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Dems hopeful for an upset in Greece


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For a community with a population of fewer than 100,000, Greece's scandals rival those of much larger places. Over the last decade, the town has been mired in the kinds of controversies, investigations, wrongdoings, and high-profile court cases that are usually reserved for nighttime television drama.

The Greece Police Department became an algae bloom of criminal transgressions, culminating in the town's former police chief going to prison for tampering with evidence. And a former tax assessor was caught in a kickback scheme with an Eastman Kodak executive.

An FBI investigation of the Town of Greece has been under way for months, though it's not clear what the inquiry is about. Another police officer has been placed on involuntary leave. And a court case challenging the town's practice of opening Town Board meetings with a Christian prayer has risen to the level of the US Supreme Court, with a decision expected in November.

Not surprisingly, Greece Democrats see opportunity in all of this. Since many of the scandals have involved Republicans, Dems say that this could be the year that breaks the GOP's longtime stranglehold on elected office in the town.

But it won't be easy.

Voters will decide on four council seats this year: Democrat Timothy Holler is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Barry in Ward 1; Democrat Wendy Wright is challenging Republican incumbent Brett Granville in Ward 2; Democrat Rita Garretson is challenging Republican incumbent Andrew Conlon in Ward 3; and Democrat Norma Cummings is challenging Republican incumbent Kirk Morris in Ward 4.

But the biggest prize up for grabs is town supervisor. Greece has been led by John Auberger, a Republican, since the late 1990's. But terms limits are forcing Auberger out. There are two contenders to fill the job: former Monroe County Legislator Dick Beebe, a Democrat, and State Assembly member Bill Reilich, who is also chair of the county Republican Committee.

Beebe says that he'll bring openness to Greece's government through robust citizen participation — something that he says has been sorely lacking. Its absence partly explains why Greece has endured so many scandals, he says.

"We've heard a lot of people say that they've tried to get basic information or help from the supervisor's office and they were ignored," Beebe says.

But more than anything else, he says, residents are concerned about Greece's reputation.

"People don't want to be embarrassed anymore to say they live here," Beebe says.

Residents are worried that the town's diminished reputation is impacting small businesses, home values, and the town's once-comfortable lifestyle, he says.

Reilich says that he shares some of those concerns, and that he's the candidate best suited to address them. Reilich is a former business owner, and says that his background is what's needed to face the town's growing service and financial demands, without raising taxes.

Both candidates say that Greece is fortunate to have a strong tax base, but that there's room for expansion by attracting new businesses. And they say that although Greece isn't growing at the pace it once did, that easing traffic congestion and preventing commercial growth from encroaching into neighborhoods are issues that still concern voters.

While Beebe and the Democratic lineup urge voters to dump incumbents to restore integrity to public service in Greece, Reilich flips that debate. He says that individual politicians, not the Republican Party, have been at fault in Greece. And he says that Democrats have credibility problems, too, pointing out the demise of top Democratic officials including former governor Eliot Spitzer and former Representative Anthony Weiner.

But Beebe says that the problems for Republicans go deeper than the stains from former officials. He says that Republicans fail to recognize that the town is composed of a diverse set of communities ranging from older ethnic neighborhoods that border the city, to higher-income neighborhoods near the lake. And Democrats have a better record of uniting diverse communities, he says.

Beebe says that the key to the race will be voter turnout. Although registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the town, nearly one-third of Greece's voters aren't registered with any political party. Those residents will determine the outcome in November, Beebe says.


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