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Grand Island: Coalition team scores election wins over GOP

Sat, Nov 7th 2015 09:30 am
Campaign signs were a common sight at Island polling places Tuesday, including outside of the Grand Island Memorial Library, the polling place for districts 2 and 11. (Photo by Alice E. Gerard)
Campaign signs were a common sight at Island polling places Tuesday, including outside of the Grand Island Memorial Library, the polling place for districts 2 and 11. (Photo by Alice E. Gerard)

Supervisor race too close to call

By Larry Austin

Island Dispatch Editor

Challengers to the Island's Republican-endorsed candidates scored victories in Tuesday's general election.

Democrat Nathan McMurray held a two-vote lead over incumbent Republican Mary Cooke in the race for town supervisor. Independence Party member Beverly Kinney and Republican Mike Madigan won their first terms in the five-way race for two seats on the Town Board. They topped Democrat Cyndy Montana, incumbent Conservative Party member Gary Roesch, and Jim Maloney, who ran on the GI Taxpayers line. Republican Sybil Kennedy, endorsed by the Democrats, beat GOP primary winner Mark Nemeth in the race for town justice. Town Clerk Pattie Frentzel was unopposed for re-election.

"I tell you what. I've never been so excited about a group of people that I call 'The Team,' " said Democratic Party Chairman Jim Sharpe of his slate of McMurray, Montana, Kinney and Kennedy. "I mean, this is definitely a team of people who basically together jelled into one message and purely had the intention of (putting) Grand Island first in all possibilities that are in front of us."

Kinney said teamwork helped the challengers carry the day.

"I think that we ran as a team, we had a clear message. I think the message really resonated because it really impacted people in what affects them in their everyday life," Kinney said.

Cooke said she was not surprised by a close election for supervisor, which awaits a count of absentee ballots. Affidavit and absentee votes in this year's election will be counted Nov. 17.

"I wasn't sure. You never know going into an election. You're very hopeful that it wouldn't come down to this kind of nail-biter but, no, I'm not surprised. Anything can happen," Cooke said, noting there have been similar close races on the Island in recent elections. Norm Mrkall once won the highway superintendent race by one vote. In 2003, Roesch, in his first run for public office, went to bed election night thinking he lost to Kevin Rustowicz by 35 votes and woke up to discover he led by one vote. After affidavit and absentee ballots were counted, Roesch won by 13.

The challenger slate met at Town Cafe election night to tabulate the polling results and stayed with supporters late into the night to celebrate. Town Cafe was a multi-party party, with members of the Republican, Democratic and Independence party on hand.

"It's just overwhelming," Kinney said of the election. "It is so inspiring to be a part of something like this because it really is what our country is all about, and every once in awhile you need a little dose of this to remind you that this is what our country is all about, what democracy is all about. And it gives you hope and it gives you inspiration, it makes you feel amazing, and you see it in this whole crowd tonight."

"I could not be happier. I'm ecstatic," said Sharpe at election night headquarters at Town Cafe.

"I think the message is we want an open transparent government, we want a government that people participate in, one that is in tune to the beliefs of Grand Island, that at their backyard is special, that they will decide and they have decided through the process of building our master plan. "

"What we have here tonight is really remarkable," McMurray said as he looked at the Town Cafe crowd. "We had a cross-party coalition of friends who were standing up to the party bosses. It's amazing. ... Look at this group. Talk to them. Who are they? Are they Democratic Party people? No."

"You know this guy here? You know what he just told me? 'I never voted for a Democrat in my life. I voted for you.' But that's my group," McMurray said.

"As the chairman of the Democratic Party, my intention is to bring forward good leaders, ones that are in tune to our community, ones that have our community first," Sharpe said. "And, yes, we've turned around and endorsed a Republican judge, we've endorsed an independent candidate named Beverly Kinney, and we have two very strong Democratic candidates with Nathan and Cyndy Montana. What comes first in my book is good leadership, leadership that is going to take us into the future, and leadership that will pay attention to what the people of Grand Island really want. Having a 15-minute board meeting is not representative of our community. Our community needs to be more about open conversations about issues that we're facing and getting a consensus as to where we go as a community, not be directed by five people on a Town Board who feel they have their vision of Grand Island that I believe is out of sync with the people of Grand Island."

Kennedy was re-elected town justice over Nemeth, the town prosecutor, who had edged her in the Republican Party primary in September.

"I'm very pleased," Kennedy said before praising Nemeth for his campaign. "We had agreed to run a clean race, and no dirty stuff, and I think we kept it that way between the two of us. And I'm happy that I'm going to be able to continue the programs that I've started and help some kids on Grand Island because I'm really concerned about drugs on Grand Island. And so I'm glad that I'm going to have the opportunity to keep on going. And domestic violence, the same way. Those are our two biggest problems and those are the ones that concern me the most."

Kennedy had no hard feelings for the Republican Party leadership that did not endorse her for re-election despite her 16 years on the bench. She gained the endorsement from the Democrats.

"Everybody's entitled to their own thoughts," Kennedy said of the endorsement snub. "I'm glad the people that did vote for me did because it's going to go let me do my work for another four years. I would probably do the job for free because I really want to help people. That's my goal. I'm not in it for anything political. I have no intentions of going anyplace. I never wanted to. I just wanted to help the people of Grand Island. That's all. That's been my goal for 16 years."

No one would blame Kennedy if she gloated after her win.

"Are you kidding? I'm not that type of a person. I don't want to," Kennedy said. "No, I wish them all well."

Madigan thanked Island residents and promised to work hard and follow through on his commitments.

