Democrat Thomas A. Loughran might have lost his last campaign for the Erie County Legislature if it wasn't for the 1,000 votes he received on the Conservative Party ballot line.
But in his rematch against Republican challenger Guy R. Marlette, Loughran won't be able to count on the 1,000 votes he received from Conservatives two years ago, making this race likely to be one of the tighter Legislature elections on Nov. 7.
In May, Loughran was denied the Conservative Party's endorsement after he voted in favor of a financing plan for a new emergency room at Erie County Medical Center. Party leaders contended the majority of the $100 million borrowing program is designed to prop up the county executive’s operating budget.
The veteran legislator defended his vote, and sees a path to a seventh term.
"I voted in the best interest of the taxpayers," Loughran said. "But I think my Conservative principles are still intact."
The Amherst-based 5th District encompasses some of the town's most densely-populated neighborhoods, including Eggertsville, Snyder and Williamsville. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4,000.
Loughran, owner of the popular Loughran’s Bar and Restaurant in Snyder, has won re-election over and over despite being outspent by large margins.
In 2015 he fended off a serious challenge by Marlette, a former Amherst councilman who even aired television advertising – considered unusual in a Legislature contest.
Loughran will again be outspent. He reported raising $28,000 this year, while Marlette has raised nearly double that amount, $53,491.
Marlette, 60, of Snyder, won election to the Amherst Town Board in 2007 and 2011. He served as deputy supervisor from 2010 until 2015 and is a past president of Amherst South Rotary and Amherst Youth Foundation.
He was among about 20 prominent Amherst Republicans who in late 2016 switched their party affiliation to Conservative. Marlette said he did so for personal reasons and not as part of some orchestrated effort to overtake the party.
In response to a Buffalo News questionnaire, Marlette listed his top accomplishments as lowering the tax levy for six straight years as deputy supervisor, consolidating town services and reducing redundancy in top level positions to achieve cost savings.
"These saving were critical in supporting my efforts to enhance parks and expand green space in town," Marlette said.
He said he negotiated the cable franchise agreements with Verizon and Time Warner that allowed the town to invest in audio/visual equipment to record town government meetings and livestream them online. Marlette added that he "worked extremely hard to create a bi-partisan atmosphere on the Town Board."
His first priority for the Legislature is more careful management of Erie County's budget, including the tax levy, which has increased $75.5 million over 10 years.
"It’s imperative for everyone to understand that the level of spending currently taking place is not sustainable long term," he said.
He is also pushing for a five-year master plan on infrastructure needs, a requirement that any changes to the master plan be approved by the Legislature and annual reports to the Legislature outlining projects completed and underway.
"It is important that every community receives its fair share of infrastructure spending," he said. "Despite being Erie County’s largest municipality, far too often Amherst’s roads have been shortchanged."
Other top issues Marlette identified include ensuring appropriate housing for low-income people with disabilities and addressing the opioid crisis. He supports an aggressive public education campaign, pursuing additional federal and state funding and an opioid working group to engage the community and medical professionals.
Marlette, vice president of Alternative Information Systems, accused Loughran of "little community engagement" and few achievements to show for his 12 years in office, in terms of resolutions introduced and local laws enacted.
But Loughran countered that Marlette is distorting his record and engaging in "reckless political behavior" in campaign literature. It's a sign of his opponent's "desperation," Loughran said.
On his community involvement, Loughran noted that for 25 years he has organized a charity race for Women & Children's Hospital and an annual food drive for the St. Vincent DePaul Society on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
"I think that accusation is absurd," Loughran said.
Loughran, 66, is a former Amherst Planning Board and Town Board member who serves as the Legislature's minority leader. He listed his top accomplishments as holding the line on taxes by providing oversight of the budget, downsizing the Legislature and revitalizing Erie Community College, especially the North Campus.
Loughran said he "led the charge" in 2010 to shrink the Legislature from 15 to 11 members.
"That's saving the taxpayers over $1 million a cycle," he said.
He advocated for years for a new STEM building at the North Campus, which Loughran said was neglected for 50 years but sees 66 percent of the college's enrollment. The state paid for half of the new academic building, which should open in the spring, Loughran said.
"It's on time and under budget. How about that?" he said.
Making the campus more attractive to prospective students should also help with the "charge-back" issue, in which Erie County pays other counties when its residents attend their community colleges, he said.
"We've got kids living three blocks from the North Campus that are attending Niagara Community College, Genesee Community College," Loughran said in an interview.
Loughran also pointed to his support of the Poloncarz administration's efforts to remediate the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, install infrastructure and attract businesses.
"That site is shovel-ready for clean industry," Loughran said.
Loughran said he believes he will be returned to the Legislature to continue that work, even without the Conservative line.
"I think people that voted for me on the Conservative line will still find me," he said.
Story topics: Political notebook