In maverick first year, Benczkowski makes waves

Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski has served in office for a little more than a year. In that short time, she has emerged as the maverick outsider who isn’t afraid to dig in, get to work, and — at times — to upset the town’s long entrenched political machine.

The Republican turned Democrat and former school board member defeated the party’s endorsed candidate, and did so without the blessing of the party chairman. That situation drove a wedge between her and Frank Max, a mainstay figure in town politics.

Benczkowski was raised in Cheektowaga, about a mile away from her home in the Borden Road area of the town. She is a real estate agent with deep roots and an even deeper network of professional relationships that make her a formidable political contender.

She is delightfully personable with a natural charisma and among the most attractive political figures in local politics. Her supporters whisper that she could be elected to the State Senate or as County Executive.

Such an impressive up and comer will face criticism from the powers that be, often unfair or embellished. Benczkowski has seen her fair share of mudslinging, and she was kind enough to respond to so some of her critics’ accusations.

Councilwoman Benczkowski with Russell Salvatore, the renowned local businessman who founded Salvatore's Italian Gardens.
Councilwoman Benczkowski with Russell Salvatore, the renowned local businessman who founded Salvatore’s Italian Gardens.

She is being responsive to employee concerns

Benzckowski is disappointed about how some have characterized her work on the Town Council. She strongly disputes the notion that she “digs stuff up,” or has pursued a politically motivated investigation into Max, the town’s former party chairman.

“I am trying to be a responsive elected official, and when town employees come to me with their concerns about questionable practices in their departments,” she says. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t turn a blind eye.”

1002528_10200436629782712_1730681325_nBenczkowski doesn’t think the Town’s concerns should be limited to the Highway Department, either. She says that there are management issues everywhere.

“Over the last year, I’ve been going directly to employees and having conversations about how things can be working better,” she explains. “They really appreciate the opportunity to talk directly to me without supervisors.”

The Councilwoman is unapologetic about her get-it-done style and willingness to think outside the box. She talks about the need to lower spending and control taxes by managing the government better, which has caused her some pushback from organized labor.

“I’m not against unions. I want to be fair to them and live up to the contract,” she insists. “But we can manage things better.”

Parking spot debacle was over blown

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When Benczkowski took office, a part time typist was habitually parking in one of only four spaces reserved for Council members. So she wrote an email that was distributed to all town employees asking them to avoid parking in the reserved spaces.

“It’s been reported as if I was trying to micro-manage the Town, but I wasn’t,” she argues. “I was just sending a friendly reminder about the parking situation. It was totally blown out of proportion for political reasons.”

Request for info on police investigation wasn’t improper

After the riot that occurred in Cheektowaga Town Park during July 4th firework celebrations, the Councilwoman submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the Police Department for information on the investigation and to see a video of the incident.

Critics say that she was improperly injecting herself into a criminal investigation, but the Councilwoman strongly disagrees.

“I was doing my due diligence and research as to whether or not the Town should continue to host the fireworks display,” Benczkowski explains. “It was being reported as a riot, and we needed to know how bad it was, and if it warranted canceling the event.”

The police department declined to provide information on the investigation to the Councilwoman, but agreed to provide an update to the full Council in executive session.

“We received a great presentation, which I asked for,” she says. “I didn’t need to see it just me; it was good that the entire Council saw it.”

Benczkowski is a friend of County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who is relying heavily on Cheektowaga's Polish vote in his reelection effort this year. That vote is expected to be a swing constituency that is open to voting for Republican Chris Jacobs, who is widely expected to challenge Poloncarz.
Benczkowski is a friend of County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who is relying heavily on Cheektowaga’s Polish vote in his reelection effort this year. That vote is expected to be a swing constituency that is open to voting for Republican Chris Jacobs, who is widely expected to challenge Poloncarz.
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