The political race for mayor of the city of Watertown has evolved into a campaign which has failed to differentiate between the candidates, leaving voters in a quandary.
Jeffrey E. Graham and Jeffrey M. Smith have served together on the City Council for the last decade. They are the architects of the policies governing the city today and they both presided over the recent debacle with the recreation department.
The only glimmer of a difference of opinion between them seems to center on whether an investment in green energy is cost-effective for the city. Mr. Smith is a vigorous proponent of upgrading city facilities with environmentally adventurous solar panels, and geothermal heating systems. Mr. Graham points to the need for federal and state government subsidies to make such investments of value to the city taxpayer.
There is much that each candidate can be proud of during their council tenure. The citys financial position has improved, its bond rating has been upgraded, and the tax levy is steady. They have allowed City Manager Mary M. Corriveau to manage and the city has prospered because of that policy.
Additional housing has been built inside the city limits to help fill the housing shortage which faces the community as Fort Drums soldiers return home from war. The ambitious Public Square traffic and parking lot improvement project is complete. State Street has been rejuvenated.
However, serious issues remain. The scandal at the recreation department is not fully resolved. When Samaritan Medical Center completes the new nursing home assisted-living center, the carcass of Mercy Hospital and Madonna Home most likely will rot unless the city vigorously pursues a reuse plan.
The Woolworth building on the Square is vacant and continues in a state of perpetual decay. The Masonic Temple atrophies as the ravages of water and tough winters speed the buildings demise.
Watertowns housing stock needs upgrading, especially since the vacancy rate for apartments is nearly zero. The quality of many apartments is abysmal and the rents out of reach for many working citizens. Some Watertown neighborhoods have well-known eyesores littering once-pleasant streets.
Mr. Smiths and Mr. Grahams near silence about these problems is puzzling. Instead, Mr. Smith wonders about why Mr. Graham is a bachelor and Mr. Graham touts his incredible record of schmoozing at public events.
Mr. Graham is confused about whether he is a partisan writing an active blog about everything anyone says to him or is a leader aiming to build consensus. His blog discussions about ideas that have not yet been thought through make community leaders leery of dealing with him. No one wants to suffer political or business damage if a proposal is prematurely criticized in public before it has been adequately prepared.
Mayor Graham has put the city at a disadvantage in dealing with the county because of his inability to maintain a confidence. Many times Mr. Graham forgets he is a mayor when he describes himself as a blogger who is bringing transparency to city government.
Mr. Graham has embarrassed the city with his flights of political infancy. He endorsed a hooker as a candidate for New York governor. He wanted Howard Stern to come to Watertown with his talk show. Bringing that sort of notoriety for the city certainly is not in the job description for a mayor.
Mr. Smith, on the other hand, appears to carry grudges. His well-known animus for the Samaritan Medical Center is deep in his psyche. He is overly concerned about decisions made more than a decade ago by a different leadership team at Samaritan. His continual second-guessing of the thought processes of the Samaritan Medical Center or the state Health Department over the Mercy decision impedes progress toward assuring city and county residents alike that our medical system is top-rate.
So who should be mayor?
On balance, Jeffrey Smith should be elected the next mayor of Watertown. He has shown that he is capable of throttling his agenda in order to support projects which may not necessarily please him. He is young enough to learn to lead, to leave his grudges behind and to work closely with the city manager to promote the goals of the City Council.
He must pull back on a tendency to focus on the minutiae of proposals and instead look for the best solution to make Watertown prosper and provide its citizens with an opportunity for growth and healthy prosperity.
Mr. Smith deserves a chance to become city mayor.