The seven member, currently, all -Republican Tonawanda town board will make way in January for a sole Democrat, and that promises change in the way the Town does business.
Democrat Dan Crangle, declared the winner in the last election, over Republican Stephan Stirling, the margin of victory: a mere 141 votes, out of 35,331 cast, will serve the remaining year of the four year council term of former councilmen, now Town Supervisor, Ron Moline..
Since 1900, the town board has been -excepting for one member, for one year-- exclusively Republican. Now, for the second time in a century, the board will have a Democratic member, and, again, with only a one year term.. The special election occurred because Carl Calabrese resigned as town supervisor, a $62,000 post, to take on the role of Deputy County Executive ($102,000) under Joel Giambra last January. Moline, who had retired the year before as a school teacher, replaced Calabrese as Supervisor, and, consequently, vacated his position as Town councilman - which is, in Tonawanda, a part time post, paying $19,900, plus health insurance -- a position Moline had held for over a decade.
Crangle, an NFTA employee, a veteran youth worker, and boys football coach, campaigned with a promise to end what he called the closed decision making process in town, while, at the same time promising to treat his fellow board members with respect. Crangle pointed to the large number of unanimous Town board decisions as proof that there is little real debate of issues, and absent debate, little public input.
"I want to be the 'Voice of the People' on the Board..." Crangle said, "The majority may try to isolate me. I don't know (but) no matter what they do, I will be working hard to serve the people of Tonawanda."
But Paul Pfeiffer, the Village Clerk of Kenmore, and, significantly, the GOP Town Chairman, said the current Board has been doing fine for decades with one party rule.
"You don't have to have a lot of fighting, and arguments to get things done," he said, "When our Town Board Members have concerns or questions, they will very quietly, and without fanfare, refer the matter to committee, and try to reach an agreement that will be in the best interests of our citizens. This is how government is supposed to work, unlike the Erie County Legislature, which meets at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, and where there is all kinds of fighting all the
Among those, however, who disagree with Pfieffer’s view is popular Tonawanda activist, 78 year old, Charles McGillicuddy, who has attended nearly every Board Meeting for years.
"Are we being governed well now? How would we know?"McGillicuddy said, "We have no way of knowing because things are so closed."
McGillicuddy claims board members are reticent to talk about the town’s position on a number of local issues. " What ever happened to all that talk about turning the Cherry Farm into a park? They won't say. What ever happened to Calabrese's idea of using the methane gas from the landfill to heat the waste water treatment plant? Nothing ever happened, and you can't get an answer. I tried to ask them about a piece of Stirling's campaign literature that said he voted for tax cuts that were passed before he was even on the Board, and they practically were going to use a police officer to shut me up. Too many things are kept quiet and done behind closed doors."Pfieffer, however, dismissed McGillicuddy’s criticism.
"Anyone who thinks that our Town Board meetings in Tonawanda are closed, just doesn't know how government works," said Pfeiffer. "The truth is that all of our Town Board meetings are completely open to the public. They are held at 8:00 p.m. on Monday evenings when most people can come and see for themselves."
Although, predictably, partisan views abound, there is one significant implication in Crangle's election to the board. He might start asking questions at town board meetings, something that rarely, if ever happens.
Joe Petruso, a member of the Democratic Town Committee, thinks that Crangle, although outnumbered, will make his voice heard, since he is well known in town. "He’ll work for the benefit of the kids he's been working with for 30 years," said Petruso.
Another Democrat, the unsuccessful supervisor candidate, Susan Lichtblau. agrees.
"At least now, issues will be brought up and questions will be asked that just would not have been asked before Crangle was elected," said Lichtblau, "That is the really big difference."
Conversely, Cal Champlin, the long time Town Clerk (R) said he doubts Crangle's election will change much on the Board. "He will only have one vote. The same thing happened 20 years ago (when a democrat won a one year term). We'll see what happens this time."
Meanwhile, hard feelings seem to be festering between members of the Republican and Independence Parties. Some members of the latter are claiming at least some of the credit for Crangle's election; Crangle garnered 1042 votes on the Independence line, about eight times his margin of victory. Crangle’s endorsement by the Independence party, in fact, sparked the now well-known feud between the Republicans, and Independence Party Chairman Charley Flynn.
Town Republicans had sought Flynn’s endorsement of both Moline, as well as Crangle’s opponent, Stirling in the last election. The Independence Party endorsed Moline for Supervisor, but gave the nod to Crangle for town council. During the primary, however, Stirling mounted a write-in campaign to win the Independence line, and Flynn accused elections commissioner, Ralph Mohr, (R) and others in the GOP, of filing the motion for Stirling, an action he considered meddling in the party.
"Moline and other Republicans made phone calls and personal visits (for Stirling) but in the end, they lost (the primary) 2 to 1." said Flynn, "Now we wouldn't even look at any of them.... What Crangle needs to do is recruit 2 or 3 more Democrats or Independence Party members to run with him next time and take over this Board. I am willing to help him do this."
But Pfeiffer, referring to a recent attempt - which almost resulted in a brawl- to overthrow Flynn as party chairman, said of Flynn "The last time he tried to have a meeting, the police had to come... His accusations are not accurate. He has his own turmoil to deal with in his own party before he should start making accusations about other parties"
And, conversely, Flynn scoffs at Pfeiffer’s comments.
"The Republicans tried to take over our party, but it didn't work," said Flynn. "They used Town Board Members to call our members, and even pay them visits. We endorsed Moline, yet he showed that he had no respect for our party by participating in this effort, which was totally unsuccessful. After this, we would never support Moline or any of the other Republicans in Tonawanda again."
Meanwhile, Crangle comes on board in January, and after a bitter contest. By the nature of two party rule, the politics of town government promise to be a little different when the Board convenes again, now with a Democrat, with less than year remaining on his term, and where re-election efforts loom only half a year away.