Weekly Feature

2016-10-06 / Local News

Candidates forum highlights local races

by BRYAN JACKSON
Editor

Area voters had the opportunity to hear directly from candidates Tuesday evening, as political hopefuls from several local races attended a meet the candidates night at the Hilton Garden Inn.

The event, co-hosted by the Cheektowaga Chamber of Commerce and the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce, drew about two dozen people and featured candidates Shelly Schratz, Sen. Tim Kennedy, Monica P. Wallace, Russell Sugg, Alice Magierski and Patrick Delaney.

The candidates were given time to make opening statements and then answered a few questions each from the public.

Schratz, a Republican, is challenging Rep. Brian Higgins in the 26th Congressional District. Kennedy, a Democrat, is the incumbent state senator for the 63rd District. Wallace, a Democrat, and Sugg, a Republican, are vying for the 143rd Assembly District seat. Magierski, a Democrat, and Delaney, a Republican, are running to fill a vacant seat on the Cheektowaga Town Board.

The candidates’ statements and the questions from the audience focused largely on the economy — no surprise from a forum sponsored by the two neighboring Chambers of Commerce.

Schratz, a former Amherst Town Board member, highlighted her ability to work across party lines — with people, not parties, she said.

“I don’t represent a party, and I never have. I represent the people,” she said. “I reach over party lines. When you’re elected, you put that party down, and you say, ‘OK. The people are employing all of us to do a job.’”

Kennedy, who is running unopposed, hit hard on programs to keep people — especially young people — from fleeing Western New York in search of jobs.

“It goes to the heart of what I’ve been working on in the state Legislature, and that’s ensuring, first and foremost, we get our fair share of resources coming out of Albany, but that those resources are going into strategic investments that are going to help to create jobs,” Kennedy told the audience.

While Sugg and Wallace both spoke about jobs and the economy as well, the two focused large portions of their respective remarks on corruption and ethics reform. The ethics-centric talk alluded to the trouble in which the two previous representatives from the 143rd have found themselves. Both Dennis Gabryszak and Angela Wozniak were accused of sexual harassment during their time in the Assembly, with Gabryszak resigning and Wozniak deciding against seeking re-election.

“In this district … we’ve had to have our politicians come back to us and apologize for how they behaved,” Sugg said. “We had the Gabryszak situation; Angela Wozniak, unfortunately; and this goes on. Even our leaders in the Assembly … it’s just filled with corruption in politicians, and that’s what brought me into politics several years ago.”

Wallace, on the other hand, made ethics reform the No. 1 priority on her would-be legislative platform, speaking to the dismay voters have expressed regarding their previous two Assembly members.

“They’re embarrassing to our community,” Wal- lace said of the sexual harassment complaints. “They destroy the public’s confidence in government, and they’re expensive, as we’ve learned with some of the lawsuits.”

She pledged to hold herself and her fellow lawmakers to the “highest level of integrity” by working to strengthen existing ethics rules and enforcement, as well as pushing for new ethics reforms.

The final candidates of the night, Magierski and Delaney, provided the only semblance of fireworks during the forum.

Magierski’s remarks revolved around growing Cheektowaga and providing an attractive climate for businesses, as well as building partnerships between government and residents.

“I’m running because I have a strong desire to be part of a growing Cheektowaga — taking what we are and making it better, changing what needs to be changed and improving what needs improvement.”

After Magierski’s statement, Delaney sought to paint Magierski, who previously served on the Town Board and as town clerk and receiver, as a career politician beholden to special interest groups and a representation of the status quo.

“I would prefer to work as your public servant in a bipartisan effort that puts residents before developers and corrupt political operatives,” he said.

Magierski disputed several of Delany’s claims, including that she had received large contributions from political player G. Steven Pigeon, who has been indicted on bribery, extortion and other charges. Magierski said it was $35 from a fundraiser Pigeon attended but to which he was not invited, before the moderator stepped in to stop the back-and-forth. Pigeon has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

If the episode between the two major-party candidates for Cheektowaga Town Board is a prelude, the remaining month of campaigning could prove tempestuous.

email: bjackson@beenews.com

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