April 28, 2013

Editorial: Leaving with job well done


---- — Mayor Donald Kasprzak’s decision not to run for re-election this fall is an unfortunate one for city residents.

Kasprzak grew up in Plattsburgh, graduated from St. John’s Academy in 1974, left for college and a career and eventually returned here to raise his family. His love and concern for his hometown has always been evident.

In 2006, Kasprzak ran on a platform of getting the city’s finances under control, as had been his mission during his four years as an alderman in the early 1990s. The year before he ran for mayor, city residents had endured a 35 percent tax increase, and he was swept into office with the understanding that taxpayers wanted him to pare expenses.

He pushed, cajoled and persuaded until tax increases were down to reasonable amounts, the city’s credit rating was boosted to AAA and the fund balance was restored to a healthy level. His administration was able to get city workers to contribute to their health-insurance costs — a continuing savings for taxpayers — and eliminated a $1 million Municipal Lighting Department deficit.

No mayor is perfect, of course. The Press-Republican challenged Kasprzak a number of times over the years (as recently as last Sunday) over his sometimes combative rhetoric with certain union officials. We never questioned his motive, believing that he felt justified in fighting unions that he thought were taking advantage of city taxpayers. But we did express concern that his aggressive attitude was sometimes counter-productive to the cooperation and compromise needed to achieve change.

And we would not describe Kasprzak as a visionary mayor along the lines of Clyde Rabideau or Dan Stewart. While they dreamed up new proposals, festivals and developments — only some of which came to fruition — Kasprzak is more workmanlike and focused on efficiency of operation.

But Kasprzak had more than financial challenges to cope with. Mother Nature socked the city twice in 2011: first with historic flooding in the spring and later in the year with Tropical Storm Irene. The mayor showed strong leadership through those crises, and his familiarity with the functioning of New York state, due to his years with New York Parks and Recreation, was helpful in the aftermath.

He shut down the eyesore Lakeside Apartments, addressed a long-ignored landfill site, completed sewer projects and encouraged development of the River Walk.

And don’t underestimate the many aggravations, complaints and 24-hour-a-day calls that a city mayor must cope with in being responsive to citizens. Kasprzak’s number is in the phone book, and you can bet it is used frequently.

In announcing his decision not to run for re-election, Kasprzak said, “There is no better place to live and raise a family than in the North Country.” We know he was speaking from the heart.

He took that commitment to the City of Plattsburgh and plunged full bore into what he felt was the people’s directive to clean up city finances. He can leave with a feeling of mission accomplished.