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Close races, pooped pols and one-party rule: 10 election night takeaways

1) A night of nail-biters

The unofficial election results are in, but there still are some candidates wondering if they won or lost.

There are 123 votes separating the candidates for supervisor in Lancaster, and the race for Town Board seats is close in Amherst, Orchard Park and Aurora. But candidates will have to wait at least two weeks.

"Nothing is going to start until at least 13 days from now," said Erie County Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr.

That's how long Erie County waits for absentee ballots to come in the mail. Candidates can view the unopened ballots and applications for absentee ballots Nov. 18, and the absentee ballots will be opened Nov. 19, according to a schedule released by the Board of Elections.

The final canvas begins at 10 a.m. Nov. 20, one town at a time.

In Lancaster, two Town Board members are vying to succeed retiring Supervisor Johanna Coleman. Democrat Ronald Ruffino is leading Republican Dawn Gaczewski, 5,830-5,707.

In Amherst, 48 votes separate Republican Joseph A. Spino Jr. and Democrat Michael R. Szukala for the second council seat on the Town Board.  Spino leads, 12,838-12,790.

In Orchard Park, newcomer Conor Flynn, a Democrat, holds a 91 vote lead over incumbent Republican Councilman Michael Sherry for a seat on the Town Board. The unofficial tally from election night is 4,203-4,112.

The closest race in Erie County is for the second seat on the Aurora Town Board, with two Democrats just 14 votes apart. Luke E. Wochensky has the unofficial lead over James F. Granville, 2,085-2,071.

2) No mandate for Poloncarz

Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz notched a solid win over Republican/Independence challenger Lynne M. Dixon Tuesday, but the 53.5% to 46.5% tally hardly ranks as a landslide in a county where Democrats hold an almost 2-to-1 edge over Republicans.

3) GOP can smile about something

The outcome in Legislature races was less than what Republicans hoped, but better than what could have been.

The GOP has gone from holding a 6-5 majority two years ago to holding only four seats this year after the defection of Republican-turned-Democrat Kevin Hardwick.

With Republican-supported Legislator Lynne Dixon vacating her seat in a Democratic-leaning district to run for county executive, Republicans were in danger of being reduced to a three-member minority.

Instead, they appear to be holding onto their four-member status quo by picking off incumbent Democratic Legislator John Bruso, whose Cheektowaga-Lancaster district seems up for grabs every two years.

4) Harmony in Buffalo?

The working relationship among the three branches of Buffalo government should be pretty harmonious.

Barbara Miller-Williams, who easily won the city comptroller's race, is a political ally of Mayor Byron W. Brown and many Common Council members – unlike her predecessor Mark J.F. Schroeder, who vacated the job in January to become state motor vehicles commissioner.

Meanwhile, all seven Council members who ran for re-election coasted to victories to four-year terms and have good working relations with Brown.

But the two newcomers on the Council – Bryan J. Bollman, who won the Lovejoy district seat, and Mitchell P. Nowakowski, the next Fillmore district representative – may stand out from the crowd. Bollman said he's an independent leader who believes in checks and balances. Nowakowski said independence on the Council doesn't mean anti-mayor. Both have said the mayor's relationship with the Council is "too cozy."

5) Dixon faces an uncertain future

What now for Lynne Dixon?

The former TV reporter found success in politics for a few terms in the Erie County Legislature. Now she's at a fork in the road, having lost the race for Erie County executive.

There has been speculation around county government that Dixon will land in some job that Republicans control. Will she work for County Clerk Mickey Kearns? The Republican side of the county Board of Elections? Or some other nonprofit on the fringes of government?

Asked what she will do next, Dixon had no specific answer. She said only that she wants time to think about it.

"The next chapter will be really great," she said.

6) One-party rule rules the Northtowns

With one Town Board race in Amherst too close to call, Tuesday's elections appeared to solidify one-party rule throughout most of the Northtowns.

In the Town of Tonawanda, Democrats continued their dominance in recent elections, with Supervisor Joe Emminger easily winning re-election and the party's two Town Board candidates cruising to victory. They will hold full control of the board, as they have since 2007.

