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Town supers near the finish line 

With the primaries safely in the past, most Rochester-area suburban elections are over before they're over. Whoever was lucky enough to win the Republican endorsement can coast.

            But there are still some town elections worth watching --- because a particular primary turned the tables, or because a race involves issues that may resonate beyond the town.

            A few local supervisor races illustrate the principle.

Gates may be Monroe County's smallest town geographically, but with more than 29,000 residents, it's larger in population than Brighton. So it's not surprising there are three ballot lines in the supervisor race. But there are only two candidates, and only one of the big parties, on the ballot.

            Ralph Esposito, a 13-year incumbent, has the Republican and Conservative lines. "I've only run against a Democrat twice," he says. "I generally run unopposed."

            Esposito waxes proud about his record. He cites the "stature" he's achieved through service on the Monroe County Council of Governments, for example. He says he's one of two COG members who've worked with the Rump Group, an activist committee of local business leaders. "I think you're going to see more consolidations," Esposito says. Here he's talking about intermunicipal agreements, not about combining governments.

            "I try to broker deals all the time," he says, moving to economic development. He points to the Westside YMCA's move to Gates, and to his success in drawing tenants to the 8-million-square-foot Rochester Technology Park. He says he's also helped create new public parks, like one at Westgate installed by the Benderson development firm.

            What about Gates's plans for the future? Is the town working on its master plan? "Maybe sometime we'd need to get around to that," Esposito says. It's not a priority, he says, in a town that's 95 percent developed. So what are the
priorities? Rather, he says, town government must concentrate on the essentials --- "clean the roads, pave the roads" --- and maintain the quality of life.

            Sue Swanton, the retired director of the Gates town library, is running on the Working Families Party line. She puts emphasis on planning. The current master plan, she says, dates from 1974 and badly needs updating. "I agree there is not a lot of vacant land in the town," she says. But she notes the town has some vacant plazas and other properties that need attention. "Obviously," she says, "the town of Gates is out of kilter" in regard to planning.

            "Ralph and I are only a week apart in age," says Swanton, "but we're a generation apart in how we use technology." The town government's website is "shallow," she says. She promises to upgrade the Internet resources with the expertise she gleaned as a librarian. But she also talks low-tech --- about improving the town's pedestrian amenities, including a now-neglected stretch of the Erie Canal trail.

            Saying she gets a good "Tier 1" public pension, Swanton pledges not to take her supervisor's salary. "I don't double dip," she says.

            For many candidates, the Working Families endorsement is a dual back-up: It makes a name more visible on the ballot, and it confirms that the candidate is liberal and pro-labor. But for Swanton, the line is a lifesaver, since she didn't get the signatures necessary to win the Democratic Party line.

Next door in Chili, the supervisor race has come down, you might say, to two and a half candidacies.

            County legislator Tracy Logel has the advantageous perch of the Republican line. Democrat Jason Elliotto, who has the Working Families Party line as well, has mounted a reformist campaign in this, his second run for supervisor. Last time around, Elliotto nearly beat incumbent Steve Hendershott, who's running for re-election on the Independence and Conservative lines. (Hendershott's loss to Logel in the Republican primary hurt his chances, and he's reportedly not campaigning actively. He did not return our call for comment, nor did he return calls before the primary.)

            What's Logel's message? "Taxes, taxes, taxes. People want to see that change," she says. "I truly believe that government is too intrusive; we need less government," she says, adding we can't "give away the store."

            On the other hand, Logel attacks Hendershott's "style of government" and vows to improve citizens' access to public meetings. She's concerned about the town's trajectory, too. "We have a master plan, but there seem to be so many deviations," she told us before the primary." I don't want another Ridge Road [here]..."

            Elliotto --- whom Logel attacks as inexperienced --- says it's "time for a change in leadership." A Holley police sergeant for 10 years now, Elliotto cut his teeth in town politics with the No Exit group, which fought a plan to build a new Thruway exit on Route 259 in the town's southern tier. Aside from its environmental and quality-of-life objections to the plan, the group complained that decisions were being made behind closed doors.

            "We have been talking about open government for years," says Elliotto, "and they [i.e. Hendershott and Logel] have been part of the problem. In 12 years, she [Logel] never advocated for these changes." He faults Logel both for initially advocating the Thruway exit, then "flip-flopping" when opposition gelled. He also charges Logel is seeking the post mostly because she'll soon be term-limited out the county legislature.

