By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh mayoral candidate Chris Rosenquest sharply criticized City Hall for not cooperating with people hosting downtown events, but then backtracked after being pressed on the issue.
“I think this exposes the fact that he (Rosenquest) doesn’t really know what is going on,” said Councilor James Calnon (I-Ward 4), who is also running for mayor.
Rosenquest, a Plattsburgh native who moved home this summer from the Pacific Northwest to run for mayor, sent out a news release Monday complaining about roadblocks that he claimed Mayor Donald Kasprzak and the council have put up when downtown groups want to host events.
A group of downtown business leaders has organized events the first weekend of each month — dubbed First Weekends — this past summer. Part of City Hall Place is blocked off to create a festival area for entertainment for part of those events.
Organizers have appeared before the council to ask permission to block off the street and address other issues.
“Why does the leadership at City Hall constantly block the efforts of grassroots organizations and local businesses from making a difference in Plattsburgh?” Rosenquest said in his news release.
“Why does First Weekends and other community groups who are out doing good things for Plattsburgh face opposition from the mayor’s office and the council?”
Rosenquest, an independent candidate, said the council needs to shift its mindset and be more welcoming to groups trying to do things in the city.
“Time and again, First Weekends, downtown businesses and other grassroots organizations have had to go to City Council to ask for permission to bring revenue and people to downtown Plattsburgh,” his release said.
Rosenquest, who had lived out West for 14 years before returning to Plattsburgh to throw his hat in the ring for mayor, went on to say that, if elected, he would work with First Weekend planners and other groups to help attract visitors to downtown.
His news release infuriated Kasprzak, who is not running for re-election. The mayor said there is a procedure for any group that wants a street closed.
“This visiting candidate from Seattle is obviously very confused about the process to host events in downtown Plattsburgh,” Kasprzak said.
“Apparently, he also has no regard for the cost of city departments to assist in events like this and the traffic and safety issues associated with events like this.”
Blocking off streets is not a simple matter, the mayor said, and it involves Public Works, City Police and the Fire Department.
In the past, some merchants on City Hall Place have even expressed concern about closing the street to vehicular traffic and potential customers.
“I believe this Seattle candidate is receiving some erroneous or questionable information,” Kasprzak said.
Calnon, who is running on the Republican line, said Rosenquest was way off base in asserting that the council has not been cooperative with First Weekend planners.
“What blocking has been done?” he demanded.
“He (Rosenquest) was not there to see that we actually endorsed First Weekends and engaged in a dialogue with them and tried to help them make their events even better.”
Calnon said it is normal for any group to go before the council and ask to host an event or close a street.
“If he had ever been to a meeting, he would know that’s how it is done,” he said.
Councilor Mark Tiffer (D-Ward 2), who is running for mayor on the Democratic ticket, said Rosenquest’s position was “an absolute misrepresentation of reality.”
Tiffer said he has advocated for and supported many events for downtown since he joined the council three years ago.
“The initial year of First Weekends has turned out to be a great success,” he wrote in an email to the P-R.
“This could not have happened without the support of the City Council, the mayor and city workers and managers.”
Tiffer said that organizing First Weekends was not easy, and many details had to be addressed.
“These were no small feats to plan,” he said. “As someone who was able to get involved and contribute at the very early planning stages of First Weekends, I am outraged that Mr. Rosenquest would politicize and diminish the vital role that the city businesses and coordinators of First Weekends had in making these events a reality.”
‘NOT REALLY FREE’
Councilor Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6), who represents the downtown area, said it is the council’s responsibility to make sure that events such as First Weekend have the proper insurance and necessary permits to protect the city from liability issues.
“I didn’t realize that voting in favor of First Weekend activities was considered ‘constantly blocking the efforts’ and ‘opposition from the mayor’s office and council,’” he said in an email to the Press-Republican.
Jackson said that events like First Weekend that are billed as “free” can be misleading.
“These ‘free’ events are good for the city, but ‘free’ is a relative term when it comes to city services used to support these ‘free’ events,” he said.
“I can assure you, overtime pay is not free.”
Contacted by the Press-Republican, Public Works Superintendent Mike Brodi said First Weekend does not cost his department much in overtime, but other downtown events do, among them the Fourth of July, Mayor’s Cup Regatta and Festival and the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration.
“Those can be a bit pricey,” he said.
When asked to clarify his position on the city not cooperating with First Weekend, Rosenquest said he was retracting his press release.
“We had some information on some issues that was premature to release,” he wrote to the Press-Republican in an email.
He sent a revised news release on Wednesday that said his criticisms were not specifically about First Weekend.
He said he believes the city needs a mayor and leadership that will be more proactive in supporting community groups and other small businesses having to band together to fight for support.
“Our question to City Hall and the other candidates is where is the ongoing and permanent support for these grassroots efforts?” he said.
“Why do we constantly hear about resistance when some community groups and downtown businesses want to do something new that will attract people to our downtown?”
Rosenquest said he supports the creation of a new Community Economic Development Office to help revitalize downtown and bring in more revenue for local businesses.
He also said he would work with community groups to plan a yearly calender of events that would include a four-season festival schedule to highlight the area’s music, food, arts and crafts and theater.
Tiffer said the Community Development Office already exists, and he supports it fully.
“I see very little substance and innovation in Mr. Rosenquest’s plan for downtown,” he said.
“The functions that Mr. Rosenquest described of the Community Development Office are already occurring. In fact, many of our existing downtown buildings and businesses have benefited through our Community Development Office. Main Street grants have helped to reconstruct and beautify a number of neighborhoods in and around downtown.”
Calnon said Rosenquest’s change in position clearly shows that he was off base in his initial assessment.
“So now, because we demonstrated that his specific charge was contrary to the facts, it’s not about something specific, it’s about what he conveniently hears about,” he said.
“He is trying to make up an issue where one does not exist so he can then promise to fix it. He is trying to create a track record that doesn’t exist.
“The other two candidates in the race have their public records to show how they support downtown. Clever fiction won’t fool the voters.”
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