November’s elections will shape our future, and only the people who vote can say what comes next for Chautauqua County.
Voters elect candidates who agree with their priorities, so step-1 is knowing what the candidates stand for – wherever you live among the 62 local villages, towns, cities, and legislative districts holding elections in November.
Among the dozens of urgent local issues facing the Greater Jamestown region and Chautauqua County, the Jamestown Gazette found some critical similarities and differences among the candidates for top local offices and for the New York Senate District 57.
Tax relief, local industry and employment, and housing topped an unofficial survey of local voters’ interests. All three of Jamestown’s mayoral candidates found these issues closely inter-connected.
Concerning Jamestown’s the Mayoral race to fill the vacancy created by Sam Teresi’s decision not to run again after 20 years in office, three candidates are vying for the post: David Wilfong (Republican, Conservative), Eddie Sundquist (Democrat, Independence, Working Families), and Andrew Liuzzo (Libertarian),
The Jamestown Gazette presents a summary of more detailed statements made by each candidate during a 90-minute debate hosted by WRFA-FM and the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts on Thursday evening, October 17, 2019. This last in a series of debates gave candidates one more chance to answer questions from a panel of community leaders, media representatives, and the public.
David Wilfong, manager of Intandem Solutions in Olean, opened by saying, “I want to give back to Jamestown, and I want to reach across the political lines get things done. I will put business first, bring back manufacturing, and not wait on grants to solve all of our problems.” He added, “I pledge my support to whoever wins, if I don’t. Don’t let us hold us back!”
“I came back home to Jamestown,” Eddie Sundquist, a practicing local attorney, said. “I am not willing to see us stuck in the past. We have to create a city for the future.” He pledged to make Jamestown the technology hub of Western New York. He also promised to hold the irresponsible, absentee landlords accountable for better housing. “We have to get creative about how we govern.” A key goal is to make the mayor’s office more open to citizens, their ideas, their needs, and their complaints.
Liuzzo, a current city councilman, told his audience he was “talking to the uncommitted voters, among others. “Vote for a third-party candidate,” he advised. “The city’s most productive years in history occurred under third-party mayors. Break party lines!” Liuzzo emphasized the importance of standing up against old, entrenched positions by stating, “I am the only candidate who publicly challenged the current mayor.” Liuzzo believes new ideas are needed to solve old problems. He promised his councilmembers to be active in their neighborhoods.
Tax Relief, Jobs, and Homes
At their best, taxes are meant to be a fair price that each citizen pays for the services everybody uses. In principle, the more people who share the cost, the less each must pay. That, however, is complicated by employment issues and individual needs. Solutions proposed by candidates reflected this complexity.
“We have to expand our tax base by keeping jobs and businesses here,” Wilfong said. He stressed the urgency of clearing out dead, defunct, and vacant business properties to make room for new ones. “We are not business ready. We have to bulldoze and rebuild,” he said.
Wilfong acknowledged the importance of the growing hospitality and entertainment sector, but he will also work toward a return to industry and manufacturing. “We have to produce more goods with higher paying jobs. If we put business and manufacturing first, everything else will follow. That means more employment, higher wages, economic security, and regrowth of the population.
Concerning property taxes, Sundquist suggested that property owners who improve their properties, thus improving the community as a whole, should receive tax credits for home improvements. He sees economic development as critical to building the tax base, stating that Jamestown is “stuck in a 100-year-old development model. We have to change our economic development policy, and increase the marketing of Jamestown’s assets.”
“We have 3,000 vacant lots in Jamestown,” Liuzzo added. “And we have a vast supply of vacant factory space that can be repurposed for new businesses which we can attract to Jamestown.” Concerning housing, he noted that prefab homes can be built and placed in Jamestown at one-third the cost of new homes. This is also projected to create new jobs and rebuild the tax base.
Each of Jamestown’s mayoral candidates expressed optimism about the city’s future, yet each presented a different roadmap to get there. Hear the full debate and the candidates’ plans on many other urgent topics by visiting https://reglenna.com/ events/2019-jamestown-mayoral-debate.
