PLATTSBURGH — Contenders for Plattsburgh City Mayor went head-to-head during a debate earlier this week, and, in terms of their platforms, the two candidates proved fairly aligned.
Republican Scott Beebie and Christopher "Chris" Rosenquest, a Democrat, attended the virtual event via Zoom, answering questions asked by moderator Brian Colleran, evening anchor at NBC5.
The afternoon debate centered on some hot button issues in the Lake City, like its Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant, continued lawsuits with neighboring Town of Plattsburgh and racism in the Lake City.
Neither candidate has been silent on the controversy surrounding the Durkee lot redevelopment project. If successful, developer Prime Plattsburgh LLC would construct an apartment complex there with commercial space, a community walking path and public/private parking opportunities.
Both Beebie and Rosenquest have spoke against those plans, but what would they do if elected?
Beebie, a retired Plattsburgh City Police lieutenant, said, with developers awaiting approvals of some city boards and seeking a tax abatement from the Clinton County Industrial Development Agency, it was too soon to tell.
"I'm not sure what it will look like months from now," the Republican said. "I don't have a seat at the table. What I can tell you is I've been on record for not being in favor of this project.
"When we're successful in November," he continued, speaking on behalf of himself and his campaign team, "we will take a look at whatever is left for us to deal with."
Rosenquest, Area 9 Clinton County legislator, said he'd found some community members at odds over the fate of the Durkee lot, some wanting to keep its 289 public parking spaces and others looking to have it developed, "but responsibly."
"The question that I have at this point is, 'How do we moved forward? What's Plan B? Can we start to develop a Plan B right now?"
The city has entered into some lawsuits with the Town of Plattsburgh over the years, including one over the Lake City's petition to annex about 224 acres of city-owned property situated within the town's borders.
The longstanding issue was the topic of discussion at a recent joint city-town public hearing, where municipal officials and residents were welcomed to give their take on the matter.
When asked if he would keep the City of Plattsburgh out of court and mend relations with the Town of Plattsburgh, Rosenquest said he was already on the job.
"That work has already been done," he said, mentioning meetings and phone calls with Town Supervisor Michael Cashman. "That's not a Day 1 thing, that's a right now thing."
And when speaking on the lawsuit, Rosenquest said he was, "absolutely committed," to keeping the city out of court.
"That's always the goal."
Beebie said he had also done work to connect with the town supervisor, noting his 15 years of service at a volunteer fire department in the neighboring municipality.
"I have an understanding what goes on out there," he said, adding that he found the annexation process sad. "Instead of shaking hands and communicating with our neighbors. . . we've resulted in litigations."
If the two municipalities could sit down and find common ground, Beebie said he would absolutely end the city's legal battles.
RACISM IN THE CITY
When asked if Plattsburgh had a racism issue or what the municipality could do to be more inclusive, Beebie said he needed to find those answers out in the community.
"To say there is no racism in our community would be ill-informed and naïve," the former police lieutenant said. "The issue that I face is, I cannot answer what a 20-year-old student of color walking on Rugar Street is facing.
"In order for me to understand that, we need to have a series of conversations; we need to be educated on what is going on in our community. . . sometimes these conversations are uncomfortable, but I need to know what I don't know."
As a person of color who grew up in Plattsburgh, Rosenquest said he had faced racism here.
"I wouldn't necessarily say we're a racist community, but we do have elements — just like every community," he said, adding that questions needed to be asked about how the Lake City accepts persons of color and its SUNY students.
"I think that's something we can do a lot better with," he said. "We can certainly create more of a welcoming environment."
CHALLENGING VOTER CHOICE
Though Rosenquest noted the candidates similar platforms, he thought he had a more solid plan in place when compared to his competitor.
"With just a few weeks before polls open, city voters will have a challenging time choosing the right person for the city's top job," he said. "However, I'm the only candidate who has provided a clear, transparent and detailed plan for how to accomplish these goals on Day 1.
"I'm the only candidate who has the political, personal relationships to begin this work on Day 1 and I'm the only candidate who, on Day 1, will bring decades of business management and budgeting skills all of those skills that are required to be a successful mayor."
Beebie closed the debate with a nod to his leadership experience, discussing his time working in public safety and his more than 30 years as a coach, referee and/or mentor of the area's youth.
"I've been a leader in the community. . . and I look to continue my service to the City of Plattsburgh," he said. "There's a big difference between being a leader and being politician.
"With my experience, all of the time that I have spent dedicated to this community, I'm certainly no politician."
The full half-hour debate covered additional topics, including city budget concerns and student resource officers. It aired Monday on News Channel 5 and was later made available online at: mynbc5.com.
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