OSWEGO, NY, The two candidates for Oswego mayor squared off again in a debate Wednesday night.
This time, Republican Dave White and Democrat Tom Gillen met at The American Foundry to respond to previously submitted questions that focused on the candidates’ vision for supporting and working with the non-profit organizations that serve the Oswego community. In particular, questions dealt with cultural – heritage tourism, the arts as an economic development tool and community services provided by non-profit organizations.
The candidates were asked to explain their vision of Oswego’s community arts and cultural organizations.
“Without vision it is kind of tough to figure where the city is going to be. Without a vision, we don’t know where we’re going,” Gillen said.
He vowed to support Oswego’s heritage and tourism activities.
“It just seems to me that we are not including everyone. We have a closed society here,” White said. “My one criticism of these organizations is they tend to be a closed society. We have to make it so other people want to see what we’re doing.”
The candidates differed in their views of the city’s 2020 Vision Plan.
“They have identified some obtainable and feasible objectives for us to accomplish in the next 10 years,” Gillen said. “There is a list of items that we hope to accomplish under the 2020 Vision Plan. It’s not just a vision; it was unanimously adopted by the Common Council in 2003.”
“The 2020 plan, I’ll tell you what, I don’t know what kind of vision they got but all they do is put the thing on the shelf and forget about it,” White said. “This thing has been around for 10 years and we haven’t done anything. My idea with the 2020 plan is if the council has passed it, and that’s our vision, then anybody that goes to the planning board, zoning board should have to go to some review committee ahead of time and say does this fit in what we’re looking at?”
He pointed to Kinney Drugs as a ‘box store;’ adding they reportedly wouldn’t come if they couldn’t build a ‘box store.’
“Then don’t come,” he said. “Every other place says you build it our way or hit the highway. And, that’s what we got to start doing. If we’re going to have a vision then we got to take it off the shelf and enforce it.”
They were asked about increasing tourism and activity along the waterfront.
Some of the developments coming up – such as the new conference center will enhance the overall area, Gillen noted.
“That can bring in 100s of people to the community,” he said. “When they come in here, they spend money. We want to show off our city. The waterfront can generate so much additional revenue.”
Oswego is located on one of the greatest lakes in the world and should take advantage of that, White pointed out.
The candidates were asked to talk about their vision for economic development in the city over the next four years and how arts and culture fit into that plan.
As mayor, Gillen said he would work with existing departments such as community development, Operation Oswego County, the chamber and IDA.
“These are all allies of ours, tools that we can utilize,” he explained. “Collectively, we can go out and we can grow the economy.”
A big part of that is incorporating the arts and culture groups into the plan, he added.
“Dave talks about the 2020 like it is some sort of nonsense. That’s just not true. We’ve accomplished quite a bit with it. Just look around the city; look at the linear park,” Gillen said. “It makes good business sense to develop this community, incorporate all of the culture and all of the community not-for-profits.”
The linear park “was put in back in what was it, the ‘70s or ‘80s,” White interjected. “I don’t think we had a 2020 Vision Plan back then, did we?”
“We need people to live here. Instead of taking community development money and looking for somebody on the outside, why don’t we take it and help out the people who are in business here and say how can we help you, what can we do for you?” White said. “Why is it we always look outside? What’s wrong with helping people here? I have no problem with the 2020 vision. I’m just saying the time is now, enough is enough. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it.”
The candidates were also asked what partnerships did they see being created to help Oswego’s quality of life.
Communication is the key to a successful city, Gillen said.
“I disagree with Dave when he talks about how simple things are. If they were simple, they would have been taken care of,” Gillen said. “There are so many people with great ideas in this community and that is why I want to incorporate them in something like a vision plan.”
He said he’d like to see monthly meeting between city representatives and ward residents to discuss issues pertaining to that specific ward.
“Once it is understood which way we are going then we’ll be alright,” White said. “We’ve been talking about some of this stuff for 10 years. How long is it going to be complicated? There comes a time when we have to do something. We can’t always say it is complicated.”
Community development and code enforcement aren’t going in the right direction, he added.
“I’ve made that perfectly clear. I think they’re part of the problem. Not the people working there; but the people who are the head of it. We’ve got to wonder what’s going on. I don’t think they’re going in the right direction,” White said.
Another question dealt with what the candidates would do to protect the city’s architectural heritage.
“I support all of the organizations,” Gillen said.
He said he’d also like to put up signs recognizing parts of the city as they were known years ago, such as The Flats and The Hollow. “I’d like to put signs up, say this is part of our history, too,” he said. It would augment the other parts of Oswego’s history, including the military and Underground Railroad aspects, he added.
“I agree. We got the neighborhoods, we got all of that stuff,” White said. “Putting up signs isn’t going to do it. We have to do more than that. Why don’t we make the place look nice so when people come in they can say, hey this isn’t a bad place.’”
Tourist events was the next topic of discussion.
“We should all be involved in promoting these activities,” Gillen said. “We have so much culture . . . let’s engage them, they’re here.”
There should be better communication regarding all of the organizations and all of the activities they offer, he added.
“We do have some amazing resources here. We have Fort Ontario, Marine Museum, Richardson-Bates House and Safe Haven. These are one-of-a-kind irreplaceable treasures,” White said.
They need to do more to get out and engage people, he added.
“You have to open the door, get out and talk to people,” he said.
The candidates were asked how they’d support the local museums and arts and culture organizations and what roll would they play in determining the future of Oswego.
“Participation is key. That means we have to get people involved. That means communication. People have to know what is going on,” Gillen said.
He also indicated the city should look into collecting its own bed tax again instead of going through the county.
“You got to talk to local people. We do have some resources here and we have to promote all of them,” White said. “On the web is great; but isn’t it nicer if you’re out in public? We need local people to join these organizations. The more people you get in, the better.”
How would the candidates make it easier for the elderly population to get around in the Port City?
Gillen mentioned making the curbs easier to access and redesigning the older buildings in the city so they are more elderly-friendly as well.
“We have got to look at new ideas and old ideas. This city is on the verge of achieving greatness. We can do it collectively,” Gillen said.
“If we’re going to have people come here and walk around this community, then we got to clean the place up,” White said. “I’m not telling you how to live your life. You can do what you want. I’m just saying that we have rules, zoning, code, how you’re supposed to behave and we have to enforce those rules. If we don’t clean that up, who’s going to come here?”