Election Day was good to Erie County Democrats, especially in the top-ticket races.
In the year’s marquee race, Mark Poloncarz beat Republican Chrissy Casilio by a resounding 18 points, winning an unprecedented fourth term as Erie County executive. And Democrats preserved their 7-to-4 majority in the Erie County Legislature, as incumbents in three competitive districts handily fended off Republican and Conservative challengers.
In town and village elections, however, the results had a more purplish hue, as Democrats and Republicans alike made gains in areas that once were single-party fiefdoms.
“In the suburbs, the towns that are flipping are continuing to do so,” a veteran political operative told Investigative Post Tuesday night, after the polls had closed and unofficial results were nearly complete.
Final tallies will not be certified until after county elections officials do a final count, which will begin next week. In especially close races — such as the contest for Cheektowaga town supervisor, where just three dozen votes separate the two candidates — final results may take much longer. None of the roughly 150 races in Erie County were nearly as close as that one, except in tiny Brant, where one vote separated two candidates for town council.
Democrats continued to build on years of gains in Amherst and Tonawanda — solid red redoubts, once upon a time — winning most of the contested races in those two towns. The only success for Tonawanda Republicans was Jenna Koch, a Democrat who was reelected as town council president on the Republican and Conservative lines, after a falling-out with her own party.
Democrats also gained two council seats in the Town of Aurora, usually a bastion of Republicanism.
But the GOP fared well down-ballot, too.
Republicans appear to have swept the table in West Seneca, where Democrats used to rule the roost, and in Lancaster, where Democrats have been losing ground for a decade.
In Hamburg, where voters elected a Democrat as town supervisor two years ago, Republicans won both council seats on the ballot. The leading vote-getter in the four-way race, Frank Bogulski, may pose a more credible challenger to Town Supervisor Randy Hoak than did former Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw in 2021.
And then there’s Cheektowaga, long dominated by Democrats, albeit the conservative variety that favored Richard Nixon in 1972 and Donald Trump in 2016.
There, Republicans appear to have won two of the three council seats up for grabs.
The town supervisor race remains too close to call. At the end of the night, Democrat Brian Nowak led Republican Michael Jasinski by just 36 votes. Both are town council members, so whoever wins will vacate his seat.
Nowak, in his second term on the council, entered politics as a local organizer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential election. He’s a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who drives a delivery truck for his day job.
If Nowak holds on to his slender lead, he will succeed Diane Benczkowski, a conservative Democrat who endorsed Jasinski. The race was vicious, with Jasinski and Benczkowski accusing Nowak of bribery (among other offenses) and leading a failed vote to censure him in the two months before the election. Erie County District Attorney found “no evidence of criminal conduct” by Nowak.
The mudslinging may have cost Nowak support, but his progressive politics likely did, too. In 2019, Benczkowski beat off a Republican challenger by 10 percentage points — a margin much more in keeping with Democrats’ enrollment advantage in the town.
“Famously blue Cheektowaga is looking awfully purple,” said the political operative, who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans.
The City of Niagara Falls race for mayor saw plenty of mudslinging this election cycle, too as Investigative Post reported: Carlton Cain, the Republican challenger to incumbent Democrat Rob Restaino, was dogged by allegations of misconduct during his career with the city’s police department — including twice losing his service weapon.
Restaino beat Cain by just over 200 votes, a hair under 3 percent of the total vote, according to preliminary tallies. Democrats also won two city council races and a county legislature seat in Lockport.
Some further observations:
- Turnout was somewhat lower in the race for county executive than in 2019, when Poloncarz beat former TV news reporter and Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon by seven percentage points. That year, about 216,000 voters cast ballots in the race. The preliminary total so far is fewer than 200,000 — about 32 percent of the county’s registered voters.
- Even with the low turnout, Poloncraz pulled in 2,000 more votes this year than he did in 2019. Casilio got 18,000 fewer votes than Dixon, who was a well-known name to voters and had some cross-party appeal. Casilio, a first-time candidate, did not bring that to the table.
- The lack of contested races may have contributed to the low turnout. Voters had no choice in about 55 percent of races on ballots across Erie County this year, aside from writing in a candidate’s name or not voting at all.
- There were multiple candidates in four of nine Buffalo Common Council races, but the endorsed Democrats won all those seats handily. As a result, there will be women on the Council — Leah Halton-Pope for Ellicott District and Zeneta Everhart for Masten District — for the first time since 2014.
- One eyebrow-raising Council result: In the Lovejoy District, incumbent Democrat Bryan Bollman won a second term easily. But Republican David McElroy pulled 26 percent of the vote in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans eight-to-one.