PRIMARY SURPRISE: Dems Kukucka, Bukovac bowing out as 14 file to run

By Jason Hawk -

Fourteen candidates have filed to seek public office in the city of Amherst this year, though none will appear on the primary ballot.

Democrats and Republicans have locked down some key jobs already and will vie against each other for a few key government seats in November — but after Wednesday’s filing deadline there are no contested primary races for the May 2 ballot.

Notably, Democrats are not fielding candidates to run for either city auditor or treasurer.

Incumbent auditor David Kukucka chose not to ask for reelection to the job for another four-year term.

Kukucka, who ran nine successful election campaigns and spent 22 years in office, lost a mayoral bid in 2015 to Republican Mark Costilow in a landslide vote. He will step down Dec. 31.

That means newcomer Derek Pittak, who is unopposed, will step into the role next January and take charge of city payroll, financial records, investments, budgets, and bills.

The Republican shoe-in is a graduate of Amherst Steele High School and a former member of the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a senior airman in the financial management office at Offutt Air Force, Nebraska.

Treasurer Richard Ramsey will also keep his seat as Amherst treasurer four more years without a challenge from local Democrats.

On city council, Democratic incumbent John Dietrich will seek another term as president of the legislative body despite a rare challenge.

He’s held the office since 1999. The last time he was challenged from the right was in 2003.

Now Republican Jennifer Wasilk has relinquished her long-held fourth ward seat on council — she’s been there 18 years — to oppose Dietrich in November.

Amherst’s city council president does not vote except to break ties, but shapes policy by deciding what proposed ordinances get called for hearing in committee.

Council is comprised of seven voting members: three at-large representatives and one from each of the city’s four wards.

They serve two-year terms.

Incumbents Phil Van Treuren, Joe Miller, and David Janik will all keep their at-large seats and won’t have to campaign this year, since exactly three are running.

There will be a big shake-up, however, in the first ward, where councilman Steve Bukovac, a Democrat, has decided not to stay on.

Democrat Brian Dembinski and Republican Bradley Lacko will compete to fill the vacancy. Both are newcomers.

In the second ward, Republican incumbent David Goodell will defend his seat against Democratic challenger Angie Schubert, who lost the same bid to Goodell in 2015.

Republican Chuck Winiarski has no opponent in the third ward.

In the fourth ward, Wasilk is backing Republican Matthew Nahorn to take her seat. The Democrats will field Martin Heberling III.

That completes the roster for city races, but more names could be added to the ballot this fall.

That’s because the terms of three Amherst board of education members — Ronald Yacobozzi, Robert Kamnikar, and Teresa Gilles — expire this year.

Folks who live in the school district (not just in the city limits) will get to decide who stays and leaves the board, assuming there are challengers.

Don’t be fooled — just because there are no Amherst primary candidates doesn’t mean the May 2 ballot will be empty.

Amherst city voters will get to decide on a one-mile renewal to support firefighters. And Amherst Schools voters will get to decide on a 4.9-mill renewal to continue paying for daily operational costs.

But there are no county or statewide issues on the ballot, so expect short lines due to low voter turnout.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk