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A red wave? Once Democratic strongholds, suburban towns go Republican

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Getzville voters (copy)

Voters fill out their ballots on Election Day in the Getzville Fire Hall.

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Republicans haven't controlled the West Seneca Town Board since the year Medicaid and Medicare were established, the first U.S. space walk occurred and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" premiered.  

Since 1965, in other words.

But in heavily Democratic strongholds, the GOP slates gained a number of Democratic votes last week, and in some cases, broke generations of one-party rule.

It's not just West Seneca.

Republicans also captured the Lancaster Town Board, City of Tonawanda mayor and two Council seats and at least one and possibly two Town Board seats in Cheektowaga.

"People from all parties want law and order, economic opportunity, and to know that their leaders are being good stewards of their tax dollars. On election night we saw a surge of voters from across the spectrum who believed the Republican candidate was the best choice for the job," Erie County Republican Chairman Karl Simmeth said in a statement.

The post-election political examination in the United States has been focused on issues such as the economy, what is taught in schools and the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In national circles, some analysts see the results as a good sign for Republicans hoping to take back control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives following the 2022 elections.

New York State voters also shifted right, voting against more progressive candidates and policies.

The same theme emerged in last week's local elections: They were good for the GOP, sparking dismay in Democrats and delight in Republicans.

Races on Long Island mirrored that trend. Democrats controlled every major office in Nassau County, but Republicans won the county executive, comptroller and district attorney seats, The New York Times reported. And registered Democrats outnumber Republicans there by more than 100,000 voters.

"The races in Virginia, New Jersey, Long Island and Buffalo all indicate that voters want more moderate candidates," Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College, told The Buffalo News.

West Seneca's transformation from blue to red began two years ago, when Gary Dickson became the first Republican elected supervisor in the town in 50 years. The GOP also captured a councilman's seat for the first time in 20 years in that election.

This year, two Democratic seats were up, with one of the incumbents seeking re-election. Republicans Robert J. Breidenstein and Susan K. Kims beat the Democrats, and will join a 4-1 majority on the board Jan. 1.

How did they do it? 

"Hard work, good committee. Hard work," said GOP chairwoman Patti Stephens. "And great candidates. We vet our candidates and that's important."

Stephens had been running the town committee for about a year before Dickson, who is her husband, pulled off the upset in the supervisor's race. She said Dickson's job as supervisor as well as no tax increases under his budgets helped the GOP this year. 

Democrats outnumber Republicans about two to one in West Seneca, but Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by nearly 800 votes in the town last year, showing that in some years, enrollment numbers don't matter.

"Just by sheer population, does that really make a town Democratic or Republican? It depends on what the issues are in a community," Stephens said. 

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Cheektowaga by more than a 2-to-1 margin. The town is often seen as a bellwether for election trends, particularly in presidential election years. 

There have been Republicans on the Cheektowaga Town Board, but they are few and far between. The last GOP candidate to be elected was Angela Wozniak in 2011, and she was the first Republican in 20 years to sit on the board.

Next year there will be another Republican, and possibly two. Michael C. Jasinski was the top vote-getter, and the race between incumbent Democrat Brian N. Pilarski and Republican Vernon S. Thompson was too close to call, but Thompson was leading by 19 votes.

Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski was unsuccessful running as a Republican for the Town Board in 2005. The next time she ran as a Democrat. She said results in this year's town races may show a trend.

"A lot of things have changed since 2005," she said. "I think this might be sending us a big message that we have residents who are leaning toward more conservative values instead of liberal."  

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