There's a difference in the Hamburg Town Board races this year. They really are races.
There hasn't been a non-Democrat elected as councilman since Republican Dan Henry won in 1989.
But Conservative Tom Best, a veteran of 40 years of town law enforcement who is on the GOP line too, and Republican Kevin Smardz are giving Democrats Dick Smith and Vincent Gugliuzza a serious challenge.
Smith is probably the best known of all the candidates. He was appointed to the Town Board earlier this year to replace Kathleen Hochul, who was appointed Erie County clerk.
He was elected to the Town Board in 1972, when the Democrats seized their first majority. He spent six years on the board before serving 18 years as highway superintendent. He was a member of the Assembly from 1997 to 2005.
Smith, 67, said his goals include bringing more development to commercial areas around McKinley Parkway and Route 20, particularly by standardizing development rules with state and other regulations.
He said that in his campaigning, he has heard residents want one other thing, too.
"Mainly it's to stop the infighting," Smith said. "I think we've made some major steps in that with the Town Board-supervisor relationship."
The board, which has four Democrats, has had some major disputes with Republican Supervisor Steve Walters since he was elected in 2005, breaking a 12-year all-Democratic stranglehold on town government.
Best says his main campaign goals are to return Hamburg to more of a two-party system and restore morale in the town departments. Best is a Conservative but is running on the Republican line and with that party's support.
"It's common knowledge that morale in Town Hall is at an all-time low," he said. "There's bickering and infighting . . . That needs to be changed.
"The Democrats took a big step when they changed the administration in the Police Department, but maybe we need to look at other departments the same way. It could have been stopped a long time ago, but I still think it can be reversed."
Best's presence as a town employee predates even Smith's. After two years as a Blasdell patrolmen, he joined the town police in 1969, rising to captain before he left in 2001.
Best, 63, was Blasdell police chief from 2001 until his retirement at the end of last year. He also has been head of security at the McKinley Mall since 2001.
Gugliuzza, 54, is a Buffalo firefighter and a former Buffalo police officer. He said his main goals are to keep improving services while containing costs.
Gugliuzza said during his campaign residents have emphasized their interest in keeping the Lake View area green, while steering businesses toward commercial zones.
"Lake View's a great place to leave as it is; we'll put growth in controlled areas, like the McKinley Parkway and Route 20 areas," he said. "They're calling for controlling taxes and keeping green space."
Gugliuzza is a member of Hamburg's Zoning Board of Appeals, the Seaway Trail Visitor's Center Advisory Board and the town's Youth Board.
Smardz, 31, is also a member of the Youth Board. He's the media director for the Southtowns Christian Center in Lake View.
"The first thing we need to do is to bring balance to a town government, which has run by the same party for past 14 years," said Smardz. "I'll work together with all the Town Board members to provide the best services at the lowest cost. We can't do things the way we did them yesterday."
Smardz said he would do that by communicating directly with the town's department heads to "provide the best services at the lowest cost."