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Graham embraces ‘the mayor’s bar’ moniker

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Sometimes you want to go to the place that’s known as the mayor’s bar.

That was the case on a sunny Saturday afternoon for David J. Kitto, a patron at Fort Pearl — a place better known by its informal name, he said.

“When we want to go somewhere, we say, ‘Let’s go to the mayor’s bar,’” Mr. Kitto said.

The man behind the counter Saturday is the owner of the Pearl Street establishment and serves as the city’s titular head, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham.

He has owned the place for 27 years and has been mayor since 1992, with a four-year break. And while it has officially been called a few different things — the Speakeasy, and now, Fort Pearl — its patrons generally refer to it by mentioning its well-known owner.

A monthslong marketing push by Mr. Graham aims to embrace that moniker.

“It’s an acknowledgment of what everyone is saying anyway,” Mr. Graham said.

T-shirts with “The Mayor’s Bar” emblazoned on the back are hanging behind the counter; they’re on sale for $15. A sign with the new subtitle hangs out front. The spare tire cover on Mr. Graham’s Jeep reflects the new marketing campaign, too.

Mr. Graham is unsure whether the push has helped business.

“It makes it clearer to people,” he said.

He said Fort Drum soldiers, told of the bar’s mayoral roots, will pay a visit, surprised to see the man slinging drinks behind the counter is the mayor himself.

The job of mayor in Watertown is a part-time gig. He has one vote on the City Council and is seen as the council’s ceremonial chief, while the city manager orchestrates the day-to-day affairs.

That leaves City Council members with day jobs to attend to the rest of the time.

Mr. Graham said it’s possible that his political life — the positions he takes on issues, for example — have bled into his business life.

“Political stands can help or hurt business,” Mr. Graham said.

The fact that he’s the mayor could help business, too; the novelty of talking politics with the mayor at his own bar is hard to discount.

Mr. Kitto, for one, said he’s a regular at the mayor’s bar because he enjoys the company of his fellow patrons and the mayor.

“He’s just one of us,” he said.

Mr. Graham said that has helped him in his political life — a way of escaping the city’s Washington Street beltway and connecting with people who perhaps aren’t in positions of power.

On Saturday afternoon, crime was the dominant topic. Mr. Graham put a commercial oven outside with a “for sale” sign on it. One person apparently took the liberty of fixing his or her own price: free.

“People never cease to amaze,” Mr. Graham, typing on his laptop from inside the bar, wrote on his blog.

It’s also given him perspective, as a small-business owner, on issues such as a proposed hike in the minimum wage and onerous regulations, both of which he opposes.

As for political liabilities, there appear to be very few anymore. In Mr. Graham’s first race in 1991, his opponent suggested a mayoral candidate who owned and operated a bar was below the dignity of the office.

Mr. Graham’s opponent in 2011 didn’t do much bashing of his bar ownership.

“As you get older, people get used to it,” Mr. Graham said.

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