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Depew opposition party seeks to unseat mayor, two trustees in Wednesday vote

The mayoralty and two trustee seats are up for election Wednesday in Depew.

The opposition slate represented by the Renew Depew Party is seeking to unseat Mayor Steven P. Hoffman and Trustees Juliano S. Pecora and Michael C. Nolder, who represent the Village Preservation Party. The seats are for four-year terms.

The Preservation Party team is running on its record but saying little publicly other than touting the benefits of new recycling totes that it says have reduced rodent calls and citing solid village efforts in snowstorm response.

Hoffman, 57, has championed recent state interest in fixing a stretch of Transit Road. Pecora, 53, mentioned during a recent candidates forum his proposal for a dog park.

None of the Preservation candidates returned phone calls seeking comment.

The Renew Depew Party slate – comprising former Village Trustee Jesse C. Nikonowicz running against Hoffman, and political newcomers Karl T. Bukowiecki and Kevin J. Peterson running for trustee spots – is trumpeting a campaign theme of transparency and a need to unseat the incumbents that it says represent arrogance and poor response to residents.

The Renew Depew Party has strong ties to the village Fire Department. Hoffman and the Fire Department have been locked in intense debate over replacing two 30-year-old pumper trucks. Hoffman eventually gave in to financing for one that the board approved last year, but has maintained a hard-line stance against funding what he has called more “toys” for the firefighters.

Trustee Robert M. Kucewicz, who started the Renew Depew Party and is the lone Village Board member not in the Hoffman majority. He said the board too often votes 4-1 on many issues, with him as the lone opposition.

“Too many times, I question whether the other trustees really know what they vote on,” Kucewicz said. “Steve basically tells them what to vote on these things and that’s it. Hoffman’s idea is to give the least amount of information if possible, and then people won’t know what’s going on.”

Hoffman, a retired village police officer known for his aggressive management style, is facing opposition from Nikonowicz, 66, who was aligned with him in the last election. A treasurer of the Fire Department, he has now joined the Renew Depew Party.

Peterson, 57, a senior account manager with CS Business Systems of Buffalo, is president of the West End Hose Company No. 6 and fire department secretary. Bukowiecki, 27, who is employed by M&T Bank, is the other Renew Depew trustee candidate and lives next door to Kucewicz. A Depew native, Bukowiecki also is a former village firefighter who said he stopped because he had time conflicts with soccer.

Hoffman’s re-election bid follows a first term that included a sexual-harassment complaint filed by a former bartender of a village tavern owned by his wife, Sue, and Frank Caparaso, Depew’s director of community development.

Little has been said lately about the complaint that was filed with the state Division of Human Rights. But last week, Christina R. Kieffer, the complainant, confirmed the case was settled recently but that she is bound under a gag order not to talk about it.

A former trustee and deputy mayor, Nicholas D. Sherwood, who backs the Renew Depew Party and had founded and led the Preservation Party, is adamant that there needs to be more honesty and integrity at Village Hall. “Bob Kucewicz is like the shepherd” to lead the change, he said.

Nikonowicz, retired from West-Herr Automotive Group and now a self-described handyman, said that everything changed after the last election between him and Hoffman. “The mayor wanted us to be rubber stamps and he is arrogant,” Nikonowicz said, noting that he is running for mayor because he feels a sense of civic duty for the village “that’s always taken care of me.”

“The current administration is cutting staff to save money. They’re cutting to excess,” Nikonowicz said. “The police and public works are short-staffed.”

He also questioned whether the village administrator also should be serving as public works chief at the same time. “She is biased in her decision-making process,” he said. Elizabeth C. Melock, the administrator and head of public works, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Bukowiecki, in his first run for political office, said his goal is to make sure village government runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. “We want to make sure the departments have the supplies they need,” he said. “We also want to see more transparency and we want to make sure the public can relate to us and that we provide them with answers, and not just give them the runaround.”

Peterson, who has lived in Depew since 1989, said many issues drove him to run. “The stuff with the Fire Department and Village Board, that there’s not enough cooperation. … You need everyone in the same boat to be rowing in the same direction,” he said. “I see how the village government was operating as a fireman. It opened up my eyes. Regardless of whether I’m a fireman, I see there’s not a lot of cooperation between the village and many departments, which you need in order to make a small village work.”

Peterson said the village needs to be more geared toward younger residents and cited recent closings of small parks. “They tout the ice rink as being filled and a moneymaker, but village residents only get to use the rink two hours on Saturday and two hours on Sunday,” he said.

Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the senior citizen center, Village Hall, 85 Manitou St.