mother who owns, with her husband, a well-kept gray house with blue shutters, Ciffa said she is voting for Bush on Nov. 2 -- the same as she did four years ago. For her, it comes down to morals and accountability.

"I'm definitely voting for Bush," she said. "He appears to be pro-life, and I strongly agree with that. He's a man of integrity, which I think is a good characteristic of a president. Those are the most important issues to me."

She may not be in the majority in her neighborhood, however.

A few houses down from the Choboys, retiree Mary Eimer planted a Kerry sign on her front lawn.

She said she voted for Bush the first time around but won't do it again.

"I made up my mind a while ago," said Eimer, who has six children and 15 grandchildren. "In the debates, Kerry seemed more statesmanlike, didn't he? He seemed more presidential."

James Anastasi, 37, who was working in a jewelry shop down the street, agreed.

"I don't have anything bad against Bush. I really don't. But I think Kerry is going to be a more effective leader," said Anastasi, whose business, JMA Finishing, involves repairing and creating pieces of jewelry. "(Kerry) is an effective speaker, and he'll be a good leader."

For Francine Balesteri, 29, the choice came back to kitchen table issues.

She said she and her husband, Timothy Williams, are struggling to get by and rear their five daughters.

Balesteri will vote for Kerry, she said, because she thinks it will help her keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

"Bush is putting all of our money into a different country and not helping us out at all," Balesteri said. "Nothing has changed in this country. Low-income families are being hurt. The prices are going up on everything.

"We still can't make it."


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