By AMY HEGGEN
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Before a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night, the three city mayoral candidates discussed their economic plans, the need for an improved Community Development Office and opportunities to partner with SUNY Plattsburgh.
The forum in Krinovitz Auditorium on the SUNY Plattsburgh Campus, sponsored by Vision2Action, was not intended to be a debate, and the candidates took turns answering questions posed by panelists Joe LoTemplio of the Press-Republican, Pat Bradley of WAMC North Country Public Radio and Brian Molongoski, an editor for Cardinal Points, the SUNY Plattsburgh student newspaper.
Democratic candidate Mark Tiffer said the city needs to look toward the future.
“It’s important for us to have a staffed Community Development Office,” he said.
Though the city has received grants in the past few years, he said, they’re only a fraction of what is possible.
“We don’t have a department that’s seeking those opportunities,” Tiffer said. “We have to be creative, find different revenue sources.”
Jim Calnon, the Republican and Independence party candidate, said he doesn’t think another person should be hired for the Community Development Office, though he would like to dedicate an employee to community events like First Weekends and the Independence Day celebration.
“The very first thing we have to do is deliver essential city services at an affordable price,” he said. “I think the economic developer for the city is the mayor.”
Calnon plans for rational negotiations with unions and said the unions trust him.
“We have to look at how we invest money in the future,” he said.
He also said the budget needs to be managed by someone who has the ability.
“I will manage the funds so we keep our tax rate from growing.”
Chris Rosenquest, who’s running an independent campaign for mayor, said Plattsburgh is missing grant opportunities.
He recently released a community and economic development plan that addresses union contract issues and an effort to increase tourism through resources already available in Plattsburgh, such as the beach and Plattsburgh International Airport.
“Arts and culture are an economic driver for our region,” Rosenquest said. “We’re already a destination, but how are we keeping (tourists) here? That’s the focus.”
Rosenquest says he would use technology to save the government time and money.
The candidates took similar stances on the importance of building and keeping a relationship with SUNY Plattsburgh, though the topic of affordable and safe housing for students garnered different answers.
After moving away to find a job after graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh, Rosenquest sees an opportunity to engage with the students and to create living-wage jobs in the area.
Tiffer wants to identify internship opportunities throughout the city.
“(Students) could give a lot to our community,” he said. “Companies need skilled workers; we have them.”
Calnon said some older housing is grandfathered in.
“We have to find ways to take properties that are technically habitable and make them (realistically) habitable,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that will save lives ... and make student’s lives more rewarding.”
Rosenquest said the housing inspector’s job could be made easier by leveraging technology in the hopes that the services can be delivered more effectively.
Studies have already been done, Tiffer said, on how to make off-campus student-housing communities safer, and he wants to tap into that information.
The three candidates agreed that the newly renovated Strand Theatre is essential to downtown Plattsburgh.
“We need to rebuild our downtown around the Strand Theatre,” Calnon said.
Tiffer said the theater should be a focal point.
“We have to connect our downtown to our waterfront,” he added.