Lakewood Mayoral Race
Lakewood’s current Acting Mayor, Ted McCague, now serving the remainder of the unexpired term of Lakewood’s previous mayor, Cara Birrittieri, is running against Randy Holcomb, a lifelong resident of Lakewood and a veteran of decades as a local tax assessor, for the position of mayor of Lakewood, New York.
Each candidate shared their view of the major challenges facing the village and their plans for the future.
With finances at the top of nearly every community’s priority list, Candidate Holcome recently told the Gazette, “I’ve been around municipal budgets for 38 years, and budgets are my second language.” At one point in his career he served 55% of Chautauqua County establishing uniform assessment codes for 11 local communities.
Holcomb is a lifelong resident of Lakewood, a personal history which he says gives him a deep understanding of local needs and opportunities.
Among his top priorities for Lakewood are a clean Chautauqua Lake, properly treated with herbicides to control algal blooms and aquatic weeds. The lake’s health, Holcomb claims, is vital to the economic and tax base of the region. In addition, Holcomb sees revenue derived from a proposed communication tower to be built in Lakewood as critical to the financial stability of the local fire company and its training grounds.
Concerning new initiatives, Holcomb promises to extend and repair the village’s pedestrian sidewalks, especially along major residential streets. Currently, in many neighborhoods the residents are forced to walk in busy traffic or on neighbors’ lawns to move around the community.
“My goal in everything,” Holcomb said, “is to supply the citizens of Lakewood with what they have plainly stated they need and want.”
Ted McCague, the candidate seeking to convert his acting mayor status to permanent, retired in 2012 after a career as an American Airlines pilot.
Since moving to Lakewood within the last decade, McCague has worked to implement a comprehensive plan adopted by the community five years ago, including a New York Main Street grant of $340,000 and a green infrastructure grant of $695,000. The aims of the grants were to improve and design plans and zoning for Lakewood’s downtown, for water management, and to enhance downtown aesthetics. “Main Street is a main focus of my plans,” McCague said.
McCague will focus on attracting new business to Lakewood, citing many new enterprises that have recently come to town. “We have what they’re looking for.”
Runoff management from Lakewood streets and lawns is critical for decreasing the pollution and nutrient load running into Chautauqua Lake. McCague is a member of the board of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Alliance which sees nutrient runoff as the main culprit in polluting the lake and creating the dangerous, unsightly algal and weed blooms. “We have a duty to be good stewards of Chautauqua Lake,” McCague said.
Concerning major challenges, as acting mayor McCague has decreased local taxes by streamlining and increasing efficiencies in Lakewood’s government. He sees the village’s fire, police, and emergency services as excellent and promises to keep them on that trajectory for the future.
New York State Senate Race
George Borrello is the Republican candidate running to fill the seat vacated by Cathy Young’s recent resignation.
“Since taking office as Chautauqua County Executive,” Borello told the Gazette, “my economic development strategy has revealed that workforce development is the number one concern. We quickly made strides in that area, and as a state senator, tax relief, mandate relief, and reducing the burden of government regulations will be my top priorities.”
Borrello has proposed a “First Employee Tax Credit,” a temporary tax credit for sole proprietorship’s who wish to hire their very first, full-time employee. “As someone who started his own business,” Borrello added, “I know that it is expensive to add just one employee in New York State. Many people cannot take on additional work because they cannot afford to add an additional employee.
Austin Morgan, the Democratic candidate for the seat, bases a key component of his platform on the fact that New York State taxes are too high for New York’s working families. Tax relief, he says, will take time. Tax codes must be reformed and the focus shifted to helping working families instead of exorbitant corporate tax breaks and Wall Street profits.
“I grew up in a ‘penny-counting,’ rural, working-class family,” Morgan said, “and I have a uniquely working-class perspective in representing taxpayers.”
Tax relief is also tied to workforce development, according to Morgan. “21st century manufacturing requires a 21st century workforce. I am proposing a ‘Trade Up’ program as a companion to the New York Excelsior scholarship and apprenticeship programs. This will incentivize employers and students in 21st century manufacturing methods to ‘Future Proof’ 21st-century working-class employees.
Every candidate has presented detailed platforms and plans at public debates and websites. The Gazette has presented only brief recaps of candidate’s positions in the hope our readers will look deeper for themselves and meet the candidates in person.
Only the people who vote can say what comes next. Vote Smart.