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POLITICS GRATES ON AFFLUENT ENCLAVE <br> ELECTION SEASON 'VERY POLARIZED' AS AMHERST RESIDENTS CAN'T WAIT FOR IT TO END

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

Along the winding streets and cul-de-sacs of one East Amherst neighborhood, people have had enough of the presidential campaign.

"I'm sick of hearing about the election. You're right up to here," said Kenneth Fromm of Wood Acres Drive, throwing his hand over his head. "I turn it off."

"They're way too long," Kathy Clarke of Plantation Court said of political campaigns.

Both Fromm and Clarke are ardent supporters of President George W. Bush, but those who favor Sen. John F. Kerry have similar views. And discord about the election is running so high that some won't even talk about the candidates, except to their closest family and friends.

Herman and Rosemary Del Dotto, Wellingwood Drive residents out for a walk recently, won't say whom they're supporting. It has just become too fierce, contentious, emotional and personal, even among friends.

"You used to be able to have an argument and have fun," said Rosemary Del Dotto, 57.

"It's very polarized, and it's been bad for three-plus years, and it's not gotten much better," said her husband, 59.

A week away from the election, residents in the neighborhood bordered by Casey Road and Wellingwood, and Youngs and Paradise roads are trying to get the leaves off the lawn, mow the lawn one last time and brace themselves for the last push by the two men desperate to be president.

In that respect, they're not much different from other voters The Buffalo News has talked with in the last six weeks. From South Buffalo and the East Side, to East Aurora, Sloan and the Town of Tonawanda, residents have shared their fervent support of one candidate or the other.

But this neighborhood is different from others The News has visited. Street names such as Plantation, Shadow Wood, Blue Heron, Quail Hollow, Waxwing and Chickory evoke an outdoors feeling with a suburban image. They're part of a census tract that is the most affluent in Amherst, with a median household income of $109,457. The homes have a median value of $195,000, and 97.9 percent of residents own their homes.

Four years ago, voters in this Amherst election district chose Bush over Vice President Al Gore, 424-338.

Some expect this year's campaign to be heated until the end.

"I expect some surprises that Saturday or Sunday before the election," said Tom Doody of Northington Drive.

Doody, 41, describes himself as a "die-hard" Republican. While some of his neighbors hire out the yardwork, he was raking leaves from his front lawn while waiting for his son's school bus to arrive on a recent afternoon.

He said he does not think this year's campaign is any more negative than others, but he is surprised at the outright hatred of the president that he has seen. He described a Democratic registration drive he came across recently, where the sentiment was to defeat Bush rather than to elect Kerry.

It's a symptom of the close race.

"If they're not close, then people can afford to be nice," Doody said.

How close is it?

"If I had to bet, I'd probably bet on Bush, but not by much," he said.

Republicans have the enrollment edge over Democrats in this election district, 44 percent to 27.1 percent. There also is a significant number of voters, 24.6 percent, who are not affiliated with a political party.

Affiliated or not, some voters, such as Mary Ernst of Plantation Court, remain reluctant to say whom they support.

"I think the campaigns have gotten out of hand. They pulled Cheney's daughter into it," said Ernst, 38. "They're talking less about the issues and talking more about . . . petty things."

She says religion played a part when she decided which candidate she likes, but she knows that others follow different religions and that she doesn't want to offend them.

Her neighbor, Kathy Clarke, 53, isn't shy about her candidate: Bush.

"He has the experience," she said. "It's been very tough dealing with 9/1 1 and the war in Iraq. It's just taking him longer to get to where he wants to be."

Herman Del Dotto says there is a lot of misinformation being attributed to both candidates, and his wife, thinks that this campaign is more contentious than any she has seen in a long time.

"It's worse. It's less issue-oriented than anything I can remember," Rosemary Del Dotto said. "It's the first time I can remember they follow the debates up with a fact-check, because they need to."

While the campaign has been nasty at times, that's not a novelty, said Martin Robinson of Wood Acres.

"I think this fervor . . . is an indication of how deep the schism is between the two parties," said Robinson, 74, who sports a Kerry-Edwards sign in his yard.

Robinson opposes the Iraq war. He also says that he believes in the separation of church and state and that the Bush administration has abrogated that separation.

Across the street, Kenneth Fromm, 72, who says that shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan is his fondest political memory, made his mind up to vote for Bush a long time ago.

But in reflecting on the campaign, he said, "I do think politicians are arrogant and have a low opinion of you and me."

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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