Niagara Gazette

November 4, 2013

Supervisor faces newcomer in Wheatfield race

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — He may have been a reluctant candidate in 2009, but four years later Wheatfield Town Supervisor Robert Cliffe is more than ready for a third term.

“I think we’re doing a great job,” he said. “I still think I’m the best candidate for the job and I’m looking for at least one more term.”

However, the former town justice may face his most formidable challenge yet in fellow Republican, but endorsed Democratic candidate, Thomas Larson.

“I submitted my petitions to the Republican party,” Larson said. “But word got out about my ideas and the county Democratic chairman became aware of my positions and allowed me to run on the Democratic line”

Larson did challenge Cliffe for the GOP nomination, but was turned back in the September primary election setting up the general election showdown this Tuesday.

In an interesting twist, the incumbent is running on his four-year record in office, while the challenger claims that record is the reason for a change.

“I think it boils down to this current supervisor has been bad for town residents as it relates to taxes and (public) services,” Larson said. 

Cliffe disputes that charge.

“Taxes have gone down each of the last four years,” Cliffe said, “and we’ve maintained all the normal things a town is supposed to do.”

The supervisor said his greatest challenge in his first two terms was “getting the town’s finances back in shape.” In 2009, a state audit showed the town was between $600,000 and $700,000 in the red. 

The town now has a reported $2.5 million surplus.

However, Larson says the surplus shows town residents are over-taxed.

“After four years we have a $2.5 million dollar surplus and the supervisor’s proposed (2014) budget would have an additional surplus,” Larson said. “The surplus is a result of over taxation. That’s the crux of my argument.”

Larson wants to repeal a highway use tax that was enacted in 2009 to deal with the town’s budget deficit. Cliffe claims his 2014 budget would eliminate the highway tax, but Larson disputes that. 

The candidates also differ over the quality of town services. Cliffe admits some residents have complained about changes in services, including included increased community center fees.

Still he points to plans for improvements at town parks and the start of work on a greenway trail as priorities for his next term.

“I would say (my priorities) are primarily the park improvements and keeping our finances in order,” Cliffe said. “Things are actually very good in Wheatfield right now.”

Larson says he’ll make sure the highway use tax is “completely” repealed and improve town services including renewed and expanded mosquito spraying.

“Our residents can’t enjoy their backyards in the summer,” Larson said. “We have been over-taxed, our services have been cut and things don’t make a lot of sense, like raising the fees for community center use. They are raising rates when we have bigger and bigger surpluses.”

Wheatfield voters will also select two council members. 

Democrat and Working Families party candidates Shirley Joy and Judy Blake will face off against incumbent Republican, Conservative and Independent party council member Arthur Gerbec and political newcomer Randy Retzlaff, who also has the Republican. Conservative and Independent party lines. 

Thomas Larson • AGE: 54 • FAMILY: Married for 35 years, with two adopted children and one child of their own. • EDUCATION: Graduated from Niagara County Community College with an Associates degree in Science Pre-Engineering Cum Laude. Graduated from the University at Buffalo with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering Cum Laude. Graduated from the University at Buffalo with a Master of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering. • EMPLOYMENT: Worked as an electronic technician at Bell Aerospace Textron. Was also employed at the UB Office of Medical Computing, for the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences as a Computer and Network Analyst and was an engineer for UB at Roswell Park Cancer Institute Pre-clinical MRI facility. He served three years in the U.S. Army and is currently a Master Sergeant in the 107th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard, serving as a biomedical equipment technician. • POLITICAL AFFILIATION: He is a registered Republican running as the Democratic party candidate. • EXPERIENCE: Larson is a political newcomer. This is his first run for elective office. Robert Cliffe • AGE: 63 • FAMILY: Married for 41 years, with two sons and two daughters. Two of his children are adults and two are in college. • EDUCATION: Graduated from the University at Buffalo with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a minor in English. • EMPLOYMENT: Worked for 16 years in management at Voss Manufacturing and is currently employed as a manager at Helmel Engineering Products Inc. • POLITICAL AFFILIATION: He is the endorsed Republican, Independent, Conservative and Working Families party candidate. • EXPERIENCE: He has served two terms as town supervisor and a term on the Wheatfield Board of Education. Cliffe was also was elected four times and served 13 1/2 years as a Lewiston Town Court Justice.