Call her what you want. Career politician. Poster child for term limits. Political hack.
I call her “Pioneer”.
Pat was elected to the Cheektowaga Town Board way back in 1981. Let that sink in for a moment. Ronald Reagan was in the first year of his presidency; Sandra Day O’Connor was starting on the Supreme Court bench as the first woman; the first space shuttle, Columbia, was heading into space, the “Talking Proud” Bills under Chuck Knox were battling for their second straight playoff berth.
And there was Pat, a mother of two teenage children, running a household and holding a clerical job downtown, stepping up to run for office.
I remember those days because I was there. I had a front row seat for it all. I was the de-facto manager of her first campaign. It was an era when Cheektowaga was still very much the “old boys network”. The town was substantially Polish-American in demographic, no woman had ever even run for, much attained, public office in Cheektowaga, and despite the great strides women had made on the national level to attain recognition and equality in the workplace, in Cheektowaga it was very much a different story. Pat would go door to door, and voters, even women, would hand back her palm card and tell her, ‘Honey, Councilman is man’s work. Shouldn’t you be at home tending to your husband and the cooking and cleaning?” The push back and the disappointment was incredible; the mere notion of a woman being on the Town Board and making important decisions was inconceivable. In this day and age, it is hard to believe that this would even be an issue, but back then it was.
Yet Pat soldiered on in that first campaign of hers – walking street to street and ringing doorbells, working the lawn fetes and the large gatherings of constituents, making appearances at taxpayer group meetings. She won the primary handily that year, then trounced the Republican opposition, and in January of 1982 took her seat as the first woman ever to hold public office in the Town of Cheektowaga.
The voters have returned her to office seven more times… 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2009. In 1988, she was solicited to run for an open seat on the Erie County Legislature but declined. In some election cycles, intramural Democratic squabbles forced primaries. In others, the coast was clear. But for each of these elections there was one constant – Jaworowicz absolutely crushed any Republican opposition that was thrown against her. In several of these elections she was the top vote getter amongst all Council candidates. To this day she enjoys the trust, the confidence and the support of a broad spectrum of her constituents.
I served alongside Pat on the Town Board from 1988 to 1991, and I knew her as a hands on Councilman, very vigilant and dedicated to her work, and weighed legislation very thoroughly and carefully before making any decision. As Chairman of the Police Committee, she worked tirelessly to place a competent and professional individual into the role of Chief. That person, Bruce Chamberlin, worked closely with Jaworowicz to raise the level of professionalism in the department – taking politics out of the process of naming new officers, computerizing and modernizing police functions. Through her stewardship of the Petitions committee she shepherded neighborhood wellness programs and set the table for the 1991 overhaul of the Town’s zoning code. In the late 80’s, she took on the shrill debate over the development of the Walden Galleria Mall with a sense of duty and purpose, fighting mightily for this important economic development project and the benefits it would bring to the town.
In spring of 2009, Jaworowicz dropped a bombshell on her family and friends. With no prior warning, she met with Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max and informed him that she would be stepping down. Less than two years prior she had lost her beloved husband Don to a horrific and aggressive form of bone cancer. In almost a blink of an eye Don was gone; plans for retirement, sharing in the joy of tending to their grandchildren in their merged families, and travel to favorite sunny destinations in Florida and Arizona were all dashed. And now Pat would have to deal with her own health problems – including persistent heart issues and possibly cancer.
The reaction was swift and immediate – Pat was so beloved and so appreciated by the many stakeholders in the extended Democratic political family, and by the voters at large, she was convinced to stay on. She reversed course, ran for re-election in 2009, was nominated by three parties, and yeah, she crushed the Republicans that year too.
Fast forward to 2011… Angela Wozniak. Who? Yeah, Cheektowaga’s newest Councilman, and only the second Republican to win a seat on the Town Board in this generation, is saber rattling. Let’s make something clear here right from the get go. Wozniak did not win her seat through any sort of voter mandate or brilliant campaign work. The seat fell into her lap through a series of fortuitous events – in last year’s September primary, the Republican slate (all enrolled Conservatives) ran in the Conservative primary and, with the Democrats asleep at the switch, took that line. So a total pool of roughly 150 voters delivered the crucial third line on the November ballot to Wozniak and her running mates. Then there was a single Council candidate on the sixth “Green Party” line, and by luck of the draw (as determined at the Board of Elections by picking numbers out of a hat), that individual lined up with Wozniak and Councilman Rick Zydel on the ballot. The Green Party guy sopped up roughly 1000 votes, and the numbers show that Zydel suffered the brunt of the damage. Lastly, the Republicans poured tens of thousands of dollars into a losing cause for the Supervisor seat, but the rancor that campaign caused spilled over into the Council election and made things closer than it had been in decades. The result, Wozniak snuck in as the third place finisher, narrowly edging incumbent Zydel.
