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Incumbent party sweeps Seneca Nation election

The incumbent Seneca Party was an across-the-board winner in a hotly-contested Seneca Indian Nation general election Tuesday in which ballots did not mention the name of the opposing One Nation Party.

Todd Gates, the current Seneca Nation treasurer, will succeed Maurice A. John Sr. as president for a two-year term.

He defeated the One Nation Party challenger, J. Conrad "J. C." Seneca, a former tribal counselor and son of a former Seneca Nation president, and independent candidate Sally Snow, a businesswoman who hoped to become the tribe's first female president.

Unofficial results showed Gates with 1,364 votes to 643 for Seneca, who was listed as an independent, and 304 for Snow. All Seneca Party candidates were elected.

The Seneca Nation election was an eventful, dramatic one, full of claims of dirty tricks and intimidation.

[Related: Vote-buying, intimidation mar Seneca elections, opponents claim]

The election also mattered -- not only to the nation, but to the entire region.

The Seneca Nation president, who is forbidden to serve successive terms, has a salary of about $200,000 -- more than any other elected public official in the area -- and oversees tribal operations that include three casinos and more than 5,000 employees. Seneca operations are estimated to have an annual economic impact of $850 million.

Maurice A. John, Sr., the current president, was elected treasurer and Lenith Waterman was elected clerk. John has served two terms as president (2006-2008 and 2014-2016) and two previous terms as treasurer (2004-2006 and 2008-2010). Waterman was clerk from 2012 to 2014. John received 1,455 votes. Waterman received 1,306.

“I am humbled and incredibly grateful to receive the support and confidence of so many Seneca from both Allegany and Cattaraugus," Gates said. "I look forward to honoring their trust and leading the Seneca Nation forward in meeting the challenges that face our Nation, the Seneca people and our entire community.”

Gates, who lives on the Cattaraugus Territory, will be sworn in next week after the election results have been officially certified by the current Seneca Nation clerk.

Elected treasurer in 2014, Gates previously served two terms as a member of the Tribal Council and was CEO of the Seneca Construction Management.

Tuesday's ballot contained a straight-ticket line for the Seneca Party, allowing voters to choose its entire slate of candidates with one vote, but did not include one for the One Nation Party, despite a ruling to include one by the Seneca Peacemakers Court last week.

In all, the Seneca Party received 998 straight-ticket votes.

"The ballot is not what the judge ordered," J. C. Seneca said after casting his vote in the William Seneca Administration Building, named after his father, on the Cattaraugus Territory. "There is no mention of the One Nation Party anywhere on the ballot. We are all listed as independents."

J. C. Seneca also reported that vandals Monday night destroyed three vinyl billboard signs he posted along Route 20 on the Cattaraugus Territory.

Harold Parker, owner of Seneca Billboards, estimated damage to the signs at nearly $5,000. He filed a criminal complaint.

Several One Nation volunteers also reported being harassed Tuesday as they replaced stolen or damaged signs.

The campaign was marked with One Nation charges of dirty tricks by the Seneca Party. Seneca Party leaders called the claims "baseless" and accused One Nation of trying to "drag our election process into the mud."

The Peacemakers Court agreed with One Nation last week when it ruled that the party should be given back its straight ticket line on the ballot.

It had been removed after one of the One Nation candidates, Jack D. Sherlock Jr., withdrew as a candidate for marshal minutes before the filing deadline at midnight Oct. 17.

One Nation contended that Sherlock had been offered a  job by Donald John, a supervisor at the Seneca Nation Department of Public Works and a Seneca Party leader, in exchange for dropping from the race. One Nation further claimed that Sherlock was told that he would not be able to get any other Seneca Nation job if he refused.

John, who neither confirmed nor denied the claims, told The Buffalo News last week in an email, "The decision was Mr. Sherlock's."

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