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Campaign exposes rift within Vision Party

Four years into a campaign to restore Williamsville to its quaint charm of old, the fledgling village political party that rose to power on that vision finds itself under attack -- with the charge being led by one of its own.

Mayor Mary E. Lowther is facing a challenge in the June 19 election from Trustee Brian J. Geary, first elected to office two years ago as a member of Lowther's Vision Party.

Geary said he switched to the rival Harmony Party because he felt progress was too slow on revitalizing both Williamsville's car-clogged Main Street and the historic, but shuttered, red mill.

The mill -- on Spring Street, just off Main Street -- is being "dressed up almost like it's a doll house" for community events, like Halloween and Easter celebrations, he said, while serious repair work is ignored.

Mainly, he said, the mayor and her cohorts "talk, talk, talk. I want to get things done."

Lowther, however, said the Vision Party has a long list of promises it made when it displaced the Harmony Party in 2003, many of which have been kept or soon will be.

A community plan is in the works that would help calm traffic through downtown. And the village has received some $250,000 for repairs to the mill and to help Williamsville pay off the $450,000 it shelled out for the purchase.

She said restoration would occur only as the village found grants or other outside money to pay for it.

"I will not put this on the backs of the taxpayers," she said.

Aside from the mayoral race, two seats on the Village Board are also up for grabs. On the Vision Party ticket, Trustee Richard Sweeny is seeking re-election while newcomer Brian Kulpa seeks the seat being vacated by Beatrice Slick, a Vision Party member who opted not to run again.

On the Harmony Party ticket two newcomers, Jeffrey Lloyd Kingsley and David Lipnoga, are seeking the trustee seats.

Also seeking re-election to a four-year term is Justice Jeffrey Voelkl.

As has been the case for a few years, the biggest issue in the village is the future of the mill.

The Vision Party championed purchasing the mill when it ended up in foreclosure, fearful that developers would come along and demolish it.

Geary, who wasn't on the board at the time, questions whether the village should have made the purchase and criticized Lowther and her allies for not moving quickly to set up an independent foundation to take over.

Lowther said the board opted not to turn to a private foundation because it would have lost control of the mill's future, and because village officials would have been prevented then from applying for grants aimed at historic preservation.

Geary said he is also worried about that not enough attention is being paid to basic infrastructure needs.

"There are so many things that need to get done," said Geary, who owns his own landscaping company. "It's frustrating."

Lowther said she understood some of his frustration. "Does government move too slow? Absolutely. It's my biggest gripe," she said. "But I do feel we've made enormous progress."

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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