So OK, Wozniak is now a Councilman, and her colleagues have all been respectful and welcomed her to the ranks of participation in town government.
And how have the first three months gone? Not too well. Via her Republican handlers, Wozniak has not advanced any piece of meaningful legislation. Merge departments? Nah! A substantive look at the myriad of parks, or senior or recreation programs, and how to perhaps better deliver services? How about spearheading a task force to look into merging the whole bunch of school districts that Cheektowagans pay for? How about a memorial resolution to the State in favor of Tier 6, a blockbuster reform to how we will compensate new public employees? Heck, even ask your Republican buddies in the State Senate for a uniform Primary in 2012, thus sparing us taxpayers the cost of holding four separate elections in 2012! From Wozniak we have heard nothing. Except… noise on downsizing the Town Board, and now her latest bright idea: term limits. Politicians are bad. Let’s eliminate them. Let’s castigate them. This is the mantra of today’s Cheektowaga Republican Party. No new ideas on governance. They scream about the costs of sanitation yet offer no dollars and cents solutions on how to pick up refuse more cheaply. And then they appeal to the “throw the bums out” mentality by introducing ridiculous local laws.
But it gets worse. Their latest strategy is to single out Jaworowicz, make her appear as feeble minded and incompetent, and embarrass her in the public eye. Regular Town Board followers can clearly see that Jaworowicz is not the same person she used to be. In addition to her family tragedy already mentioned, she is dealing with substantial health issues. It has affected her physically, and her focus mentally. When she won her last re-election, she shared with her colleagues that she would not function on the board with the same zest and vigor as she had in the past. And she beseeched them for their support and help, and all offered that help. Since then she has not missed a Town Board meeting, rarely misses a work session. In fact she shows up on work session days hours early and is prepared to go to work. She handles all this between regular trips to the doctor, to clinics and to chemo sessions.
Yet Wozniak, who three months into her term is still figuring out which way to find the ladies room at Town Hall, has now made it her cause to publicly berate and humiliate Jaworowicz. In this week’s Cheektowaga Bee, (and sorry the entire article is not available online) she calls for term limits, and then goes on with a slew of her personal attacks.
It is beyond despicable that this 24 year old girl is stooping to such depths to score political points. She should be thanking Jaworowicz. Long before Wozniak was born, Jaworowicz was blazing the trail and laying the path so that women like Wozniak could be politically successful in a town like Cheektowaga.
I too am amazed that the Republican strategy appears to be to attempt extricate Jaworowicz from her seat as soon as possible. If they accomplish that by this year’s petition season, that would force a special election for the remaining one year of the term on this year’s ballot. Why would they want to do that in a presidential election year, when turnout will be substantially higher and, given the huge enrollment advantage of Democrats in Cheektowaga, the chances for a Republican to take that seat is near zero. If my name is Martin or Morton, I would be following Jaworowicz with an I.V. and a tank of oxygen if need be to make sure she stays IN her seat. Assuming Jaworowicz steps down in ’13, as a Republican I like my chances a lot better competing for the open seat, rather than taking on a fresh incumbent who has just won a special 2012 election. Not to mention that the smaller the total turnout, the better the Repub’s chances. But of course, when it comes to the Cheektowaga Republicans, they just aren’t that cerebral. In my three decades of activism in Cheektowaga politics, I have continually shaken my head and watched with amazement the stupidity coming from that side of the aisle.
To Ms. Wozniak and to the Cheektowaga Republicans, let me make this perfectly clear… Pat Jaworowicz ain’t goin’ nowhere. The voters overwhelmingly chose her to represent them on their Town Board for a term running from 2010 through 2013, and God willing, and given her health and her strength, she will fulfill that trust and complete her term of office. And her children, her grandchildren, her friends, her political supporters, and the extended Democratic political family will all be watching her back. When the day comes that she does step down, she will be afforded every bit of honor and respect and gratitude from a community for which she has dedicated a lifetime of service to its civic, cultural, governmental and political institutions. We will be welcoming, and fully expect, our Republican partners in government to join in that tribute.
Ms. Wozniak, if you have a quarrel with the way things are run in Cheektowaga, then by all means have at it. Wave printouts of phone logs in the face of Frank Max. Dig through personnel records and find the name or names of seasonal employees who are second cousins to this or that councilman. Heck even pick a fight with me – if you scour through 19 years of Zoning Board agendas perhaps you will find something that is amiss. But my advice to you is do not mess with Pat Jaworowicz. Because Pat Jaworowicz is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy out of your league, even on your best of days.