* This article previously contained an error. Glenn Massarotti did not call Cheryl Hauger a crook; instead, he said it was “a crock” that Hauger did not going to attend one of the election debates. The sentence was erroneously changed in the editing process. Yellow Scene regrets this error.
Municipal politics in Erie used to get compared to the Wild West quite a bit—with gun-slinging cowboy candidates firing shots will nilly, and pro-growthers and anti-growthers fighting like rival tribes.
Then, over several years, Erie’s elections became more mild than wild. Life in this fast-growing former mining town seemingly went on happily and domestically.
However, the imagery of the shoot out at the OK Corral is once again relevant—as metaphorical bullets have been fired. With residents angered over contentious issues like the Bonanza Drive extension and the closure of an airport runway, the April 6 municipal elections seemed to explode onto the once peaceful shire of Erie.
Red, white and blue candidate signs were everywhere—perching on greenbelts, on public property, scattered across front yards, even hanging from buildings and heavy machinery. Facebook pages were set up to oppose ballot item 2E, the Bonanza Drive extension, and became soapboxes for angered residents. One of those pages was started by former mayor pro-tem Glenn Massarotti. In one post, Massarotti calls then-mayor Andrew Moore a liar.
One trustee candidate actually ran a campaign even as he was involved in a lawsuit against the town and board. Rumors and truth were bandied about like a shuttlecock in a badminton game. Campaign spending soared—with businessman and now-Mayor Joe Wilson spending more than $8,000.
Wild West, indeed.
Still, Moore, who handed over the mayoral reign to Wilson in mid April, calls it politics as usual. The controversies that he theorizes sparked this tenuous election are what happens “when you work to get things done,” he said.
“That’s the way politics is,” Moore said.
While Moore’s three terms were mostly filled with successes—heck, the town now has a community center and a library—the last several months of his time in office were mired in conflict: mostly involving the residents of the airpark neighborhood.
Last year, the Erie Board of Trustees opted to remove the second runway at the Erie Municipal Airport. Residents of the airpark neighborhood found fault with the move, saying it violated an agreement from 1987, which stated that the airport’s owner would not “materially diminish the total surface of the runways.”
The issue is currently tied up in lawsuits. And while numerous candidates wouldn’t talk in depth about it during election debates—because of ongoing litigation—the issue was still omnipresent.
Especially with the Bonanza Drive extension on the ballot.
Bonanza Drive could arguably be considered the issue of this election. Simply put, ballot item 2E asked voters to approve the extension of Bonanza Drive, a road in south Erie that some believe could help the town develop a prime retail destination on Highway 7. The extension of the road could also impact the residents of the Erie Municipal Airport’s airpark neighborhood, with increased traffic and activity.
So, the same residents angered about the runway changes at the airport then became angered with the Bonanza Drive issue, which made for a small group of very vocal voters. The residents made clear, in letters to both this publication and in other local media, their frustration with Moore and Cheryl Hauger, who lost her bid for mayor but who will retain her current position as trustee.
“The Bonanza issue stirred up the airpark crowd a lot and that really hurt me. If Bonanza had not been on the ballot, I really believe it would have been a different type of election. It would have been much closer,” Hauger said. “The issues during the election were the airport and Bonanza Drive. That’s not what is best for the entire town. Erie is more than those two issues.”
Hauger also realizes now that because she received support to run from Moore, she was also adopting his opposition. Especially after Moore posted on his blog the campaign contributions to candidates from airpark residents or airport-related entities, as well as the candidates who he supported financially, including Hauger. While that incited critics, Moore defends his actions, saying he wanted to show the contributions because no one else would.
“I felt like it was important,” he said. “Ten years ago, I would not have printed it because 10 years ago the media would have already reported it.”
With Wilson at the helm and Joe Carnival, Mark Grubber and Ronda Grassi all joining the board of trustees as first-time political representatives, Erie truly has a new face and a new focus. In interviews prior to his win, Wilson said he was setting his sights on the town’s budget.
“The people voted overwhelmingly for a new direction in their town that mandates fiscal responsibility, establishing our borders for commerce, a strong employment and business sector and a new era in community accord,” Wilson wrote in an email to Yellow Scene. “These principles are all honorable and essential to our very bright future.”
Still, the Bonanza ballot item had only an 11-vote difference. That means the community is divided and the issue will likely not rest. And neither will the drama.