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Decision 2011:Six questions with Republican candidates for Utica Mayor
UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - With primary day less than 24 hours away, many candidates were out and about for that last minute campaign push, including those seeking the Republican nod in the Utica Mayoral Race.
It wasn't just shaking hands and kissing babies, as candidates hit the pavement that one last time and opened their ears to the issues voters will be taking with them to the polls tomorrow.
Both current City Comptroller Michael Cerminaro and businessman Robert Cardillo were out and about the City of Utica on Monday, talking with voters and listening to their concerns - concerns those voters hope will fall into the ears of Utica's future mayor.
We had a few questions of our own that we posed to each candidate as they continued on the campaign trail on Monday:
"What do you think is the biggest issue facing the city today?"
Cardillo: "I think it's the direction of the city. It's the economy because the economy is on everybody's mind. It's the lack of employment, the lack of jobs, and the direction that we're going. We need to focus not just on economic development, but focus on careers, focus on how we're going to develop our existing businesses, how we can further develop new businesses, new technology by working with our colleges and universities, the existing companies that are here. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with ConMed years ago as the Economic Development Director for Empire State Development and we were able to take ConMed and move it to French Road, which is now one of the largest manufacturing employers in this community. I was proud to be a part of that with Governor Patacki and the rest of the elected Republican officials were there when we did that deal."
Cerminaro: "People feel that government is not working for them at any level...whether you talk about the federal levels, whether you talk about the state level...they feel that government is out of touch, that they're taking care of their own, they're taking care of just a few people. They want government to be responsive to them. They want to know when they pick up the phones that someone's there on the other end that cares about them. I think that's been my mantra for the last 25 years. Whether I was a councilman, DPW commissioner, city comptroller, they could always pick up the phone and call, we would respond. They know that I'm working for them. I'll be 62 in another few weeks. I'm at the end of my political career. I've no hidden agenda. I'm there for them, and I think people know that and they've been responding pretty positively for that."
What is they key to revitalizing Downtown Utica?
Cerminaro: "When people look at city government now they see a lot of arguing and bickering...they want that to stop. No on is going to come to the City of Utica if they see a government that's arguing and bickering. That's not working for them. If you can't even repair your own streets, you can't even clean your own neighborhoods. That's what people want. They want basic city services. They want their government to know they're working for them and then business will take a second look. The harbor is critical. That is the catalyst that can have just...tentacles throughout the whole area. That harbor we're going to focus on. Being a business-friendly city is things that we're going to be concentrating on. Like I said, our Utica Police Department and Utica Fire Department have a lot to offer. Why can't a college have classrooms downtown? Why can't they have a presence downtown that will now work together with our Public Safety Departments and bring people downtown? We're going to be a business-friendly government, professional government, a government that gets along from the administration to the common council...that's what people will focus on."
Cardillo: "Everybody talks about revitalizing downtown Utica. I think, first of all, we need to work within the guidelines of the master plan that's been established. Even though it hasn't been voted on, there's been significant money that's been spent on the master plan and I think we need to look at it as a guide and we need to modify it, where possible. We also need to take downtown and look at downtown as a neighborhood and develop downtown within the other existing neighborhoods that are around the periphery. I also think we need to focus on making sure we get adequate parking and I believe, very strongly, that we need a parking garage downtown. If you don't have adequate parking and you don't have a parking garage, in a community this size, it looks like it's a blighted city. You need activity, and I think we can create that activity by working with all these small businesses that are already downtown. And there's some things that Mayor Roefaro has done that I believe we need to continue...in working with some of the older buildings and establishing some of those extra projects that we've been working on."
How will you handle the 2% tax cap and any impacts on city budgets?
Cardillo: "I have said right along in our whole campaign theme is that...we need to start working and we have the first 100 days of my administration, which is going to be critical. Part of those first 100 days is going to be doing a city-wide audit and find out exactly where we are, because we get phony numbers. We never know where we really are and this administration on Day One is going to know exactly where we are. The 2% tax cap is a reality. I also think we need to work with our legislators in the Senate and in the Assembly and with Governor Cuomo to let them understand that unfunded mandates go right down and are trickled right down to the local economy. So, while they can boast that they've got a 2% tax cap, they're gonna' help the local economy. So, we need to do in unison...look at our budgets...make sure we've spent every dollar appropriately...do more with less...look into how we can generate more dollars...whether it's through grant activity or by increasing our economy with newfound dollars, then working with our legislators and governor to make sure they do something with unfunded mandates."
