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Hamburg Town Board incumbent facing Democratic Party-backed rival in primary

Cheryl L. Potter-Juda is the incumbent Democratic councilwoman in Hamburg, but party leaders are backing Thomas M. Best Jr. in the primary election Thursday.

Potter-Juda, who was elected nearly two years ago, said she has brought stability to the Town Board.

“It was a very damaged board before I got on,” she said. “I’m very proud of what I accomplished in the short time I’ve been there.”

Best, who was a Hamburg police officer for 22 years, said the board still does not function well.

“They’re not working together, even in meetings,” he said.

Potter-Juda, 55, who retired in June after 31 years as a teacher in the Lackawanna School District, said she is a lifelong Democrat.

Best, 46, who was president of the Police Benevolent Association and is an M&T Bank officer, changed his affiliation from Conservative to Democrat last year.

He is in his fourth year as a Frontier Central School Board member. His father is Town of Hamburg Highway Superintendent Thomas M. Best Sr.

Potter-Juda questioned how Best could serve on the board that oversees his father’s departments.

“How is he going to say no to his father?” she said. “It would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on anything involving buildings and grounds and highway.”

Best, who likes to say he hasn’t listened to his father since he was 17, said he will have no problem turning down a request from his father as highway superintendent. If there were an issue that dealt with his father personally, he said, he would recuse himself. But if it dealt with the operation of the departments, he said, he would not.

“It is my sworn oath to make decisions in the best interest of the town, not my father,” Best said.

Best said that although it is legal for someone to serve on the School Board and the Town Board at the same time, he would probably step down from the School Board by the end of the school year in June, if not before.

Potter-Juda also thinks it would be a conflict of interest for Best to be the School Board’s representative to the Hamburg Industrial Development Agency. She supported pulling that resolution, which usually is a routine item, from the last Town Board meeting. Best characterized that as politicizing the appointment.

The councilwoman said she is proud of the new senior citizens center in the building owned by the Frontier Central School District, and she voted to bond $1.4 million to build a therapeutic pool there. She said the town does not own the building where the therapeutic pool is located at the former senior center on Sowles Road. She said she favors the new pool because “everything should be under one roof.”

Best criticized the town for failing to consult with the Frontier School Board about the pool before approving the bond, and for not discussing it publicly before the vote.

“The total lack of transparency is mind-boggling regarding a $1.4 million bond issue,” he said.

Potter-Juda also points to the success in moving the railroad “quiet zones” forward. The town had been negotiating with Erie County about the takeover of sections of two county roads where the zones would be installed. The two sides could not come to an agreement, which held up construction.

“I live between two of the major train tracks,” she said.

After Councilman Michael P. Quinn Jr. took over negotiations, an agreement was reached, and Potter-Juda voted in favor of it, moving the project forward.

“The money would have disappeared,” Potter-Juda said.

Best said he would like to see all of the town’s recreation facilities upgraded.

“People move to Hamburg for a reason, it’s a quality place to live and raise their kids,” he said.

Best said that there currently is too much politics involved in running the town and that he can communicate with people effectively. “Sometimes,” he said, “doing what is right is the hardest thing.”