By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The controversy over potentially tainted absentee ballots highlighted Wednesday night’s forum for City of Plattsburgh Common Council candidates.
“This enrages me, not as a Republican but as a taxpayer,” Ward 2 candidate Michael Drew said.
“This should anger every candidate that this is happening.”
Drew was referring to a situation regarding hundreds of applications for absentee ballots that apparently were delivered to voters in the city. He and other Republicans are charging that some people, on the behalf of the Working Families Party, were providing them to students and other residents under false pretenses.
The voters must indicate on the applications why they need an absentee ballot, and many of them are marked that the person will be out of town. Many of those are from students at SUNY Plattsburgh, which is in session on Election Day, Nov. 5.
To knowingly fill out an application with false information could land a person a felony charge, according to City Police.
The Working Families Party has endorsed most Democratic candidates in the city.
Democratic candidates have denied any wrongdoing.
‘CAN’T FAULT MOTIVES’
Drew posed a question about the controversy to his opponent, Democrat Michael Kelly, during the forum, which was hosted by the Plattsburgh Area League of Women Voters at City Hall.
Kelly said he had nothing to do with the effort to deliver absentee-ballot applications. He said he supported efforts to increase opportunities for people to vote, as long as the rules are followed.
“Maybe the rules will shake out,” Kelly said. “But I can’t fault their motives.”
The issue came up again in the Ward 1 session, when independent candidate Maureen Carlo asked her opponents, Democrat Rachelle Armstrong and Republican William Ferris, for their thoughts on the matter.
Armstrong said she supports distribution of absentee ballots.
“In some cases, people who did not have the chance to vote now do, and I think that is a great thing,” she said.
But Ferris said he felt there could be some “voter coercion” going on.
The format of the forum called for candidates from each ward to answer three questions from the audience of about 75 people, posed by moderator Betty Anne King, and then ask each other a question before submitting closing statements.
The order in which the wards appeared was chosen randomly.
In the Ward 3 session, Republican Dale Dowdle and Democrat Justin Meyer answered a question about privatizing some city services, such as trash collection and electricity.
“Nothing is off the table,” Meyer said. “But we have to look at what is most cost effective.”
Dowdle said voters he has talked to say they like the city’s trash-collection service and the electric rates, which are among the lowest in the nation.
In the Ward 5 panel, Republican Bruce Lawson and Democrat Rebecca Kasper were asked if they would be willing to cut city positions if the budget warranted it.
Lawson said he would.
“We have to be thinking of the long term,” he said. “We will have to make difficult decisions, and my business background leads me to understand that I am ready to make those decisions.”
Kasper said it was a “trap question.”
“If our only option is to lay people off, then we’ve failed,” she said. “We would need to put ourselves in a better position so we don’t have do that.”
In the Ward 6 portion of the forum, Democrat Joshua Kretser and independent candidate and incumbent Chris Jackson were asked what they think of the Plattsburgh “bar scene.”
Kretser said he sees downtown shifting from a college-bar atmosphere to more of an adult scene with bars that offer full-service menus.
“A lot of places are becoming more appealing to adults, as well as college students, and we have a lot of empty storefronts for other opportunities, too,” he said.
Jackson said the downtown bar scene is college oriented, but he does not go there so he doesn’t know exactly what they are like.
Both candidates said they support closing off some downtown streets for special events that could bring in more revenue for the city.
Republican candidate for Ward 5 James Wemette did not attend the forum.
In Ward 4, Democrat Paul “Crusher” O’Connell had the floor to himself, as Republican Peter Ensel could not attend because his father, who lives in the Albany area, was ill.
Ensel sent a message that read, in part, “I will continue my door-to-door visits as soon as possible and look forward to meeting the constituents of Ward 4 and listening to your concerns.”
O’Connell said he fully supported the concept of Complete Streets, where more and better access is made available for bikers and pedestrians.
He also said he would favor extending the public-speaking portion of council meetings from the five minutes per person that is now allowed.
“People need more than five minutes sometimes,” he said.
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