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Write-in effort propels Dennis to upset victory

A Village of Lancaster resident's last-minute write-in campaign to fill an unexpired term on the Village Board improbably paid off with a close victory Tuesday.

Joseph E. Dennis Sr., a retired General Motors tool setter and former village public works employee, edged out the endorsed Citizens Party candidate, Mark Grucella, in a 66-64 vote. Even though his name was absent from the ballot, Dennis said he expected to win.

"I've run elections at work, and you've just got to push. Also, being a resident [of the village] for 48 years, I know a lot of people, and so do my children and grandchildren," said Dennis, 57, in a brief telephone interview Wednesday.

Grucella was endorsed by the village's dominant party to run unopposed and was expected to win election to fill the unexpired term of former 2nd Ward Trustee Mary Marino, who resigned from the board in May. Edward Markie was appointed by the Village Board in October to fill part of Marino's unexpired term until Tuesday's special election.

Dennis, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Village Board in 1993, said he was put off by the dominance of the Citizens Party and by the lack of a contested race.

"Originally, I wasn't going to run, but I started calling a lot friends, and they came through for me. I think [the victory] shows ordinary people have a chance," Dennis said.

He even got his grandchildren into the act, coaxing them to make campaign signs for Election Day.

The homemade signs read: "Write-in Joe Dennis Sr. I will work for the people, not a party."

After the election, Dennis said, there was some brief doubt that he won, but a late Wednesday afternoon phone call from Village Clerk Tammy Derkovitz made it official.

Dennis' rival admitted being surprised by the results.

"It was unexpected," said Grucella, 43. "Things just happen that way, but I don't think I have anything else to say."

Lancaster Village Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr. did not return a phone call to his home late Wednesday.

Dennis said he has long been active in the village. He was president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Central Avenue Elementary School when his children attended the school in the 1970s. He is a former director of the Lancaster-Depew Boys & Girls Club and was a trustee for the Citizens Hose Volunteer Fire Company.

In 1995, he questioned the Village Board about why it has seven board members when the Lancaster Town Board has only five.

And in 1991, The Buffalo News published a story about how Dennis coaxed a number of friends and family to seek their high school equivalency diplomas.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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