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Tonawanda Democrats returned to town board for third term

The three Tonawanda Town Board members known collectively by some as “Lisa, John and Joe” late Tuesday appeared poised to return to their seats for a third four-year term on the all-Democratic board.

First elected to the board in 2005, incumbent Democrats Lisa M. Chimera, John A. Bargnesi Jr. and Joe Emminger presented a unified front during the six-way race and had to overcome questions about public safety in the town.

“By playing to each other’s strengths, we make a very good team,” said Bargnesi, who credited Tonawanda Democratic Chairman John Crangle for orchestrating a Democratic takeover of town government that had for decades been run by Republicans.

The incumbents often used the pronoun “we” rather than “I” to describe what they said were achievements such as fiscal responsibility and a full array of town services for residents.

“I’ve said it all along – myself, Lisa and John have been running on our record of the last four years,” Emminger said. “We’re proud of our record.”

The election was a chance for Republicans Michael R. Vishion, Ann Morelli and Gigi E. Grizanti to wrest control away from the board’s all-Democratic majority. Vishion and Grizanti ran unsuccessfully for board seats in 2011 and 2009, respectively.

The challengers had pushed for an end to one-party rule in the town, which Vishion called a “political monopoly.” But they faced an uphill battle in the town of 22,366 registered Democrats and 15,734 Republicans.

Morelli, an Independence Party member and political newcomer, said the challengers’ best move was “hitting the voters, going door-to-door as much and as often as possible. It’s a big town and in order to get any name recognition against incumbents you need to go out and do the door-to-door, do the meet-and-greet and shake hands with as many voters as possible.”

Public safety also became a central issue in the race when the union representing town officers in early October endorsed the three Republicans. The Town of Tonawanda Police Club made the unprecedented move after it said personnel cuts made under the board’s watch were affecting safety in the town.

But Emminger called the claim a “misconception.”

Meanwhile, incumbent William E. Swanson appeared victorious in the race for town highway superintendent over Republican challenger and Erie County Highway Department blacksmith Russell Riggio.

And in the City of Tonawanda mayor’s race, meteorologist and former 4th Ward Councilman Rick Davis was leading incumbent Mayor Ron Pilozzi in a rematch of 2009 when Pilozzi eked out a victory by 153 votes.