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Democrats gearing up to cut expenses

Tonawanda Town Board Democrats want to eliminate health benefits for councilmen and shrink the board and Police Department -- all in the name of cutting costs.

And for the first time in the town's history, what the Democrats want could happen.

Newly elected Lisa M. Chimera, John A. Bargnesi Jr. and Joseph Emminger will be sworn in as Town Board members at 6 p.m. Friday. They replace three Republicans and give the board a 5-2 Democratic majority, ending decades of Republican dominance.

"We are anxious for our terms to begin. It's been a long haul with the campaigning," said Emminger, 45. "We know what the people expect, and we plan to do that."

The three said they plan to revisit failed legislation that was supported by the board's two current Democrats -- eliminating one of the two assistant police chief positions, reducing the board to four members from six, and establishing term limits. They also will propose cutting health benefits for board members.

"Our ultimate goal is to reduce spending without reducing services," said Chimera, 39, a teacher and curriculum learning specialist for Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Schools.

Emminger said change won't come immediately, and there are no plans to change department heads. "If we did that, it would be very irresponsible," said Emminger, who owns real estate appraisal firms in West Seneca and Albany.

The three said their victories over Republican incumbents didn't surprise them. "The town needed a change; the three of us got quite a few Republican votes," said Bargnesi, 38, the owner of JB's Landscaping in Kenmore. "The residents wanted a change from the old regime."

Chimera said that some have chalked up their success to voters' overall resentment of incumbents but that's not the case.

"They were very savvy about the issues, and they wanted to hear a plan," she said.

But they give most of the credit to John Crangle, the chairman of the town's Democratic Committee. He is described as the "mastermind" of the campaign.

"Individually, we would have never won, but as a team that John put together, we were able to do it," Bargnesi said.

Crangle persuaded the three to run for office. Chimera previously worked on political campaigns. Bargnesi ran unsuccessfully two years ago for highway superintendent. And Emminger, a loyal Republican, had to be persuaded to switch parties.

It was two years ago that Democrats made their first inroads into town government by winning three seats -- gaining on the Republicans, who still had a 4-3 majority. However, Councilman John J. Donnelly switched his party affiliation to Republican.

Emminger said he will not follow that route.

"That's not going happen; we are not career politicians," he said. "I think people who switch parties do it for political reasons. The three of us don't consider ourselves politicians. We are citizens who want to see the town grow."

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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