By Timothy Chipp email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — Pretty soon, the political mailings will end, the commercials will stop airing and voters will be asked to make a choice in Lewiston between village Trustee Dennis Brochey and town Councilman Ernie Palmer for supervisor.
Picking one of the candidates may be difficult since, as far as the issues go, they're saying some of the same stuff. Both are business owners. Both talk of scaling back plans for Joseph Davis State Park, which the town has taken a lead role in attempting to renovate and even add to despite not being town property. Both have taken stances against the pending expansion plans of Chemical Waste Management's landfill one mile from the Lewiston-Porter School District campus.
But one area they don't agree on is the current state of town finances and what to do about spending in the town.
"Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been wasted on poorly planned projects and, as in the case of Joseph Davis State Park, on land we do not own," Brochey, the endorsed Democrat, said. "Common sense is needed here and more public input must be heard."
Brochey said he'd offer residents a new approach following a tumultuous few years under current Supervisor Steve Reiter, who is currently at the heart of a FBI probe into results of a 2011 state comptroller audit alleging misuse of town equipment and improper handling of the town's gas supply.
Though Reiter lost a primary bid to Palmer for the Republican line, Brochey, 61, said the public trust is still broken between the people and the town's government and needs to be fixed.
"Many residents are furious and in disbelief with the remaining board members supposedly lack of knowledge of any of this," he said. "People's trust in our town government must be restored and the only way to do this is with new leadership. I'm offering a new approach with many new ideas. There are fourteen districts in the Town of Lewiston. Recently I have made contact with several individuals who have shown an interest in becoming a district representative of their own areas.
"This could help form a more open town government and to speed up issues that need addressing that have not been taken care of in the past. This one representative could be the voice of hundreds of others who may not be able to come forth at every town hall meeting with important issues. It would be easier for me as a supervisor to meet with one individual representing many others than for me to meet with scores of others with the same issues."
While Palmer, a member of the town's current representative board, has called Reiter a friend, he has spent his campaign trying to distance himself from the supervisor.
He recognized Reiter's legal trouble through a primary battle against him in September, offering tough words promising to end the need for investigations of town leaders if elected. In addition, he's also stepping away from Reiter's financial practices, saying he's much more classically conservative than the current town leader.
"I consider myself to be much more conservative in spending than the current supervisor," Palmer said. "I believe in managing the town much like you would manage your own house. Live within your means and don't buy things you can't afford. It's that simple. I wish the federal government would follow that practice."
With this approach, he said he would not vote to implement a town tax at any point in his administration if elected, a value he's maintained since elected and one he said he'd continue to uphold as long as he's an elected official.
One of the larger money items the town is currently pursuing is development at Joseph Davis State Park, where Reiter has been attempting to build docks and a campground on state-owned property. Palmer said he'd be heavily scaling back the town's investment in the park if elected.
He's also pursuing some form of economic compensation from the New York Power Authority concerning emergency services provided by town resources like fire and police departments. The law doesn't allow the state agency to contribute any money to special district budgets like the fire protection district Upper Mountain Fire Co. patrols.
But last month, Palmer motioned a resolution the board adopted unanimously asking the state legislature to overturn this law or to make it possible for the town to tax NYPA for the purpose of providing these emergency services.
"I will continue my efforts to require NYPA to reimburse the town for first responder services provided," he said. "NYPA property equals approximately 50 percent of the entire town's assessment, but the amount received by the town through the relicensing effort is paltry compared to the services they receive. NYPA is quick to provide revenue for communities nowhere near Lewiston but provides very little to its 'home' community. That has to change."
A week ago, Palmer was accused of using a taxpayer-funded newsletter to promote his campaign. In an article in the Niagara Falls Reporter, town Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Roberts said Palmer's appearance in "Councilman's Corner," a spot usually featuring Reiter and the supervisor's update of town proceedings, was a lot like a campaign move days before voters decide the next leader.
But Palmer said his presence in the newsletter, run by fellow councilman and Republican Michael Marra, had nothing to do with politics.
"What exactly is the fear here?" he said. "That our residents might find out what government is doing for them? The silly season is apparently upon us. It is my job to inform residents of what is happening in the town. So am I forbidden from doing that? My understanding is that (Reiter) declined to write a piece and Mike Marra asked me to write something in his place. There certainly was no political intent. There was no mention of any political campaign in the article and I thought it was a good idea to let people know what is going on. That is the point of the newsletter. It is political for anyone to infer that it was politically motivated."
Palmer said he'd consider circulating the newsletter's column piece among elected officials, including the town clerk and highway superintendent, if elected.
Brochey also said the newsletter serves a greater purpose and would continue publishing it to provide information to residents.
Palmer wasn't alone in facing heat this month. Brochey was the focus of a recent political mailing paid for by the Niagara County Conservative Party stating the candidate had not voted in 18 of the previous 20 November elections. The mailing says to not cast a vote "for a candidate who couldn't be bothered to cast his."
But Brochey called the piece a "mudslinging mailer" against him, sloughing off the message as a distraction from the real issues the voters will decide to respond to at the polls.
"Corruption, secrecy, lack of accountability, lack of transparency and wasteful spending are the serious issues facing Lewiston other than my voting record," he said.
With decision day looming, Brochey said he's willing to work with the rest of the town board to make his presence work if elected.
"In order to implement the changes I feel are needed, if elected the very first thing I am going to do is reach out to the other members of the town board," he said. "Good government cannot be based on the ideas or wishes of a single person, but need to consider the collective input of the residents and all of the elected officials who are trusted to represent them. The board and I will be able to forge a strong working relationship based on the things we have in common, not the least of which is that we all care deeply about our community."
Meanwhile, Palmer said his time serving as a representative for seven years has opened his eyes to how a government should operate and he's ready to use his experience to make the town better.
"Through my seven years experience on the town board I have had an opportunity to work with two supervisors who were complete opposites," Palmer said. "I learned much from both, and along the way, I have gotten the feel for what Lewiston residents expect from their leadership. That is important. And I will turn that education into effective leadership for all of Lewiston."
Brochey, a village resident, is married to his wife, Cathy, and the father to two adult children. Palmer is married to his wife, Michelle, and has five adult daughters and three grandchildren.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.