At least three new council members were voted into office Tuesday night, but the city's balance of political power remains the same.
Democratic Mayor Michelle Roman dispatched GOP challenger David Wohleben, but Republicans are poised to hold their council majority.
The GOP ended the night victorious in four of its five competitive council races. Ellen M. Schratz won the alderman-at-large race, Luke D. Kantor won the 2nd Ward race, Kelly L. Van De Mark was elected to a full term representing the 4th Ward and 5th Ward Alderman Rick E. Abbott won a third full term on the council.
The 1st Ward race between incumbent Republican Joseph P. Oates and retired city police officer Paul M. Beakman, Jr. appeared too close to call Tuesday night. Oates ended the night up 404 to 396, but the remaining absentee ballots — 205 were cast throughout the city — could tip the race in favor of Beakman, the Democratic candidate.
The absentee ballots appear unlikely to change the outcomes of the remaining races.
In her second race in two years, Roman defeated Wohleben, the 4th Ward alderman, 2,501 to 1,937.
Schratz, 62, who serves as the president of the Historic Palace Theatre board of directors, defeated Douglas Nicholson, a retired firefighter, 2,417 to 1,869. Kantor, 37, who runs outreach and admissions for Iroquois Job Corps, beat sheet metal worker Steven Allore 641 to 443.
"I'm glad all the walking paid off," Kantor said.
Van De Mark, 40, an insurance business analyst who briefly represented the 4th Ward last year, defeated Christopher Toland, a media production student at Buffalo State College, 497 to 283.
"I'm definitely looking forward to working with this team," Van De Mark said. "I think we'll make a lot of positive progress."
And Abbott, 67, a plant safety coordinator for People, Inc., held off his latest challenge from Amanda Alexander, a school secretary and former alderman, 547 to 446.
Treasurer Sue Mawhiney, who was backed by local Republicans, defeated Democratic challenger Michael MacDonald 2,687 to 1,609. Third Ward Alderman Mark S. Devine, a registered Republican who had city Democrats' backing, won an uncontested race for a third term. Devine, a retired firefighter, serves as the council president.
Roman holds mayor's office
The 2019 election produced a commanding victory for Roman, who will be the first Democratic mayor to serve a full term of office since Mayor Thomas Sullivan, who lost to Republican Michael Tucker in 2003.
"I hope that people saw that I was running on the issues and that they liked what I was bringing to the table," Roman said.
Roman, 48, a special education teacher at Holley Central School District, entered last year's brief mayoral race that was prompted by the resignation of Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey, who stepped down in August 2018 to become the CEO of Eastern Niagara Hospital. McCaffrey's resignation resulted in Wohleben becoming acting mayor and Van De Mark eventually stepping into the vacant 4th Ward alderman post.
An amendment to the city charter, overwhelmingly passed by city voters in 2016, requires a mayoral election to be held in the November following the mayor's resignation, as long as the vacancy occurs before Sept. 20. The newly elected mayor then serves the remainder of the former mayor's term.
But in the special election, the Niagara County Republican Committee backed county legislature Chairman Keith McNall over Wohleben. McNall, who is behind Democratic challenger Anita Mullane 1,659 to 1,571 in his latest reelection bid, went on to lose the mayor's race to Roman 3,327 to 2,916.
Roman ran in 2018 on a platform of increasing transparency, increasing direct citizen involvement in city government and establishing better relations with city employees.
In her first term, she hosted several public forums, reestablished the anti-discrimination Human Relations Commission and formed a Citizens Advisory Committee to gauge public interest in amending the city charter.
Roman recently said in her next term, she will pursue a less-restrictive, form-based zoning code; create a registry of vacant properties; and reconsider the city’s overnight street parking restriction.
Roman said she can continue to work with a majority Republican council.
"We have worked together in the past 10 months. I think when we put aside the politics of everything and just think about the community, we're able to get stuff done," Roman said.
Wohleben's loss leaves him without an office in city hall after Dec. 31, since he elected to run for mayor rather than another term on the council.
Wohleben, 56, who is retired after a 33-year career with the U.S. Air Force, was elected to the council in 2015 and was immediately appointed council president by McCaffrey. Upon McCaffrey's resignation, Wohleben sought the Republican nomination for mayor, but was passed up in favor of McNall. Wohleben launched his latest bid for mayor in February and recently unveiled a series of proposals to incentivize home repairs, consider renewable energy projects and improve city responses to complaints.
"We ran a good race, we did what we thought we'd have to do, and now it's time for me to retire," Wohleben said.