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Newcomer creates waves in Amherst

Amherst's Republicans and Democrats are often at odds. But they are unanimous on one point: shock at the outcome of Tuesday's Republican primary for town supervisor.

Satish B. Mohan, a political unknown, won the GOP line, upsetting the candidate of party leaders, Sweet Home School Board President Dirk D. Rabenold.

And, while Mohan spent last week taking a crash course in politics, others were wondering how a University at Buffalo engineering professor beat the party leaders at their own game.

"He was a complete surprise to me. . . . He came out of nowhere," Town Republican Chairman Marshall Wood said.

Wood's counterpart, Town Democratic Chairman Dennis Ward, took a similar tack regarding Mohan.

"He's such an unknown quantity that it's hard for me to say much," Ward said.

Almost as surprising may be Mohan's primary campaign, which was described as sophisticated for a newcomer. One political insider summed up the events as a "seismic change" in an Amherst Republican Party that is still split over a leadership battle last year.

Amherst is a driving force within Erie County, with a population of more than
116,000, and a bigger tax base than the city of Buffalo.

Mohan has an unofficial 290-vote lead over Rabenold, with 252 absentee ballots remaining uncounted, according to elections officials. However, Rabenold didn't wait for the final tally, announcing Friday he would stay in the race as the candidate of the 2,500-member Independence Party.

And, after indicating he would await the official count before giving his endorsement, Wood proclaimed at week's end that -- despite a disappointing voter turnout -- he was supporting Mohan and he believed other Republican leaders would, also.

Mohan, 69, is the first to admit he's not a politician or a darling of party bosses. His only public job to date has been serving as a volunteer member of the town's Traffic Safety Board.

He financed his campaign with $50,000 of his own money and about $10,000 collected in two fund-raising events. Much of it was spent in a series of large newspaper advertisements that focused attention on his campaign and listed his talking points, which include proposals to cut town taxes by 15 percent and to address problems ranging from skyrocketing assessments to the Town Board's "shameless" public image.

"This is 100 percent my own idea," Mohan said, explaining that he first took his platform for Amherst to Republican Party leaders. But when it became clear his ideas would not be included in the party's election message, he decided to push for them himself.

"Then I told Marshall [Wood] that I had to run," he said.

Announcing his candidacy, Mohan said he felt compelled to give something back to the town where he has lived for two decades. Born in India, he came to this country as a young man to attend graduate school.

"We love this place," he said in an interview from his East Amherst home.

Mohan, who is married and has two daughters and a son, frequently raises concerns that Amherst's problems, including sinking homes and poor drainage, are causing some residents to move out, and he says he believes he can help find solutions.

Nevertheless, he has no illusions about the difficulties he faces in running against Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, a well-financed Democrat who has more than eight years experience in the office.

"I'm told it's a daunting task. She certainly has more money than I do. If money buys the election, she wins," he said.

Grelick did not return phone calls seeking her comments.

Mohan is counting on the same grass-roots efforts that have so far attracted voters to consider his ideas and proposals for Amherst. And, if some political observers are correct, voters could be looking for a change.

"The frustration here is enormous with both parties. The political system in Amherst is broken and people are looking for non-traditional outlets," said East Amherst community activist Colleen Bogdan.
e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com1

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