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Aurora highway chief position spawns heated GOP primary race

Tuesday's Republican Party primary for Aurora highway superintendent is shaping up as a prickly contest between David M. Gunner, the incumbent, and challenger Philip Caccamise.

Caccamise contends that the more than $25,000 in federal and state tax liens that Gunner's business has racked up in the last three years show that his opponent doesn't deserve to hold public office.

"If you cannot pay your taxes like every other hardworking resident and local business, you have no right taking tax dollars as a salary," Caccamise said of Gunner and Gunner Construction. "If you're a public official and are being paid with public tax dollars, you should pay your taxes. I think you need to be accountable for your actions. I know people have problems, but they shouldn't be the problems of the taxpayers."

Caccamise, 51, has sent out mailers noting the tax lien history of Gunner, 40, and his business since 2006. He also has questioned why Gunner is asking the Town Board to increase his pay in next year's budget by $7,000, bringing his salary to $59,455.

Gunner, who has served nine months since being elected to a one-year term last November, says the liens built up when his business hit rough times, fuel prices escalated, and he and his wife, Laura, decided to keep employees working.

"Our small business took a beating, along with the entire construction industry," Laura Gunner wrote in a letter last week, defending her husband's work as highway superintendent and explaining the fiscal problems their company faced.

Gunner now says he no longer owns the business and has paid off all but about $3,000 of the liens.

"It's just dirt. The allegations have absolutely nothing to do with the Highway Department," Gunner said. "It's obvious mudslinging. I think we should rise above this type of behavior in this town. I think the ugliness of this campaign has backfired on the gentleman."

Caccamise, branch operating manager for the First Student, formerly Laidlaw, school bus facility in the Town of Aurora, says managing a $3 million budget and overseeing 60 employees and more than 50 buses give him the necessary experience to be an effective highway superintendent.

"The people are the ones who will vote for you if you're the right one for the job," Caccamise said. "I believe I have a lot of experience. I don't think everything should be based on building a road. I've been able to manage a budget, environmental issues and fuel."

Regardless of the outcome of the Republican primary, Gunner will remain a candidate in the November election, running on the Democratic, Independence and Conservative lines.

He says he has slashed highway overtime costs by 75 percent, reduced the cost of road work by 55 percent and implemented the use of one-man snowplows.

He said he didn't give himself a pay raise but believes the highway superintendent's salary should be restored to $59,455, the level when he was elected. After the election, he said, it was reduced to $52,000.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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