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Six primary council candidates attend forum


Fluoride. The so-called roommate law. Blighted neighborhoods. Better communication with residents. Council salaries. Should the city have a dog park?

These were just some of the issues that the six Watertown City Council primary candidates discussed during a forum Thursday night at the Italian American Civic Association club on Bellew Avenue.

Not a debate, the event was billed as a chance for voters to hear and see the candidates running in Tuesday’s primary. It was the only time incumbents Teresa R. Macaluso and Jeffrey M. Smith and challengers Jasmine W. Borreggine, Stephen A. Jennings, Cody J. Horbacz and Rodney J. LaFave came together to discuss their views on issues facing the city.

Attended by about 40 people, the forum did not produce any sparks, with candidates having no chance to respond to their opponents’ answers.

The only news that came out of the event was produced when a panelist asked Ms. Macaluso about her views on whether fluoride should continue to be added to the city’s water system.

It was the first time she said she personally would like the city not to use the tasteless and colorless chemical, but she also added that she would listen to her constituents to see if it they would like to see it remain.

“I know I’m going to be crucified,” she said, adding that children need fluoride to protect their teeth but that its use is not warranted for adults.

Last winter, fluoride became an issue when council members were faced with purchasing new equipment for the program. Within a few weeks, a group of anti-fluoride activists started attending council meetings to urge its elimination from the water supply.

The issue also influenced the entrance of two other candidates — Mr. Jennings, a supporter of fluoridation, and Mrs. Borreggine, who opposes it — into the race. Neither they nor the other three candidates were asked about their views on fluoride Thursday night.

But Mr. Jennings was asked about his proposal to help deteriorating houses and neighborhoods. He was asked whether it was “out of the realm” of the city’s responsibility to be involved in such activities.

“I think it is out of the realm of our current city government,” he answered. “We have to change our thinking.”

Based on a national program, he would like to see city planners, law enforcement officers and educators work collaboratively to clean up neighborhoods and rental properties, helping to improve people’s lives along the way.

But Mr. Smith, who has been on the council for 10 years, said programs like that are the responsibility of county government, not the city.

“City government is not into socialization,” he said, adding that he generally opposes using public money to fix up private rental properties.

Calling herself “a fiscal conservative” with centrist views, Mrs. Borreggine said she is for “limited government and lower taxes.” She believes that government “should not be in your bedroom or your health system.”

She maintained that the city should help businesses create jobs, and keep young people from moving out of the area by lowering taxes. But Mr. Smith countered that the City Council has lowered property taxes from about $14 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to about $7 per $1,000 during the past several years.

Asked about the effects that “big-box” retailers have on Watertown’s small businesses, Mrs. Borreggine, who runs a local cheerleading school, contended that big businesses “should not be demonized” because they typically start from small ones. But too often smaller businesses skip the city and start in the town of Watertown, she observed. The city should do more to help them get their start here, she said.

Mr. LaFave agreed. He has proposed a program, called “Home Grown Business,” which has been successful in Littleton, Co. It consists of a city office that specifically helps small businesses with such things as incentives, job growth, marketing, putting together geographic information and demographics, he explained.

He also told the audience that he would not ever support a pay increase for council members, who earn about $12,000 a year for the part-time position.

“It’s about serving the public, not the pay,” he said.

When asked about the changes during her time on the council, Ms. Macaluso, who is running for a second four-year term, noted the way council members work together. She said a “camaraderie” has evolved over time, and she said she brings a voice of “reason” to the five-member board.

She always listens to her constituents and never promises anything that she cannot deliver, Ms. Macaluso added.

But Mr. Horbacz criticized members for not always listening to residents.

He got involved in the race after hearing about the flap over a zoning change associated with no longer allowing roomers living in single-family homes in Residential A districts. During the campaign, he also has talked about a ban on dogs at events on city property and a lack of movement on a longtime proposal for a canine park.

He told the audience about a recent conversation he had with a local kayaker who often goes out on the Black River with a group of fans. The kayaker wondered why council members did not approach them when the city was considering applying for a grant for bike trail improvements along the river.

“The city should be talking to that group,” he said.

The top four vote-getters in the primary will move on to the general election Nov. 5.

Local radio host Glenn Curry moderated the forum, while the panel consisted of Channel 7’s John Moore, WTNY radio host Nathan Lehman and YNN’s Brian Dwyer.

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