            Elliotto would create "three new programs": a "bipartisan economic development committee," a budget-review committee with citizen representation, and a "board of ethics review."

The town of Hamlin may be seeing an electoral upheaval, the kind of things that could spread to other Republican domains.

            A Hamlin Democratic Party slate is going after these posts: supervisor, town justice, and two town council seats. The Dems also have formed an "All Hamlin" party to offset the Conservative Party.

            The current town leadership is "a pretty exclusive group," says Democratic supervisor candidate Peter Tonery, a former city resident who's lived in Hamlin for 16 years.

            "We feel they are stuck in an outdated view of what the community is," says Tonery, who's actually a registered independent. Hamlin, he says, is no longer "a farming community where [most] people make their living off the land." The leadership, he says, is "under-representing" the large majority of residents, who are commuters.

            As for town operations, Tonery targets what he calls "old, inflexible zoning regulations." Development patterns, he says, are dictated by the layout of sewer districts, and this makes zoning reform that much more important. He would strike a balance: providing "good quality homes" and services for the new wave of residents, while "helping the farmers by putting greater restrictions on other [i.e. agricultural] areas."

            Tonery also is looking at revenue streams. He charges Hamlin is now "burdened" with a 25-year communications-tower contract that won't pay enough back to the town.

Cyberspace is playing a role in the election, too. Tonery got under some town officials' skin with an irreverent blog (www.hamlin-ny.blogspot.com/). He insists the blog is separate from his official campaign, though it's obviously part of the public record.

            Incumbent Austin Warner III, who fought off a primary challenge from fellow Republican and one-time ally Ed Evans, did not return a call for comment. (For background, see "Primary personalities," City Newspaper, August 27, via www.rochester-citynews.com.)

The Penfield supervisor race is an intriguing footnote.

            In the September primary for the Republican nod, George Wiedemer, a businessperson and county legislator, turned the tables on longtime incumbent supervisor and retired Kodak executive Channing Philbrick. So now Wiedemer, who also has the Independence line, has a distinct advantage over Philbrick, who's left with only the Conservative line.

            Philbrick acknowledges he's "not aggressively campaigning" --- "I'm sharing the things I've done over the last 10 years," he says. "There still are only two names on the ballot," he says.

            He quickly turns to town business. Penfield still affords "growth opportunities," he says. Yet the town "really isn't changing," he says. "We're basically a residential community." Ninety-two percent of the town, he says, is zoned residential. "We're well into our open-space program," says Philbrick. He cites the need, too, for a Bay-Creek-Empire "area plan" to deal with commercial development.

            All in all, 2004 will be "a tight budget year" for the town, says Philbrick. "Just operating next year," he says, "will be a demanding process."

            Things look good from Wiedemer's position. "I'm on two ballot lines; we think our chances are pretty good," he says.

            Wiedemer says that since the primary, he's been spending time getting to know more of his future constituents. "Our platform remains intact," he says. "Spending issues... in every department" are top priorities, he says. "I don't have any specific department in mind. I do say this: We'll be looking at more partnering with towns and school districts in the area." He says there are opportunities to share heavy equipment, for example.

            Penfield is "in pretty good shape financially," Wiedemer concludes. "The town has been pretty fiscally conservative. They've had a healthy reserve."

Election 411

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4. For more information, call the Monroe County Board of Elections at 428-4550 or visit www.monroecounty.gov and link to "Board of Elections."

To view City Newspaper's profiles of the Democratic candidates for Rochester City School Board, visit:

www.rochester-citynews.com/gbase/Gyrosite/Content?oid=oid%3A2071

The rest of our pre-election coverage can be found in our news archives at:

www.rochester-citynews.com/gbase/Gyrosite/Archive?searchPhrase=§ion=oid%3A1132&category=&releaseDate=

Following is a list of the website addresses for various candidates running for public office:

Maggie Brooks, candidate for county executive:

www.monroegop.com/frame_set.htm?hotraces.htm~mainFrame

Bill Johnson, candidate for county executive:

www.billjohnson2003.com

Mike Green, candidate for District Attorney:

www.mikegreen4da.com/

Ann Marie Taddeo, candidate for District Attorney:

www.monroegop.com/docs/ann_marie_taddeo_brochure.pdf

Jason Crane, candidate for City Council:

www.jasoncrane.org

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