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Look forward

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Watertown looks forward to a lively summer and fall of political debate. The entrance of Rodney F. LaFave as the fifth candidate in the race for two City Council seats open this election cycle means there will be a primary Sept. 10.

Mr. LaFave joins Cody J. Horbacz and Jasmine W. Borreggine to seek seats held by incumbents Teresa R. Macaluso and Jeffrey M. Smith. The top four candidates in the primary will advance to the November general election.

In this early stage of campaigning, the new faces are expressing concern about the Thompson Boulevard zoning debacle and fluoride in city water.

It is dispiriting to think that the race begins with four of the five candidates ready to deprive youngsters in Watertown of one of the safest and most effective public health practices in the country. Use of fluoride in public water supplies has resulted in significant reduction in tooth decay at a minimal cost.

Opposition to fluoride is pandering to hysteria stirred up by weak science that is counter to the generations of statistics and analysis by health departments and dentists across the nation who have consistently endorsed fluoridation of public water supplies. Fluoride appears naturally in many communities, including Castorland, where a state study in the 1950s showed a much lower incidence of tooth decay in youngsters.

To argue that the City Council should not make a public health decision by determining that fluoride be added to the water supply makes little sense. The council is responsible to provide amply safe water in the city’s water distribution system. City government has broad responsibilities for public health and safety. The quality of the water delivered to the household tap is a critical function of maintaining public health, by assuring that contaminates that cause illness are eradicated from the supply.

The council race should debate and help shape Watertown’s course to correct a number of serious deficiencies. The council and the city have made a significant investment in Public Square, rebuilding of State Street, the plan to rebuild Factory street, continued investment in Thompson park and work at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

Despite the private investment in housing in the city, the community still has too much substandard housing. The city is a magnet for individuals looking for affordable rental property and services, but its high rents challenge families in a regional economy plagued with double-digit unemployment.

The city is fortunate that a private developer has set his sights on demolishing the old Mercy complex and replacing it with mixed-use commercial, office and residential facilities. The city’s focus should be on a strategy to further develop Public Square, leveraging the public/private investment in the Woolworth and the Lincoln buildings.

The candidates for council should discuss creation of an environment that will take advantage of the Mercy project, will attract investment by the government and private sectors in housing rehabilitation, and aggressively rebuild deteriorating streets. The candidates should outline their positions on publicly supported recreation, such as the city’s swimming pools and ice arena.

As the candidates begin their campaigns, they should avoid a discussion of the past and look ahead to setting policy that makes Watertown more attractive to entrepreneurs looking to start businesses, creating more jobs, expanding educational opportunities and encouraging medical facilities offering more comprehensive services.

The incumbents have solid records to run on. To succeed at the polls, the new candidates must define a path for Watertown’s continued resurgence.

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