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With summer winding down, Watertown City Council candidates ready to campaign


With a month to go until the primary, the six candidates running for the Watertown City Council are using slightly different tactics and strategies to get their messages out.

Four political newcomers are challenging incumbents Teresa R. Macaluso and Jeffrey M. Smith. The candidates who have come forward to unseat them are Jasmine W. Borreggine, Stephen A. Jennings, Cody J. Horbacz and Rodney J. LaFave.

The top four vote-getters in the primary Sept. 10 will move on to the general election Nov. 5. Elected offices in the city are nonpartisan; any registered voter may participate in the primary.

As recently as late April, Ms. Macaluso and Mr. Smith were expected by many to run unopposed for the four-year terms. But two controversial issues, a fledgling anti-fluoride movement and a residential zoning change that caused a public relations nightmare, spurred interest in the election.

Mr. Horbacz acknowledged on Friday that the so-called roommate law, which was amended to limit the number of nonrelatives living together, was instrumental in his decision to run, even though he had been thinking about it for a couple of years. He opposed the council’s handling of the issue, claiming council members fail to listen to their constituents on key issues facing the city.

“It was the right time,” he said about running.

Mrs. Borreggine started coming to council meetings because she opposes the longtime practice of putting fluoride in the city’s water supply, while Mr. Jennings, Jefferson County’s public health planner and public information officer, believes the city should continue to use it.

And now both of those issues have faded into the background as the primary race is expected to heat up.

Mr. Jennings talks about economic development and cutting crime. Ms. Macaluso says the city should do more to help small businesses. She also takes care of her constituents, she said. Mr. Smith said he is running on his record and his experience, saying he gets the job done.

Mr. Horbacz would concentrate on making downtown a more active place with cultural events and on improving playgrounds, especially in poorer areas of the city. Mr. LaFave wants the city to be more proactive in solving its problems and making sure that the police and fire departments are adequately funded. Mrs. Borreggine would focus on the need to keep property taxes down, she said, because too many young people and businesses have left because they cannot afford to stay here.

All six candidates say more should be done to improve deteriorating neighborhoods.

So far, the election has been a low-key affair.

The two incumbents’ campaigns have not hit full stride — they say it’s too early. Voters still are too busy with summer vacations, family events and enjoying the weather to be interested in paying attention to the race, both incumbents said.

“I’m networking with friends and people I know,” Mr. Smith said, adding that he has contacted voters who supported him in past elections. He said his campaign soon will get into full swing.

The same goes for Ms. Macaluso, who admits she was surprised when four other candidates joined the race. She plans to talk more about the campaign once summer winds down. Even then, she said, residents believe she has done a good job for the city.

“I think people know who I am,” she said.

The four political novices said they are using this time so voters can to get to know them.

Weeks ago, Mr. LaFave was the first to get his lawn signs out. He’s already going from door to door to talk with voters to see what they are thinking, he said.

“They’re saying that council is out of touch with people and have their own agendas,” he said. “They should have more of an interest of residents.”

Mr. Horbacz may be getting some voter attention with his use of social media. He has gotten 600 hits on his Facebook page, he said. Mr. Horbacz also has a Web page, as does Mr. Jennings.

“I think it’s given me some momentum,” Mr. Horbacz said.

Believing turnout will be light, Mrs. Borreggine is using Facebook to get residents to register to vote, she said. That’s how she is notifying residents where and how to register.

Out of the four newcomers, Mr. Jennings seems to be the one who stays on message the most, talking about his views on economic development, cutting crime and helping neighborhoods.

“I’m not a one-issue candidate,” he said. “Fluoride is not the number-one issue.”

With the primary four weeks away, the two incumbents are running on the assertion that they have put the city on a better path, which Mrs. Borreggine disputes.

For instance, the two incumbents have been boasting about getting the Woolworth Building restoration project off the ground and the recent news that Syracuse-area developer COR Development Co. plans to demolish the old Mercy hospital and rebuild the site for residential and commercial use.

But Mrs. Borreggine said that while the state comptroller’s report on the city’s finances gave a glowing review, it also mentioned that 18 percent of city residents are poor, so more should be done to help them.

She also called for council members to keep taxes down. Small businesses are hurt by the tax rate, she said.

Mr. Smith countered that the City Council has achieved that. He said council members have lowered the tax rate from $9.82 per $1,000 six years ago to $7.29 this current year.

“As a council, we’ve made the decisions to make the city a better place,” he said.

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