by Susan Mikula Campbell
Primaries tend to pass by without much attention or voter turnout, unless a major state or national office is in contention.
Wheatfield, however, will have a large primary Sept. 14 in an area that in the memory of local officials has never occurred -- who sits on the Wheatfield Republican Committee.
Each of the town's 11 districts has two Republican committeemen. When there are vacancies, the committee generally interviews and endorses interested residents to fill those seats without challenge. This year, every one of the 11 districts has at least one challenger, if not two, leading to the need for a primary.
The town's general election last November was rocked by scandal. Budget problems, disagreements with his fellow Republicans on the Town Board and an alleged affair with a town employee led ultimately to the unseating of 14-year Supervisor Timothy Demler. The Wheatfield Republican Committee, in an unprecedented move, withdrew their endorsement for Demler's campaign and instead brought in former Town Justice Robert Cliffe as the Republican candidate. Cliffe successfully won the supervisor's seat.
Demler's name is not on the list of recommended Republican committee members this year, nor are the names of husband and wife members Charles and Donna Cederman. The town has brought a lawsuit against Charles Cederman, former town historian, for not returning allegedly town-owned camera equipment or archives of photos he took during his long tenure as historian.
While some party members say the primary race for the committee seats is an attempt by Demler to wrest back control of the party, Demler this week denied it, saying that he did not organize friends to challenge a total of 20 committee seatings, except for his running mate Jay Topolski, Ron Dworzanski and his own 21-year-old daughter. He said a statewide group called Primary Challenge is encouraging citizens to run for office.
"It's an effort, I think by residents, to take back the committee," Demler said.
Demler, who has been a committeeman for 12 years and said he considers himself an incumbent in the primary, also questioned whether the committee could legally endorse anyone for the seats.
Republican Committee Chairman James Heuer said his group continues to be successful and well represent the town by being made up of both newer and seasoned members who provide a mix of experience and new ideas.
"Our committee has consistently delivered by endorsing and carrying the petitions for Republican candidates to get on the ballot. The results of our efforts have led to every elected office in the Town of Wheatfield currently being held by a Republican. We have achieved this by supporting candidates who are honest, hard-working and serve the best interests of the Town of Wheatfield," he said.
Heuer said people chosen as committeemen have proved themselves by being involved in the community for years, doing volunteer work and serving on volunteer committees, coaching sports and leading Boy Scouts.
He suggested that some of the challengers might not be as community-minded.
Patti Weiss, committee co-chairman, said some of the challengers already had committee seats on the County Committee by serving in the City of Niagara Falls, but still are calling themselves newcomers.
When the Wheatfield group has more people interested in serving as committeemen than there are seats available, they routinely recommend those people to the County Committee so they can be appointed to other areas in this state Assembly district that have openings, she said.
"Clearly this shows they are trying to take over the Wheatfield Committee if you notice there is enough room for all the challengers to be on the Niagara Falls Committee and no need for primaries," she said.
In addition, she said, two of the primary challengers, a husband and wife, were invited to come in to interview with the committee after it was decided not to seat Demler and the Cedermans, but they never showed up for the interview. Those the committee ultimately decided to endorse requested and received interviews, she said.
"One of the most important responsibilities of being a committee person is to carry petitions for the endorsed candidates," she added, pointing out that several of the challengers didn't even carry petitions for themselves for the primary.
It wasn't that easy for everyone. One of the challengers had to work extra hard to stay on the ballot.
A mix-up on his petition address caused Craig Schultz' petition to be challenged. He had moved to a new address. The State Supreme Court upheld placement on the ballot, and that decision was upheld in State Appellate Court late last month. The challenge to his candidacy was a needless waste of taxpayers' money, Schultz said.
"Tim Demler has nothing to do with my decision to not only fight to get where I am, but also to run," he said, adding Demler is a friend he sometimes agrees with and sometimes strongly disagrees with.
Schultz, a former town animal control officer, said he wanted to run because he felt the town is not moving in a positive direction with current committee people supporting their own political agenda, and because he believes it is a conflict of interest for people to serve on the committee when they already hold public office, such as his opponent, Councilman Larry Helwig.
Registered Republicans in Wheatfield will be asked to choose two people in each district for Wheatfield Republican County Committee. Those indicated on this list with an (*) are those chosen by the local committee.
District 1: Larry L. Helwig*, Bruce R. Bowen*, Craig M. Schultz.
District 2: Robert J. O'Toole*, Linda Ross*, David T. Lee, Michelle L. Campbell.
District 3: Kenneth A. Retzlaff*, Arthur F. Kroening*, James P. Connell, Lisa L. Demler.
District 4: Gilbert G. Doucet*, James D. Heuer*, Julie O. Forcucci, Matthew J. Forcucci.
District 5: Marc S. Courtney, Anthony C. Barone, Michael A. Gurnett*, Kenneth J. Berner Jr.*
District 6: Robert B. Cliffe*, Walter D. Garlow*, Charles D. Cederman, Donna I. Cederman.
District 7: Arthur W. Gerbec*, Patti L. Weiss*, Sharon A. Rosebrock, John J. Petrozzi II.
District 8: Jeffrey Rinaldo, Paul V. Greinert*, William R. Besecker*.
District 9: Winston E. Moeller*, Roger D. Lance Jr.*, Ronald P. Dworzanski, Marc J. Werth.
District 10: William E. Buerger*, Karen McKernan*, Timothy E. Demler, Jay A. Topolski.
District 11: Kevin W. Forcucci, John K. Rosebrock, Terrance J. McIntyre*, Richard W. Crossley*.