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City candidates hope for strong turnout

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Incumbent Jeffrey M. Smith insisted that voters have shown an interest in the four-way race for Watertown City Council.

While he has campaigned door to door, the third-term council member said voters want to talk about the issues facing the city and his views on them.

Political observers, however, have described it as a lackluster race, with candidates running low-key campaigns.

On Tuesday, voters will choose two council members among Mr. Smith, incumbent Teresa R. Macaluso, and two challengers, Cody J. Horbacz and Steven A. Jennings, in the nonpartisan race.

Now the candidates have to get their supporters to the polls.

“You just have to get people out to vote,” Mr. Smith said last week after another campaign event, a meet-the-candidates luncheon sponsored by the Women’s Council of Realtors.

Much of the race has focused on the role of city government. Mr. Jennings, 46, the Jefferson County public health planner and public information officer, brought up the issue during the primary by proposing that the city should become involved in helping to solve such issues as deteriorating neighborhoods, crime, drugs and low education achievement. He has pointed out that 18 percent of the city’s population lives in poverty.

Mr. Jennings said he believes the city should work cooperatively “and come together around the table” with law enforcement, school officials, nonprofit organizations and others to solve those types of issues. It’s a matter of talking with each other to solve problems, he said.

“We have to take a different approach to planning,” he said. “We have to do some strategic planning.”

But Mr. Smith, 46, has contended that approach would lead to the biggest expansion in city government in its history. Besides, organizations — such as Neighbors of Watertown Inc., work on housing and improving city neighborhoods — are responsible for solving those kinds of problems, he said.

“The city would be duplicating services of other agencies,” Mr. Smith said.

Calling herself “fiscally conservative,” Ms. Macaluso, 55, who’s running for a second four-year term, agreed it’s not in the city’s place to get involved in those kinds of programs and issues. The city needs to watch its financial pocketbook, she said.

In saying she is “the voice of reason,” Ms. Macaluso said she asks tough questions whenever council members are asked to spend money.

“I’m one who says, ‘Should we do this?’ I don’t like spending money. I don’t like spending my money,” Ms. Macaluso said. “I don’t like spending taxpayers’ money.”

Ms. Macaluso is proud of the decisions she has made on the City Council, she said. She no longer has to worry about what will happen to the old Mercy Hospital, now that COR Development Co., Fayetteville, soon will redevelop the site for commercial and rental housing. The Woolworth Building and the Lincoln Building, two Public Square landmarks, also will be renovated, she said.

Since he came on the City Council 12 years ago, the city’s finances have improved. Property taxes have decreased about 50 percent, Mr. Smith said. The city’s debt is also down, while its bonding and credit ratings are up.

But Mr. Jennings said he also is business friendly, noting the Mercy, Woolworth and Lincoln projects will change downtown forever. With all of that already happening, he would like to attract high-tech companies and jobs to Public Square, he said.

Mr. Horbacz, 28, said he opposes tax abatement programs for some projects, such as the two new apartment complexes in the town of Watertown, the one behind the Target store off Route 3 and the other off County Route 202.

However, he supports tax packages for industry and rehabilitation projects like the Woolworth Building and the Mercy redevelopment.

“It makes sense,” he said.

During the campaign, he has proposed putting programs in place “to grow the local economy from the ground up,” he said. According to his proposal, local entrepreneurs should receive preferential treatment over out-of-town big-box and other companies.

Although he does not support anything as big as what Mr. Jennings has proposed, he would like to see neighborhood improvements. Mr. Horbacz remembered the days when every neighborhood had a playground and an outdoor ice rink.

He has noticed the neighborhood playground where he grew up is falling apart, so he proposes bringing back playgrounds and ice rinks in all areas of the city.

“I think it brings communities together,” he said.

Mr. Horbacz is the only one of the four council candidates who did not finance his own campaign. He raised about $2,500 in small donations and fundraisers. So far, Ms. Macaluso spent about $1,400 and Mr. Smith about $1,200. The three filed financial disclosure forms with the state Board of Elections. So far, Mr. Jennings spent about $400 and was required to file only a document called a “in lieu of disclosure” until he spends more than $1,000.


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