In contrast, Republicans took total control of the Grand Island Town Board on Tuesday. They picked up the open Grand Island supervisor's seat as John Whitney handily beat Deputy Supervisor Jim Sharpe, a Democrat, and took both Town Board seats on the ballot. Democrat Nate McMurray had served as supervisor the past four years. Their performance included knocking off incumbent Councilwoman Beverly Kinney, an Independent who runs with Democratic backing.

And sometimes the other party doesn't even put up a fight. Democrats in Kenmore and Republicans in Clarence won without opposition and continued full control of those respective boards.

In Amherst, Democratic incumbent Deborah Bruch Bucki easily won re-election, but Republican Joe Spino was narrowly leading Democrat Mike Szukala for an open Town Board seat. They're separated by one tenth of a percent, 24.2% to 24.1%, or 48 votes out of more than 53,000 cast, and absentee ballots will decide that race. Democrats had held all five seats since the 2017 elections.

And in the City of Tonawanda, where all five Common Council seats were on the ballot, Democrats won the council president's position and three of the four ward seats. The only Republican victory came in a race where the Democratic challenger did not campaign and made herself ineligible for the office by moving to Clarence, according to the Twin Cities Sun.

Does it matter? Republicans in the Town of Tonawanda criticized what they considered the downsides of one-party rule in the town, including a lack of transparency, but made little headway at the polls.

7) Badges on the bench

“My degree is the 29 years of law enforcement experience,” said David M. Stevens, 55, when asked earlier this year if the lack of a law degree would hurt his ability to be an effective Cheektowaga town justice.

Stevens, a 29-year police veteran, narrowly beat incumbent Paul S. Piotrowski, 66, in the race for Cheektowaga Town Justice.

Stevens, the endorsed Democrat, tallied 51.2% of the vote in his first run at elected office. Piotrowski, who lost the Democratic endorsement in his third bid for justice received 48.8% of the vote.

This means both jurists on the Cheektowaga bench will be former police officers. Justice James Speyer, who is in his first term of office, is a former assistant police chief with 31 years of law enforcement experience.

8) It was a LONG election season

This year's election season was extraordinarily long. Even high-profile victors like Poloncarz were flagging by the end of the night, looking forward to taking Wednesday off and sleeping in.

Thanks to a change in state law that moved primaries from September to June, the season started much earlier than usual. Interested primary candidates and their supporters were gathering petition signatures through snow and ice-covered streets in the dead of February instead of spring.

Between then and Election Day, competitive candidates stayed busy raising money and attending events. Then there were nine days of early voting prior to Tuesday.

"I was talking to candidates – every evening, they felt like it was election night," said Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who further described this year's election cycle as a "strange" one.

9) Nail-biters, Niagara-style

Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 10,000 in Niagara Falls, but if Republican John K. Spanbauer holds his 29-vote lead over Alicia M. Kenyon, the GOP will have a 3-2 majority on the City Council.

GOP incumbent Kenneth M. Tompkins was the top vote-getter in the citywide Council race Tuesday, and the GOP's Christopher P. Voccio has two years left on his term. If Spanbauer hangs on – as of Tuesday there were 338 absentee ballots at the Board of Elections – Democratic Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma will have to surrender his gavel.

Another nail-biter came in the City of Lockport's 1st Ward, where Republican Alderman Joseph P. Oates has an eight-vote lead over Democrat Paul M. Beakman Jr. The answer lies with 37 absentee ballots.

10) The big loser? The sun

Hostility to large-scale solar projects is a political factor in some Niagara County towns. In Hartland, Supervisor W. Ross Annable polled only 55% of the vote. He was accused of supporting the 2,000-acre Ridge View Solar project. Write-in votes were 45% of the total, most of them presumably for Michael J. Outten, an anti-solar candidate who went door-to-door in the last two weeks urging opposition to the project.

In Cambria, Councilman Joseph Ohol, whose family is leasing land for the controversial Bear Ridge Solar project, finished last in the GOP primary in June, and he finished last again Tuesday as the Democratic nominee.

With contributions from News Staff Reporters Robert J. McCarthy, Sandra Tan, Stephen T. Watson, Deidre Williams, Jane Kwiatkowski, Barbara O'Brien and Thomas J. Prohaska.

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