OSWEGO, NY – While they sat just a couple yards away from each other at Wednesday night’s debate, Dave White and Tom Gillen were miles apart on some of the issues facing the Port City.
The two candidates for mayor of Oswego; Gillen, a Democrat, and White, a Republican, squared off in Oswego High School’s Faust Theater.
Nearly 200 people were scattered around the auditorium as the candidates responded to a handful of previously submitted questions.
“This city is poised for greatness. And, I would like to be part of that,” Gillen said in his opening remarks. “We need to embrace the new technologies … grow with that and make Oswego what it was supposed to be.”
One of the biggest concerns people have expressed to him is the deterioration of the neighborhoods, White said.
“When people are concerned about their homes, which is the biggest single investment that they make, then we’ve got to do something to help them,” he said.
White pointed to his experience as Oswego Town supervisor and president of the Oswego City School District’s board of education as qualifying him to be mayor. Gillen noted that he was on the Zoning Board of Appeals and is a member of the board of directors for the Port of Oswego Authority as well as his more than 30 years of working in the private sector as his qualifications.
The candidates were asked how they’d handle the situation with products such as (“legal marijuana”) Happy Shaman.
“They shouldn’t be allowed in our city, not with our youth,” Gillen said. They would have to lobby the state representatives to get these products out of children’s hands, he added.
White agreed with Gillen, adding it is hard to get these sort of “drugs” banned because the manufacturers come up with something different just about every week. He cited the police department, saying they are on the right track cracking down on the illegal drug traffic in the Port City.
The consent decree has put the city in a multi-million dollar hole for the next several years. The candidates were asked how they will deal with that.
White said he’d talk to the federal and state governments to try and get some relief. The only fair way would be to meter the water and sewer usage “and charge people for what they use,” he said. “Right now we don’t do that and I think that’s unfair to people.”
“The consent decree is something that we have a responsibility to deliver the safety and health of our residents,” Gillen noted. Grants could help pay the cost, he said, adding there are other options. “We need to discuss this as a community. This is something we have to do; but we can save money.” Fresh water is one of the things that will help attract people and business to Oswego, he added.
Both candidates said they would use things like the area’s natural resources to market the city.
“We are a remarkable city. We should really get that message out there,” Gillen said. “Go out and show what we offer as a community.”
Fishing is a big draw for Oswego, White said, adding that they need to highlight that there is more to do in Oswego.
The candidates were also asked what they’d do to stop the decrease in population and quality of life in the area.
“If we clean the place up, people will come here,” White said. “We’re going to get them to come here by showing them we’re serious about zoning, we’re serious about code enforcement.”
“They will come if there are jobs,” Gillen said. “People will not come here just because we restore our neighborhoods. They will come here if we provide jobs. That’s just the reality of it. The mayor’s job is to oversee the entire city, to grow it, make it better and make it prosper.”
The candidates were asked what they would do to mitigate the problems some college students are causing in the neighborhoods.
“The issues we are seeing now are very complicated, there is no easy solution for it,” Gillen said. “It is a combination of a lot of things.”
Some college kids are just doing “what they think they supposed to, and it is our responsibility to make them not do it that way,” he said. Part of the problem is the housing with so many college students jammed in them, he added. The codes and laws need to be enforced, he said.
“This is not a complex issue. A couple of Friday nights ago, when I got more buses in my neighborhood than they got at the Port Authority in New York, it’s not a complicated issue,” White said.
The 5 percent of the students that are causing the trouble don’t represent the entire student body at SUNY Oswego, White said. “We have to crack down on (the trouble-makers),” he said. “The one thing we have to do here is hold those kids, who have those parties and sell that booze to make money, responsible for their actions.”
The fire department’s request for more money to cover overtime was also a topic of discussion.
“When the fire chief came in with his budget, they cut the overtime,” White said, adding that is the reason he had to come back later and request more during the year.
“If (the chief) justifies the overtime, why don’t we just tell people this is exactly what this is costing us? We have to show people that,” he said.
“Every year we go through the budget and we nickel and dime these guys,” Gillen said. “We need to sit down collectively, the city and the fire department, and get a true understanding of what it does cost.”
They were also asked whether they’d make change for the people or simply for their political party.
“I am a successful businessman, I know how to relate to people. I don’t have any hidden agenda. I’m like you, I’m a taxpayer,” Gillen said.
“I’m going to make some changes,” White said, adding that a mayor needs to listen more to how people feel about issues that impact the city.
People also wondered if either candidate would give their “cronies” jobs.
“I’m going to appoint the best person to the position, that agrees with the direction that I want to go,” White said. “I am going to get the best person to fill that position.”
“What we need to get is the most qualified person to do the job,” Gillen agreed.
Both candidates said they’d take a hard line with vandals. Manpower (increased police patrols) and technology (surveillance cameras) are two options they suggested to curb the vandalism.
John Canale, who was a Republican common councilor for more than two decades, lauded White’s performance.
“I think, in my opinion, that he is going to be our next mayor. He did extremely well tonight,” Canale said. “He is very, very blunt and he doesn’t pull any punches. He tells you exactly the way he feels and that is exactly the way a government official should be.”
White’s plan to improve the city’s neighborhoods is just what Oswego needs, he added.
“I think there was a clear winner of the debate this evening, and that winner was Tom Gillen,” said current Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman, a Democrat.
White made a point about how he wants to clean up the neighborhoods, “But he didn’t express any vision for the city. Mr. Gillen expressed a vision and clearly said how he wants to clean up the city,” Bateman pointed out. “And, it’s not just about cleaning up the neighborhoods; it’s about creating jobs, growing the economy.”
Sometimes when you focus on just one agenda item, like White is doing with the neighborhoods, “some times you can be narrow visioned and see just that,” he added.
The city is doing some of the things that people asked about at the debate, the mayor noted.
“They may not be evident, but some things are done behind the scenes such as the graffiti issue. The police are looking at that very carefully,” Bateman said, adding they are currently looking at several options to curb the problem.