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Bill Kindel: a half century of Amherst politics runs through his veins

Transit Road was just two lanes and the University at Buffalo North Campus hadn’t adavanced beyond the blueprint stage when William L. Kindel jumped headlong into the Amherst town politics.

A half century later, following stints as town Republican committee chairman, an appointment to the Planning Board and five four-year terms as a town councilman, Kindel remains a fixture close to town government. Currently, he is chairman of the Amherst Conservative Party.

In a town that has experienced steady growth since the early 1970s and is an economic powerhouse, Kindel has been seen as amenable to development. At the same time, he is widely admired for his passion and commitment toward integrating undeveloped land and recreational space amidst all the growth in Amherst that included high demand for new subdivisions and office parks.

“He was an advocate for Centerpoint and a lot of the developments,” said Colleen C. DiPirro, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.

“I think he had a very balanced perception of growth at that time,” DiPirro added.

Others were not so enamored of his style. Autocratic and confrontational are the descriptions from some others.

“As a public official, he was abrasive,” said Amherst Town Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, who has crossed swords with Kindel over the years, despite their having been members of the same political party.

“Bill and I got along fine for many years but we seem to have parted since I entered town government,” added Weinstein, a former Erie County legislator.

For his part, Kindel says that when it comes to public service, his main goal has always been to follow the dictum his father laid out for him when he was a boy growing up on the East Side of Buffalo.

“He taught me that you put in more than you take out,” Kindel said.

Over a leisurely lunch at Milos Restaurant in Williamsville, Kindel showed a collection of plaques, certificates, letters and newspaper clippings that sum up the fruits of his 50 years of service to the Town of Amherst.

Born in 1933, Kindel was only 3 years old when his mother died. His father was left to raise seven children alone in the East Lovejoy neighborhood, whose residents were mostly of German, Austrian and Polish heritage.

“We never wanted for food, but beyond that, we didn’t have a lot,” he recalled.

The youngest of his siblings, Kindel took early to scouting, and he said scouting taught him honesty and the virtue of hard work. Less of a scholar than a gifted athlete, Kindel was a 1948 graduate of East High School who went on to earn a football scholarship to the University of Buffalo. He married his wife of 60 years, the former Maureen Ann Malone, the year he graduated from UB.

These days, Kindel is just shy turning 83, and over lunch at Milos, he displayed little evidence of the years having slowed him down. He is short and thickly built. Though not an excessively quick talker, he manages to fit a lot of words in sentence. On this occasion, Kindel is a bit wistful about the passage of time but still aggressively in the moment as he shared the fondest fruits of his labor. That includes the creation of the 585-acre Great Baehre Nature Preserve, which was not an easy lift, he said.

“The whole Town Board was against the project,” Kindel said of, perhaps, his biggest challenge as a councilman because no one in the halls of government had his back.

“The political party I belonged to was against me... the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Chamber of Commerce. Everybody was against me,” he said.

The effort to transform the large swamp in the vicinity of Dodge, Klein and Hopkins roads into a conservation park required the town to borrow $1 million.

“It had never been done before,” Kindel said.

“We forced a referendum. We had to secure 3,000 signatures – that’s a lot of signatures – to put it on the ballot,” he added.

More than 22,000 ballots were cast and the referendum passed by just 500 votes.

“We got the vote and we won,” said Kindel.

Carved out of that huge personal triumph was a 25-acre park off Hopkins Road that Kindel named for both his mother and paternal grandmother, Margaret Louise Park. The town board formaly changed the park’s name in 2013 to Billy Wilson Park in honor of a 27-year-old Army staff sergeant who was killed a year earlier in Afghanistan. Kindel insists the name change was done for political revenge, after he, as town Conservative Party chairman refused to endorse Republicans Weinstein and Councilman Steven Sanders in their last Town Board races.

“It was a get even thing. It was political,” Kindel said.

Weinstein is adamant that the name change had nothing to do with politics, noting that Wilson grew up in the neighborhood where the park is located and used to play in it.

The Town Board “had people who asked us to change the name. We didn’t think it was appropriate to have a park named after a councilman’s relatives,” the supervisor said.

Weinstein said it is Kindel who holds a grudge after the longtime incumbent lost a five-way race for three open seats on the Town Board in 2007.

“I came in first, and Bill came in last, and he’s had it in for me ever since,” Weinstein said.

Kindel had his own snappy rejoinder to the longstanding dispute.

“These people have done nothing for the Town of Amherst that I know. They can’t look back after 50 years, like I can,” Kindel said. “They can’t point to anything, other than the fact they’re going to take someone else’s name away.”

The hurt behind the vitriol would appear to be more than political on Kindel’s end. Over lunch, Kindel spoke in very protective and glowing terms about the women in his life. That includes the mother he lost at 3 and his grandmother, an immigrant from Austria “who spoke no English, had no job and three little boys” to care for after her husband abandoned them.

He is fond of sharing a 50-year-old epochal story about his wife, in which she bravely challenged the racist mores of the times. As Kindel tells it, his wife was traveling by bus to Florida with two of the couples’ three children – then 6 and 8 years old – when the bus driver asked Kindel’s wife to take custody of an African American girl, who was traveling alone, until the child reached her destination. When they all stopped to eat at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Kindel was told that the black girl in her temporary care was not welcome to dine with them. His wife asked why?

“And they say it’s for whites only. And she says: ‘We’re not leaving. You’re going to serve us, and that’s it.’ And they did. Am I proud of her?” Kindel said.

“That’s a story I think that most people, I don’t think, could tell,” he added.

It’s one that appeals to Kindel’s sense of fairness and good character.

While on the Amherst Town Board in the early 1990s, Kindel was one of the founders of an organization called Citizens Against Rapid Transit Extension, with the mission to ensure that Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s light rapid rail system did not extend past the city line into Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda.

“I led the way,” Kindel said, proudly.

Stories in local media at the time quoted suburban opponents of the extension expressing concern that it would only export crime from Buffalo’s inner city to the suburbs. Kindel said he was aware of that characterization but insisted the concern was about the disruption rail extension would cause to suburban properties similar to what he said befell businesses on Main Street in the city. Otherwise, there was no city vs. suburban bias or racial animus that fueled the movement to stop the light rapid rail extension.

“There’s no part of that whatsoever,” he said. “We have black people all over here. God bless ‘em. They’re welcome, no matter where they come from or how they get here.”