By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh Republicans have endorsed their slate of candidates, setting up full-scale battles for the Common Council and mayoral races.
Mayor Pro Tem James Calnon has changed his mind about retiring and will run for mayor as the Republican candidate.
“We’ve had a difficult six years budget-wise, and we’ve had to deal with a host of things that were out of our control, and I am afraid that without someone with the experience of having been through all of these hard times, it could all unravel in a short period of time,” Calnon said.
He will face Democrat Mark Tiffer, the councilor from Ward 2, unless other candidates emerge.
‘THE BEST PERSON’
Calnon, 63, has been the Ward 4 councilor and mayor pro tem since 2007. He is retired from the Workforce Investment Board, a multi-county agency serving area employment needs.
As mayor pro tem, he serves as the council’s budget officer.
Calnon had said as recently as two days ago that he would not be running again. But he changed his mind and was given the Republican endorsement at Thursday night’s party caucus.
A registered independent voter, Calnon also had the Republican endorsement when he ran for council re-election in 2010.
“We went with the best person for the job not just the best Republican,” Party Chairman Richard Cantwell said.
“He certainly has the experience and has done a great job as mayor pro tem and as budget officer, and we see him as being able to continue the work that has been done, and he will offer a smooth transition and the next step in fiscal responsibility.”
Mayor Donald Kasprzak announced in April that he would not be seeking another term.
Tiffer, 29, was endorsed by city Democrats last week. A safety supervisor at United Parcel Service, he has served as the Ward 2 councilor since 2010.
He said that having an opponent will ultimately be good for voters.
“It allows the voters an opportunity to see what direction they want to go,” he said. “I respect Jim Calnon, but do we want a continuation of the existing administration?”
While not criticizing Kasprzak’s administration, Tiffer said a “more positive tone” is needed in city government.
“Everything can be improved,” he said.
“We should not be satisfied with the status quo. Sometimes you need a change, and it’s good to have a fresh perspective on specific issues.”
Calnon said the administration that Tiffer is talking about is one that he has been a part of for the past three years.
“He’s been right here with us,” Calnon said.
In addition to Calnon, Republicans chose Bill Ferris to run in Ward 1, Michael Drew in Ward 2, Dale Dowdle in Ward 3, Peter Ensel in Ward 4, Bruce Lawson in Ward 5 and James Wemette in Ward 6.
Ferris is the owner of Big Apple Audio on Durkee Street. He ran for the Ward 2 seat in 2010 and lost to Tiffer by just two votes.
When the city re-shaped its ward boundaries two years ago, Ferris wound up in Ward 1.
“I want to make sure we don’t go crazy with taxes,” he said.
“We need to sharpen our pencils and take care of our fiscal responsibilities. If we get the wrong people in there, taxes will skyrocket.”
Drew is a former councilor from Ward 1 who served as interim mayor briefly in 2006 when then-Mayor Daniel Stewart left to take a state post.
Drew ran against Kasprzak in a Republican primary for mayor in September 2006 but lost. He now teaches building trade skills at CV-TEC.
“I thought I had some good ideas when I ran for mayor, and I think I still have some good ideas and can be an effective councilor,” Drew said.
Dowdle is retired from the New York State Department of Parole. He served on the Plattsburgh City School Board for several years and is a member of the Plattsburgh City Planning Board.
“I want to represent the entire city and not just my ward,” Dowdle said.
“I want to take fiscal responsibility a little further.”
Ensel is an associate professor of communications at SUNY Plattsburgh. He, like Calnon, is a registered independent voter but got the Republican nod.
“I think we need to maintain the services we have, but we also have to keep taxes at a reasonable level,” Ensel said.
“State mandates present a huge challenge, and we need to be creative.”
Lawson is retired as general sales manager of WPTZ, and he now operates Northeast Music and Media.
“I think the No. 1 issue is a stable tax rate,” he said.
“I look forward to working with the next mayor and council and providing a stable tax rate.
Lawson also said he would like to build better relationships between the city and charitable organizations, as well as the arts.
Wemette works for Westelcom and has a master’s degree in business administration.
He said he wants to implement the business practice of Lean Six Sigma in city government.
“On the local-government level, there should be no Democrat or Republican way to govern,” he said. “There are only common sense and dollar and cents.”
Lean Six Sigma is a practice used in the private sector for reducing waste and improving productivity.
With Tiffer and Calnon running for mayor and incumbent Councilors George Rabideau (R-Ward 3), Chris Case (D-Ward 5) and Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6) not running, and Timothy Carpenter’s (D-Ward 1) future uncertain, the entire council could be new when it takes office next January.
With that in mind, Cantwell said the party spent weeks recruiting candidates. He said he interviewed at least 50 people about running for mayor.
“We knew this was coming, and we worked hard to find good people to run,” Cantwell said.
“I think there might have been a little more interest this year because all the seats were open.”
MANAGER VS. MAYOR
The idea of changing the city form of government from a strong-mayor system to a city-manager type is being floated by city businessman Neil Fessette.
One of his arguments for switching to a city manager is that the salary for mayor — about $70,000 — is too low to attract quality candidates.
Cantwell said that was a factor for some of the potential candidates they talked to.
“It does tend to scare some people off, and maybe we could attract more if it was higher,” he said.
Cantwell said the idea of switching to a city manager is a concept worth exploring.
“Every mayor is different, but I think a city-manager idea is certainly something worth looking at,” he said.
If there is enough interest among residents to explore the city-manager idea, Calnon said, then the council should put it up for a vote.
“There are strengths and weaknesses in every form of government, but if there is a significant number of voters who want to consider this, then it is our obligation to get it on a ballot,” Calnon said.
Tiffer also said he would support pursuing the idea if there were interest among voters.
Candidates must submit petitions with signatures of 5 percent of voters in their ward to get on the November ballot. If more than one candidate for each ward or for mayor submits the required petition, a primary will be held in September.
Petitions can be signed from June 4 to July 11.
Carpenter, the incumbent in Ward 1 since 2008, did not get the Democratic Party endorsement to run again when that party met last week. The endorsement went to Rachelle Armstrong, a retired teacher.
Carpenter said he was not sure if he would run in a primary to keep his seat.
In addition to Armstrong, Democratic candidates for council are Michael Kelly in Ward 2, Justin Meyer in Ward 3, Paul O’Connell in Ward 4, Becky Kasper in Ward 5 and Joshua Kretser in Ward 6.
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