One thing is certain in November's Cheektowaga race for town supervisor: Incumbent Mary F. Holtz's election to a second four-year term won't be nearly as easy as her first.
Holtz, a Democrat who became Cheektowaga's first female supervisor when she ran unopposed in 2007, will be challenged by longtime Cheektowaga resident and Republican businessman Ted Morton.
Still, in a town with a nearly 3-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans where Democrats have won 60 straight races dating to 1988, you might say it's Holtz's race to lose.
Holtz believes, party affiliation aside, that her performance and her message resonate with voters who are confident in her abilities to lead the town and provide the services that residents expect from elected officials. "I'm a workaholic, and I love Cheektowaga," she has said.
Her platform is simple. She said she remains "committed to providing services that are responsive to the needs of our residents while being mindful of every tax dollar" and maintaining Cheektowaga as "a strong, vibrant community where families choose to live and businesses have the opportunity to grow and provide the good paying jobs our area needs."
Besides the Democratic line, she will also appear on the Working Families line on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Morton, who has the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines, is running on his "Contract with Cheektowaga" 10-point platform consisting of "four fundamental commitments" to residents:
*Instituting term limits for all Cheektowaga elected officials.
*Reducing the size of the Town Board from seven members to five.
*Enforcing transparency in budgeting and other town services.
"Putting taxpayers first on every town decision."
"There's a lot more awareness now because taxes here are so much higher than the rest of Erie County," said Morton, 52, a lifelong Western New York resident who has lived in Cheektowaga for the past 29 years.
Calling himself a "financial planner by trade," Morton was inspired to seek the supervisor's post after witnessing dozens of clients leave town because of the "devastatingly" high taxes in Cheektowaga and New York State.
"For far too long," he says in a letter to Cheektowaga residents, "our town elected officials have put themselves and their friends and their special interests before the rest of us town residents."
He notes that taxes in Cheektowaga are 40 percent higher than they are in West Seneca, its neighbor to the south; 56 percent higher than in Amherst, its northern neighbor; 70 percent above Lancaster, its eastern neighbor; and 67 percent higher than the Town of Tonawanda.
Holtz said her administration has prided itself on reducing the costs of town government while maintaining the highest level of service to residents. She said 15 positions have been eliminated at a $1.5 million annual savings to taxpayers, and her proposed 2012 budget, expected to be approved as written, provides a 1.5 percent tax cut.
The daughter of former Cheektowaga Supervisor Benedict T. Holtz, the 62-year-old incumbent served for 32 years in the Town Clerk's Office before being elected town clerk in 2003 and then supervisor four years later.
When Holtz worked in the Town Clerk's Office, she said, she merged the town's Tax Office operations into her office's duties and saved $500,000 every year.
She said she is also committed to "maintaining the existing business community and growing new business which can create good paying jobs for our residents." She also said that as a founding member of the Erie County Distressed Properties Task Force, she has demonstrated a commitment "to keeping Cheektowaga's neighborhoods strong."
A lifelong Cheektowaga resident who grew up in the Pine Ridge area, Holtz graduated from Villa Maria Academy and then summa cum laude from the University at Buffalo. She still resides in the neighborhood where she grew up.
She has dedicated herself to public service. Besides her career in town government, she is town historian, compiling the town's historical ephemera and making it available to the public. She is involved in intermunicipal organizations and on councils or advisory boards like the Compassionate Presence of Christ Campaign that benefits the Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent of the Franciscan Sisters.
Her work has earned her honors, including the 2010 Am-Pol Eagle Citizen of the Year award and the 2011 Woman of Distinction award from the State Senate.
Morton said he is inspired by the success stories of other area Republican supervisors like Steven Walters in Hamburg, Barry Weinstein in Amherst and Walter Piotrowski in West Seneca.
"I'm not sure the message would be connecting four, eight or 12 years ago, but I think it's connecting now," said Morton, who hopes to emulate those supervisors' cost-cutting success. "If my message is ever going to connect, this is the year."
Since launching his campaign last year, Morton said he has visited 8,000 homes and received "overwhelming" support for his ideas, which include restructuring the Sanitation Department in a move that will save up to $5 million a year.
"There is real anger and disgust from the average citizen in this town," he said.
Morton, a graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Management with a degree in finance, has been a member of the Cheektowaga Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years and serves on its Business and Government Issues Committee.
In June 2009, he donated one of his kidneys to dialysis patient Dudley Williams.
He and his wife of 30 years, Christine, have a daughter, Kristin.