A "stampede" of Amherst Republicans – including Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein and Town Clerk Marjory H. Jaeger – has registered en masse as Conservatives, even if the minor party's leaders doubt the new converts are true believers.
"I practice what I preach. They don't," said Amherst Conservative Chairman William L. Kindel. "They're deceivers."
The new registrations all took place in September and October in time to become effective Jan. 1. They also include former Town Board Members Guy R. Marlette and Barbara S. Nuchereno, former Amherst GOP Chairman E. Marshall Wood Jr. and Comptroller Darlene A. Carroll, according to Kindel. He estimates as many as 20 Republican committee members have made the change. All are considered close to the Erie County GOP organization.
Kindel calls the mass movement an organized "stampede" that positions the new members to snare the Conservative line through their ability to run in the party primary and also gain the nod of a friendly GOP. About 1,500 Amherst voters are registered as Conservatives.
"They figure they won't get our endorsement because they're not really conservative," Kindel said. "But this way they'll be able to run in the Conservative primary without our endorsement."
Indeed, Erie County Republicans are still beaming about the unsuccessful, but strong, campaign waged this fall by district attorney candidate Joseph V. Treanor III, who last year became a Conservative after running for Cheektowaga town justice on the Republican line while registered with no party. Though the Conservative organization endorsed Democrat John J. Flynn Jr., Treanor won the nomination in the party primary, gaining the third line on the ballot and a significant boost.
Former Amherst Council Member Shelly D. Schratz also switched from Republican to Conservative last year, and this year obtained both lines in her unsuccessful challenge to Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins.
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy denied any sort of mass defection to the minor party, but said he continues to seek a "strong partnership." He works closely with Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo on such matters, he said, and rarely with Kindel on the town level. He added that in the last election, Kindel backed all Democrats.
"I believe some of this is driven by a vendetta between him and the supervisor," Langworthy said.
Weinstein's move marks his third party registration, following his original stint as a Democrat that even included a short-lived pledge as a presidential delegate for former Sen. Alan Cranston in 1984. He said Monday that through the recent presidential campaign, he found little agreement with anything Republican.
"They were all fighting with each other," he said, adding he now supports President-elect Donald J. Trump even if he is no longer comfortable as a Republican.
Weinstein noted that he cannot run again for supervisor because of term limits, but did not rule out competing for another position starting with the Conservative nomination. He said he consulted only with Jaeger about the move.
"The Republican Party did not ask me to do this," he added.
Jaeger, meanwhile, noted she has always run with Conservative backing and made the move because "I saw the opportunity for a change." She is also facing term limits and will not again run for clerk.
"I always felt welcome with the Conservatives and have a good relationship with Bill Kindel and Ralph Lorigo," she said. "I have not sat down and talked with them but hope they will still welcome me."
Jaeger, a former Republican official at the Erie County Board of Elections, said she could not answer if the re-registration of so many Amherst Republicans as Conservatives was a coincidence.
"I know what I did," she said. "I can't speak for the other folks."
But Kindel calls his new party members "Conservatives of convenience," and questions whether any embrace core party principles like opposition to abortion or gun control.
"If not, they should go somewhere else," he said. "This is so cheap, and it shows in their moral compass."
Amherst politicians have recorded a long history of party switches, according to the research of former Democratic Supervisor Daniel J. Ward. He notes that as far back as 1969, the late Allen E. Dekdebrun won the first of three terms as Democratic supervisor after switching from the GOP. Former Supervisor Satish Mohan was elected as a Republican and later became a Democrat, he noted, while numerous other Council members switched over the years.