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After four years of reform agenda, Depew voters opt for old ways

In the race for control of Depew's village government, the incumbents wanted to change the system while the challengers called for a return to old, familiar ways.

This week, a sparse turnout of about 16 percent of registered voters overwhelmingly chose the latter.

Mayor-elect Steve Hoffman, of the Preservation Party, overwhelmed Mayor Barbara Alberti of the People's Voice, 1,041 to 510.

"We had a lot against us. When you're a reformist, you have to mess with everybody," Alberti said.

Of the opposition candidates, she said: "They did it. They got the vote out. My life goes on. I'm not bitter. I'm not sad. Nothing. To tell you the truth, I'm relieved."

Alberti, 68, a longtime village employee, won the mayor's job four years ago. Her party also elected a full board of trustees and promised to end what Alberti described as a patronage tradition of hiring friends and family to work for the 5.1-square-mile village of about 15,200 that now employs 87 full-time workers and a changing mix of about 50 part-time, seasonal workers.

Other Preservation Party candidates -- Jules Pecora, a corrections officer and former police dispatcher; Jesse Nikonowicz, treasurer of the Depew Fire Department and a self-employed handyman; and Mike Nolder, a systems administrator for Wilson Farms, defeated Carl Monti and Joseph Keefe, both People's Voice Party incumbents. Trustee William Maryniewski did not seek re-election.

Linda Hammer, who will be up for re-election in two years, is the only People's Voice candidate remaining on the board.

Hoffman, who could not be reached to comment, seemed to oppose the Voice party stance on patronage. During a campaign interview last month he said, "If a friend or a relative or a cousin or a friend of a friend is qualified, yeah, they're going to get hired."

The mayor-elect, a former police lieutenant who sued the village in 2004 for failing to make him chief, won $22,500 in a settlement last fall and now runs Decks Unlimited, a deck building business. Its vice president is Lt. Jeff Gorski, who Hoffman said would compete for the open chief position that the new board is expected to fill.

Preservation Party members also opposed conducting a study to determine what would happen if village residents voted to dissolve the government.

The new board will be responsible for passing a budget and negotiating contracts with three employee unions. This includes blue and white collar workers and two departments that rebelled against the last administration's leadership appointments:

*Police union members walked out in protest earlier this year when the board said it was hiring a Buffalo captain as chief, a move that would have stymied promotions of village officers.

*Chris Juliano, public works superintendent and a Hamburg resident, was confronted with a threatening bulletin board sign last month when pigeons disappeared from the truck garage: "Be careful BIRD KILLER."

The new majority from the Preservation Party will begin examining the budget and contract negotiations, and, Nolder said, come up with the best decisions for the village and its employees.

"It's a balance," he said. "None of us has held office before. We're more or less going in sort of blind."

An informal survey of a few Depew residents at Village Hall and nearby businesses Wednesday found several non-voting residents who said they didn't know how the election related to their lives or didn't realize it was happening.

"Whoever's in there now did pretty good," said Marilyn Congdon, reflecting on the defeated administration. She said she was glad the budget adopted last year did not contain a tax increase.

As for missing the vote Tuesday, she said, "We forgot it."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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