Article and Photo by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
Candidates who challenged the Republican-endorsed slate won upset victories in Tuesday’s primary election for the GOP line in Grand Island races in November.
Challenger Mike Madigan, a current councilmember, won the GOP primary for Grand Island town supervisor with 54.9% of the vote, defeating Peter Marston, the endorsed candidate, who garnered 44.8% of the vote, in unofficial voting results tabulated Tuesday night by the Erie County Board of Elections.
“In terms of the outcome of the primary, it was pretty decisive,” Madigan said. He ran a primary campaign with Dan Kilmer, a GOP Town Council candidate who also was the top vote-getter in his race. “I greatly appreciate the voters voting in support of us.”
He said a large number of people came out and volunteered to go door-to-door to talk to voters about their campaign.
“I’ve been on the Island for 36-plus years, and I’ve never seen a get-out-the-vote effort like what we saw,” Madigan said.
“We got a lot of great feedback. That feedback did educate us. I think there were some surprises. Development is a great example,” he added. “The current development that’s occurring, there’s a lot of opposition, and when I say a lot, it’s not just 60% … and an overwhelming majority have a lot of concerns about the overdevelopment on the Island, in particular the high density and the large warehouse.”
Marston has the Conservative line to run on in the general election. Although he lost the GOP primary, there’s something else that bothers him about electoral politics.
“I’m probably more just disappointed that the Island is that divided,” he said. “Especially amongst one party. That’s a little disheartening. But we’re going to do our best to work with the Conservative Party and everybody else and just go forward. We’re just going to make sure the Island has choices. The Island will do what the Island wants to do.”
Challenger Daniel Kilmer claimed victory with 37% of votes cast in the Republican race for one of two Town Council seats up for grabs in the general election.
The other GOP town council spot goes to incumbent Councilmember Thomas Digati, who captured 32.2% of the vote. Joseph Spinella came in third, winning 30.5% of the total votes cast. Spinella said he will run on the Conservative line in November.
Kilmer was appreciative of the victory.
“It felt that our message resonated with our base,” he said. “They spoke back to us during the election.”
He agreed with Madigan on the issue of development: “Maybe it seems weird that we forget this, but we’re an island. There’s only two ways on and off – north and south bridges. We’re not like an Amherst where you can take a side road to avoid traffic. So, we have a very unique perspective on development. We have to figure out how much this island can take before the bridges aren’t enough. We don’t want sprawl and we don’t want to be waiting 15 minutes to get on the Thruway entrance and exits.”
“Republicans are typically pro good development … but you have to tailor your development to where you are,” he said. “This is a beautiful place to live. Let’s keep it beautiful.”
Both Madigan and Kilmer stressed that, should they win in November, working together cooperatively as a whole, unified Town Council is a high priority.
Digati will carry both the GOP and Conservative lines in the general election.
He described his goals for Grand Island in a statement after the polls closed in a Republican gathering at the Niagara Sailing Club on election night.
Digati also earned the Conservative endorsement in his successful first run for the four-year council term in 2019. He said he believes the issues that dominated the primary will also be the crux of the campaign in the general election.
“I have a feeling the focus will be on what to do with development on the Island. Aside from that, I’m sure there will be others – the budget,” he said.
Digati stressed fiscal responsibility vs. fiscal conservatism in his primary campaign.
“Making sure that we not only appreciate what we’re going to pay in taxes next year but what the long-term financial stability of the town looks like. And not hitting our fund balances to use the fact that we didn’t raise taxes and we stayed within the tax cap as a piece of political fodder,” he said. “I care about doing what’s right for the community, and that’s going to continue to be my approach.”
Spinella was disappointed by election results Tuesday night.
“Well, it’s not going as well as we expected it to go,” he said. “I’m new to the political platform and I think that we’ll get out there, and we still have the Conservative line we can roll on. I think we have a good platform to stand on. I think were on the side of what’s responsible. … I think being fiscally foolish is really not a great plan. I want to do what’s right for the town. We want to make sure we’re fiscally stable going forward and we don’t get hit with something down the line.”
He said the goal is to work as a team “not as adversaries like a lot of it has been in the past.”
Longtime incumbent Town Clerk Pattie Frentzel, as a write-in candidate, wrested the Working Families ballot spot from George Hauss, who will run on the Democratic line in the fall. Frentzel now has the Republican, Conservative and Working Families lines going into the general election.
Frentzel, in part, patterned her Working Families primary campaign on the successful write-in campaign of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. He won a fifth term on a wave of write-ins in 2022.
“My write-in campaign was a success, and I appreciate all of the Working Families voters who went in and wrote my name on the ballots,” Frentzel said. “I sent out a letter describing my qualifications running for town clerk and then instructions on how to fill out a ballot on a write-in campaign.”
Frentzel won 11 votes, or 78.6%, to Hauss’ three, or 21.4%.
Mark Nemeth at this point is running unopposed as town justice. He has both the Republican and Conservative endorsements.
“I petitioned to get on the Democrat line and I got enough petitions to get on there,” he said. “The Democrat Committee told me that they were not going to endorse me, but they’re not going to oppose me, either.”
He has the Working Families line, as well.
“I ran twice, in 2015 and 2019, and it was all about experience and about what I could do on the bench,” Nemeth said.
He has been a lawyer for 30 years and, before winning the town judge seat in 2019, he served as Grand Island town prosecutor since 2004.
GOP-endorsed candidates and the Grand Island Republican Committee chairwoman gathered to monitor primary election results on Tuesday night at the Niagara Sailing Club on East River Road. From left: incumbent Town Clerk Pattie Frentzel, Town Council candidate Joseph Spinella, supervisor candidate and current Town Councilmember Peter Marston, incumbent Councilmember Tom Digati, incumbent Town Justice Mark Nemeth and GOP Committee Chairwoman Kristin Ochs.