Cerminaro: "Ask any housewife that manages a budget, you can only spend what you take in and that's what we're gonna' be doing. I call it a 'Cash Management System.' If we only bring in 63, 64 million dollars, that's all we're gonna' have to spend. We're not going to rely on fund balances and phony revenues. We're only going to spend what we take in. That starts the basis of a sound, fiscal policy. Then you work from there. Whatever other revenue we can get is gravy. That builds our reserve. We went through these past four years under this current administration, we went through all our reserves. We have no more money left in the reserves. We can only spend what we take in and then build upon that."
What is your assessment of and plans for Utica's technology infrastructure?
Cerminaro: "One of the key components is working with our local colleges, working with our local small businesses, our I-T businesses that are scattered throughout the area. The City of Utica even looked at one time pursuing the entire city of wireless access for them. Those are things that we'd like to go after that maybe our citizens can benefit in that respect. Working with our local businesses and local colleges, that's the key to improve technology because that's where it's all heading."
Cardillo: "I'm a technology person...my business functions on technology. It can't exist without my blackberry or without a computer, because I represent clients that are all over the country. Technology's very important. I think the opportunities we have with SUNY and the rest of our colleges and universities systems here, Utica College has a phenomenal program that's a cyber-security program. I'm on the faculty of Georgetown University, so I know how some of these opportunities with our own local colleges can be used to forward the promotion of technology and education, cuz' they're hand in hand. Education, technology and economic development are hand in hand."
In light of the massive snowstorm of last winter, and the state of many roads within the city, what can be done to maintain or improve services such as roads, plowing, etc, without essentially, beating the taxpayer over the head?
Cardillo: "I believe we need to first of, all, again, if you look at technology, we need to look at technology. Folks at the DPW need the tools to do the job - plow the snow and repair the streets. The way we do that is by getting every available dollar that we can get through grants and other opportunities. One of the biggest things we can do is looking at green technology. There's opportunities that we could use for equipment that may use natural gas vehicle or fuel cell vehicles...these are opportunities that are there that we need to take advantage of and we will do that. Again, within those first 100 days, those are the evaluations we'll need to make to get these things done."
Cerminaro: "I proved when I was Commissioner of DPW and many people have told us thus, myself, and my Deputy Bill Schrader, that we were the best commissioners in DPW that they've had in the city. Our streets were plowed. They were plowed every day. The former administration will tell you they used to receive letters and phone calls from people, even outside the area who were visiting, how well our streets were maintained and how well they're plowed. We're gonna' bring that back. That same leadership that I provided with the DPW for many years, I'm gonna' bring that back as mayor of the City of Utica. People know me from those days and expect no less."
The Hotel Utica was a big issue during the last mayoral election in Utica. What does the future hold for the Hotel Utica and the HSBC building downtown under your administration?
Cerminaro: "Remember I mentioned the harbor? If that harbor takes off, Hotel Utica, will take off. HSBC building will take off. We have plans for that harbor that will make that a magnet and focal point for people. Hotels will flourish, businesses will flourish. That's how critical the harbor development is gonna' be to our game plan going forward. "It will now revitalize struggling businesses."
Cardillo: "Hotel Utica was a renovation project that really was the catalyst to have Utica National build the building that they built downtown. I believe that, if not for the Hotel Utica, Utica National would not have done that. It would have been the wrecking ball...it would have been another parking lot. So, as difficult as some of those issues are with the Hotel Utica, and I do believe some of those things do need to be dealt with, the project in and of itself was a good thing. The HSBC building is another issue where, if we had dealt with the problem when it existed at the very beginning, rather than waiting, I think..and i haven't been in the building...so I really can't determine whether it is salvageable or not...I've heard both yes it can and no it can't. But I think what we need to do to make sure when we look at these buildings and look at these issues and go back to what I said about the master plan. How does it revolve around a total development of downtown, not just put a band aid on a particular project."
Also running for Utica Mayor is Democrat Robert Palmeri and Rainbow Party Candidate Ernie Sanita.