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New leaders pave the way for reform

John Flynn is willing to suffer political death for the sins of bloated government.

He is willing to sacrifice himself on the altar of saving you money.

He joined Tonawanda's Town Board to put principles ahead of self-preservation, even if it puts him out of a job.

Flynn knows he cannot, with any credibility, lay off folks or toss top-heavy ballast or merge departments without first taking a hit himself.

That is why, before doing unto others, Flynn and his cohorts did unto themselves. The new Democratic majority on Tonawanda's part-time board erased the board's health benefits, put in term limits and voted to cut its number.

It is called leadership, and it is as rare in these parts as the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The taxpayer revolution isn't over. We pay too much for government, and it drives jobs and people away. That is why Flynn leads a quiet revolution in Tonawanda, and its seeds are spreading. From Satish Mohan in Amherst to a recently purged County Legislature to town boards and supervisors pillaged last November, the wrath of voters forced out old politicians and put in new ones.

Democrats control Tonawanda politics for the first time ever. The board is keeping its campaign promises. Cutting the board's perks and -- with voter OK -- its size and salaries would save taxpayers less than $100,000. But it's more about sense than dollars.

"It's the message," Flynn said. "You have to look in the mirror first. Before we ask anybody else to take a cut, we took a cut."

Flynn is a hulking, dark-haired Navy vet and attorney who talks in machine-gun bursts. A reformist campaign lifted him and Dan Crangle to the board three years ago. Three more Democrats preaching the same gospel won last November. They have the numbers to make changes.

Mohan's push to reshape Amherst gets a lot of attention. He deserves credit for taking on a petrified, reform-resistant culture. But the new regime in Tonawanda has gotten more traction in 10 weeks than Mohan will see in a while.

Mohan wants change. But as long as there is an unfriendly Town Board behind him, it's a cause with little consequences, reform with few results.

In Tonawanda, the board leads the reform -- and little stands in its way. Flynn is a driving force on a train the Republican town supervisor can neither steer nor stop. Not with a 5-2 Democratic voting edge.

"Our initiatives," Flynn noted, "don't need the support of the supervisor."

Folks will vote in November on cutting Tonawanda's board from six members to four, with Flynn's seat possibly axed. The town has 20,000 fewer people than it did 50 years ago. Flynn figures there is no reason the board shouldn't be smaller as well. He and cohorts already cut the board's health benefits.

"No other part-time workers in town get them," said Flynn. "Why should we?"

Self-sacrifice is the message that Joel Giambra never got. Reform starts at home. Slicing your own perks and patronage gives you the moral authority to cut elsewhere. I Got Mine doesn't work if everybody else is losing theirs.

A town board can't do much about state pensions, salaries, inflated Medicaid costs and other huge bricks on taxpayers' backs. But it can weed its own back yard.

"I believe that regionalism and downsizing government is the way to go," Flynn said. "We can cut upper-level management. We can save money by consolidations with [the village of] Kenmore. Saving money is the bottom line with all of it."

Saving money. Even if it means losing your own job.

Those are the kind of politicians we need more of.


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