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2 longtime pols who've never won election run for Hamburg supervisor

Two political insiders who've helped others get elected but never won elections themselves are squaring off in a Democratic showdown for Hamburg supervisor.

One ran for supervisor in 2009 and lost, and hopes to follow in his father's footsteps as supervisor, and the other had an unsuccessful run for state Supreme Court judge.

And in a twist this year for Hamburg, there's no Republican running for supervisor, since Supervisor Steven Walters decided not to seek reelection.

Both candidates, Jim Shaw, 70, and Dennis Gaughan, 62, are attorneys and registered Democrats. Shaw has the Democratic endorsement and Gaughan was endorsed by the Republicans and is challenging Shaw in the Democratic primary.

Shaw, who will be the candidate on the Working Families and Women's Equality lines, said he's got time to spend on the job since he and his brother sold their shares in their law practice to younger lawyers in the firm.

Gaughan has been a Democrat for 25 years, but did serve at one time as Republican town chairman.  He said that while he will take a few private legal cases, he would be a full-time supervisor.

Gaughan has the Independence and Reform parties lines, and also is running in the Conservative primary against Amy McKnight, director of activities at Autumnview Health Care Facility, where she has worked for 29 years. She also is a former part-time seasonal worker for the town at Woodlawn Beach State Park.

"I have nothing against Dennis Gaughan," said McKnight, a registered Conservative, " but he's a Democrat."

No matter who wins the primaries Sept. 12, Shaw and Gaughan will meet again in November.

Democrats have the enrollment edge over Republicans in Hamburg, 42 to 29 percent, but that did not stop Republican Walters from winning election as supervisor for three terms.

And now both politicians seem to be stepping back from politics.

Gaughan said political labels do not matter.

Shaw, who is a past chairman of the town Democratic Party and has served as the municipal attorney for various boards, including the Blasdell Village Board, said he would like to de-emphasize politics on the Town Board.

"Certain things about the conduct of the Town Board offended me," he said, citing secrecy, violation of the Open Meetings Law and "constant" bickering. "Maybe I can bring some common sense and integrity."

Gaughan caught the politics bug early. His uncle Vince supported presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, and his father Charles, a Republican, was supervisor during the town's sesquicentennial in 1962.

It was Gaughan's cousin, Kevin, who led the charge to downsize the Town Board from five to three members. Dennis Gaughan hopes to lead the new board that will be returned to five members Jan. 1.

Gaughan is no stranger to political controversy. He was a principal figure in 1995's local "ballgate," where he was one of those selecting balls for the primary ballot spot for several races. It was alleged that the No. 1 ball was discernible to the touch, and that allowed Gaughan to pick the top spot for several Democratic candidates. He has always denied the allegations.

One local issue the candidates seem to agree on is seeking an alternative to the town's proposed public/private partnership for a $30 million sports center with two ice rinks with Sportstar of Toronto, Ontario. The current Town Board has taken a step back from the Sportstar project, and has not yet approved it. Shaw said he would like to give the private Kaleta Group a chance in the next year to put its private sports facility plan together rather than get in a long-term contract with Sportstar. Gaughan also endorsed the Kaleta project, and said he'd like to see some incentives for the developer.

"I want to see a shovel on the ground shortly," Gaughan said.

In Hamburg, dueling rinks carry different risks for taxpayers

Shaw has called for a series of debates between him and Gaughan before the primary and general elections, and is waiting for Gaughan's reply. Gaughan said he looks forward to the annual League of Women Voters forum that traditionally is held in October, and that he is addressing voters issues as he campaigns door to door.

Gaughan said he would like to model the town's improvement on the Village of Hamburg, which revitalized its Main Street. He also endorses term limits for the supervisor and Town Board members.

"Property taxes are much too high. That hinders our ability to promote better quality of life services for people," Gaughan said.

Shaw said Hamburg taxpayers should not foot the bill for Woodlawn Beach State Park, a regional asset, and Gaughan said the town needs more state assistance at the park.  McKnight also said Woodlawn Beach is a great asset, and she thinks the town can find grants to help support operations there.

McKnight said she supports a new pool at the senior center, and also believes the town should be able to win some grants to help pay for it.

McKnight said she knows she's an underdog, but hopes people give her a fair shot. About 4 percent of Hamburg's voters are registered as Conservative.

"People need to stand up for the little people," she said. "I just want to hold people accountable."

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