Challengers recruited by County Executive Chris Collins grabbed Independence Party lines Tuesday as they stocked up for the November contests that Collins hopes will loosen the Democratic grip on the Erie County Legislature.
Republican Kevin Hardwick of the City of Tonawanda, a Canisius College political science professor Collins encouraged to run, took the Independence Party line in a race with Michele M. Iannello, the Democratic incumbent of Kenmore.
Hardwick took 62 percent of the vote in a three-way contest with Iannello and Eric K. Strauch, an Independence Party member who had collected only three votes late Tuesday, according to unofficial results.
Collins hopes Hardwick can defeat Iannello when they meet again in November's general election for the District 10 seat.
Similarly, the Collins-favored Lynne Dixon, an Independence Party member, easily seized the Independence line in a test with Robert B. Reynolds Jr. the Democratic incumbent of Hamburg in District 12. Dixon, of Hamburg, cruised to victory with 80 percent of the vote.
Like Iannello, Reynolds has a Collins-made bulls eye on his back. But in coming months, Reynolds will lead the Finance, Management and Budget Committee's review of the county executive's budget proposed for next year.
Republican Shelly Schratz of Amherst, another Collins favorite, appeared to take the Independence line in the District 14 contest with Thomas A. Loughran, the Democratic incumbent of Amherst, and Dylan J. Quinlan, an Independence Party member. Schratz collected 49 percent of the vote.
In a stunner, Christina Wlekinski Bove, a Democrat on the West Seneca town board, wrestled the party's line in District 9 from Timothy M. Wroblewski, the incumbent, also of West Seneca. She won by just 147 votes, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Wroblewski's candidacy was left in tatters. Brian D. Wirth, the Collins-backed Republican in that race, took the Independence Party line with 57 percent. Wroblewski was left with the Conservative Party line.
Still, all three candidates remain on the ballot in November's general election. Some Republican strategists theorize that Wroblewski and Bove -- the two Democrats with name recognation -- will split the Democratic vote and Wirth, the Republican. will squeak through.
"At this point, the Democratic voters in West Seneca and Cheektowaga have officially endorsed me as their candidate," Bove said. "So the Democratic voters and the Democratic Party should be behind me at this point. It should be a Democrat versus a Republican.
"The fact he is still in the race on the Conservative line," she said of Wroblewski, "still is a factor, . . . and you continue to work as hard as you can."
Democrats now hold 12 of the Legislature's 15 seats; the Republicans hold just three.
Legislator Thomas J. Mazur of Cheektowaga appeared to win his Democratic primary contest Tuesday against challenger Lynn M. Dearmyer, 52 percent to 48 percent, according to unofficial results. Mazur would face Republican Ted Morton in November. The district traditionally elects Democrats.
Collins wants to unseat County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz, a Democrat who frequently spars with Collins and a potential rival in the 2011 race for county executive.
So Collins has promoted the candidacy of Republican Philip C. Kadet, the now-retired managing partner of an accounting firm. Kadet, however, was struggling in his Independence Party contest with the relatively unknown Michael J. Abramo, an Independence Party member.
Each held about 50 percent of the vote late Tuesday, with absentee ballots making that race too close to call.