Tonawanda News

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October 24, 2013

Ortt, Zehr prepare for mayoral contest

Tonawanda News — One candidate is seeking to reverse years of Republican control, the other wants to continue on to a second term. 

Republican Mayor Rob Ortt, 34, who swept into power with a decided edge over a Democratic incumbent for his first term, will now face Democrat Janet Zehr, 73, a retired North Tonawanda science teacher who has had two unsuccessful bids for public office since 2009. 

The two will faceoff tonight during a debate sponsored by the Tonawanda News and the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas. 

While Ortt has cited a volley of development projects in his nearly four years as mayor, a 17 percent reduction in the city workforce and a budget that held the line on taxes for three years, Zehr said she will seek to reduce the mayorship to a part-time position, use a portion of the city’s reserves for short-term tax decreases and push for changes at what she termed a City Hall lacking in transparency. 

Ortt beat out incumbent Mayor Larry Soos in 2009 after winning a seat as the city’s clerk-treasurer and served in Afghanistan as a member of the Army National Guard. He has a background in financial advisement. 

Zehr, who lost to Eric Zadzilka in 2009 for the city’s Third Ward seat and a seat on the Niagara County Legislature against Paul Wojtaszek in 2011, retired from the North Tonawanda Middle School in 2001, has had a stint on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, is active in her church and serves as an officer in a teacher’s sorority and as secretary of the Buffalo Astronomical Society. 

In lengthy interviews conducted by the News this week, both touched on their views regarding development, the city’s $3 million fund balance, goverment control and the future of North Tonawanda. 

Taxes and fund balance 

While Ortt said he has held the line on taxes each of the last three years, with a budget proposal for 2014 heading to a vote after the Nov. 5 elections, the issue of a fund balance has come to the forefront in recent weeks as part of the Democratic platform and the release of Ortt’s 2014 budget proposal. 

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