"I would like to congratulate Beverly Kinney for her victory. I would also like to say that Gary and Cyndy worked hard and earned respect and should take great pride in what they achieved," Madigan said. "Gary for his great service these past 12 years and Cyndy proved that she was a worthy opponent who in her first try came really close to pulling off a great victory. She did her supporters and party proud."

Montana was proud of the effort she made in her first try for elected office.

"I cannot be more proud. I came in; I'm totally green, new to politics. All I want to do is just help make Grand Island better," Montana said. "I didn't know what I was doing, but Jim Sharpe and the whole team that we had, we worked so well together."

Montana said her father passed away in June and she was with him for a month and a half, missing part of the campaign, and still nearly won the second of two seats up for election.

"So how can I complain? And you know the best part? I ran a clean campaign, and I'm very proud of that because there was a lot of dirt and mudslinging and I had nothing to do with that," Montana said. "And my signs were slashed, my face was ripped with a knife. It was awful, but I kept going."

After political signs were removed from their places during the campaign, Kinney and other candidates spoke at the Town Hall pointed the finger of blame at their government. At that time, the stress of the campaign was heard in her voice.

"No, it was definitely stressful, sometimes disappointing and challenging," Kinney said of the campaign. "But I think that as a candidate it's telling of what your character is if you can rise to that challenge. And I think this team of candidates rose to that challenge."

"There was a lot of adversity. It was just disheartening sometimes. Personally, I'm a stick-to-it person. And you just say you've got to work through it, you've got to drive through and come out the other side, and I think that's what I'm very good at doing."

McMurray and Montana said they received strong support from Republican voters. McMurray added that no matter the outcome of his race pending the absentee balloting, "the popular opinion of the Island, whether I win or lose, is with me, and the people of the Island want me. I've heard everywhere I go, people are like, 'We need change.' But they're better politicians. They thought they were going to win on their manipulation of the electorate, but they didn't, and I'm happy for Grand Island."

"It'll be a game-changer if I'm supervisor," McMurray said. "People are going to be happy coming to Town Hall. Town Hall will be a place where people are welcome."

McMurray noted the success of candidates challenging the endorsed Republican slate shows "people hate party politics, and the other side tried to rely on nativism and tribalism of party politics to protect them."

"They know they're not good. I'm sorry. What they offered the Island was cloned talking points from our campaign."

Montana was happy that the team's campaign, which used social media heavily, drew new voters to the Island election.

"We got people out that don't normally vote," she said. Like Montana, McMurray was making his first try for public office.

"I've never done this in my life. I didn't now what I was doing. Listen, everyone told me, 'Don't do it the way you're doing it.' I said I'm going to speak my mind and I'm going to be me. I'm not going to be a fake, and it worked, and people responded to it from all the parties. And you know what? It's not a small feat, because a guy like me should never win against a 23-year incumbent. I'm exactly the person that will not win. Overly educated, not known in the community well, but people respond to me because my message is true: Get off people's backs, Town Hall. And stop forcing your decisions about what Grand Island should be down their throats."

Candidates were disgusted with political advertisements that arrived in Island mailboxes the day before the election.

"Some said this was the dirtiest campaign that's ever been waged on Grand Island," said Sharpe. "My response to that is this was a conversation with us about what is going on Grand Island. From our perspective, we were discussing the issues that were facing Grand Island, and that's why Grand Island responded. We're talking about what development's going on and how it's going on, we talked about the decision-making that's been done by the Town Board that has not been openly discussed, and everything we put on our agenda for discussion was factual as to what was going on. They consider that negative advertising. My problem is when you have a piece show up on your doorstep on a Monday morning calling Grand Island 'we're going to have a circus.' To me, that was a personal attack on the character of the candidates who were running for office. If there was any negative campaign going on, it really wasn't done by this group, it was done by the incumbents."

Sharpe said the "circus" mailer came from Erie County GOP headquarters.

McMurray blasted the GOP for the mailer that likened the challenger's slate to a "three-ring circus."

"Lies, absolute lies. You saw that mailer," McMurray said. "They relied on every last ditch effort to make us lose."

Cooke took McMurray to task for his campaign blog that began in the spring, and for negative comments she heard about that originated on social media. Cooke said "there was a fair amount of Facebook trashing going on."

Asked about the mailers, Cooke said: "If we're going to talk about the mailers, then lets get them all out, but also some of that horrible negativity on the blog. I don't have a blog. I'm not going to do a blog. My record is online for everybody to see."

She said McMurray's blog "needs to be examined. There are serious mistruths and, I mean, they're there for people to see. It's wrong in my opinion to conduct a campaign that way."

"Facts are important and there is a serious lack of them. And at some point, and I don't know when it's going to be, but certainly I will make every effort between now and Dec. 31st, if Dec. 31st is my last day as supervisor, to help provide some of the facts that were lacking in this campaign," Cooke said. "And I am appalled at some of the things that my opponent has been writing since April. And I don't know how this moves our town forward. ... I mean, to say that our main street looks like Beirut. I mean, come on. You talk about negative. Why do you live here then if that's what you think of the town? So those kinds of things were very troubling."

Cooke also disliked the challenger's politicking with voters entering their polling place, which she called "almost an intrusion."

She also said she believed Maloney was responsible for the black and white signs that appeared election day urging voters not to vote for the incumbents.

Montana said of the campaign mailers, "It was tough to see that negative side of human beings but it certainly toughened my skin and I am so energized to help make Grand Island better that, yeah, I think even today, even after that circus flyer yesterday, I think I will run in two years. And I'm so glad that Bev got in. She deserved it. She's going to be awesome. And Nathan, oh, my goodness. I hope the numbers hold up because he's going to be a real leader that sees the big picture and has a vision. Grand Island, in the next four to eight years, I think people are going to stand up and take notice because it's going to change and it's going to get better, and maybe we can make it grand again."

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