Mayor Smith prominent in Watertown City Council race | Jefferson County


WATERTOWN – Voters in the city might think there are eight candidates for city council in the Nov. 2 election – Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and seven others.

The mayor and some candidates quarreled throughout the campaign.

With his attacks on his political rivals, some council candidates say he is playing a role in the race in which he is not a candidate. He will no longer be on the polls before 2023.

They insist that the mayor remains on the sidelines of the non-partisan race.

Cliff G. Olney III, who sees himself as “the opposition” to what is going on in city government, says the election has become “a referendum on the mayor”.

In what has become a sniping election between mayor and candidates, City Councilor Lisa A. Ruggiero – who disagreed with the mayor on several key issues over the past two years – said she got mad at Mayor Smith after he criticized her and other candidates. on former Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham’s Hotline radio show.

“I don’t think he should be doing this,” she said.

In a Sept. 17 Hotline interview, the mayor spoke of a controversy involving a request for funding from the Jefferson Hospice to receive a portion of the city’s $ 11 million US bailout.

The mayor, who opposed the funding request, accused councilor, city councilor Leonard Spaziani, candidate Patrick J. Hickey and Mr. Olney of wanting to give the $ 11 million only to non-profit organizations. lucrative and not to use them in city street and infrastructure projects.

“It was so bad,” Councilor Ruggiero said, adding that it was “a lie”.

It was in cases like this that he interfered in the race, she said. The municipal councilor is re-elected for her four-year term.

Mr Hickey also believes the mayor should stay out of the race.

“I believe that Mayor Smith’s participation in the council race has an impact on every candidate,” Hickey said. “His statements obscure the real issues of what we, the candidates, can do for the city and what we stand for.”

While attacking them, the mayor accuses the four candidates of “making the election about me”.

He was tired of seeing the social media criticism candidates were posting about him, the mayor said, so he had to defend himself.

“It wasn’t me who got into it,” he said.

If they run against him, the mayor said people should know what he has accomplished since he was elected mayor two years ago.

He helped the city overcome some financial hardship caused by the pandemic, allowed the state to forgo a $ 3.1 million city hall justice project, got an approved budget with no increase property tax and led a smooth transition with the dismissal of a city manager and the hiring of a new one.

It examines the issues facing the city, then makes a decision on what’s best for taxpayers, the mayor said.

But the biggest complaint has been the lack of transparency, critics said.

Council members Ruggiero and Spaziani accuse the mayor of not telling them about the things he is working on for the city, they said.

He failed to tell them he was working on single-stream recycling, a water deal with the town of Pamelia, and the Jefferson County Hospice’s funding request.

The three issues ended up exploding in the mayor’s face, said councilor Spaziani.

Perhaps no one bumped into the mayor more than City Councilor Spaziani, who said he just didn’t trust the mayor.

“The mayor is a dictator,” he said. “That’s why I’m running, just trouble with him.”

As for getting involved in the election, the mayor’s strategy is to make sure he has three votes, so he can keep control of the council and get his agenda approved, Mr Olney said. .

This is what he did when he was able to count on both Sarah V. Compo Pierce and former city councilor Jesse CP Roshia to vote “by leaps and bounds” with him on the problems of the city. , did he declare. City councilor Spaziani was appointed to the council after Mr Roshia resigned in January.

The mayor hopes to elect Amy Horton, who is running for a two-year seat, and Michelle Capone, a candidate for one of two four-year seats, Olney said.

“He has to build on that yes vote,” he said, adding that Ms Horton would be that stamp vote.

Ms Horton and Mr Hickey are vying for the seat left vacant by the resignation of former city councilor Roshia.

To get Ms Horton elected, the mayor attacked Mr Hickey twice, Mr Olney said.

The mayor is trying to distract from the council candidate and his campaign in an effort to make voters think negatively about him, Mr Hickey said.

Mayor Smith claimed Mr Hickey did not report on his state campaign financial disclosure that local businessman PJ Simao paid for in the Watertown Daily Times.

The financial report is not yet due, so it was a false accusation, Simao said.

Mayor Smith also criticized Mr Hickey for politicizing the city’s Neighborhood Watch program by soliciting votes on his Facebook page.

The Neighborhood Watch program should not be used for political purposes as the city provided in-kind services and a police officer to help get it started, the mayor said.

Last week, the mayor sought legal advice on the situation from City Attorney Robert J. Slye, who told him it was not a city issue, but a political candidate issue.

“He tried to Robert Schorr him [Pat Hickey]”said Olney, referring to the city council candidate who lost the June primary after suffering the backlash from an attack by the mayor.

Although he admitted to making a mistake in encouraging support for the Neighborhood Watch display, Mr Hickey said the city’s participation in the program is mainly limited to providing a police officer as a liaison with the organization and with work teams installing panels.

“In my naivety and zeal to inform Watch volunteers about the upcoming elections, I may have got lost, but I find it interesting that the mayor is the only member who has contested my request to consider support.” , said Mr. Hickey. .

As for Ms. Horton’s support, the mayor said he did not “officially” support any candidate and “unofficially, it is nobody’s business” that he supports.

He said his wife, Millie, put an inscription for Amy Horton’s campaign in their front yard on Keyes Avenue. After asking questions about it, he reluctantly admitted that his wife supported his candidacy.

“It is my wife’s right and privilege,” he said.

But the mayor and Ms Horton denied he was helping his campaign in any way, despite agreeing on the town’s problems. They didn’t even talk to each other about the campaign, she said.

He repeated his explanation of their connection he gave when she first announced she was showing up. Years ago, Mrs. Horton was a neighbor, baby would sit up for her kids a few times and teach his wife in a Zumba class at the YMCA.

He declined to comment further on their connection.

But all the attention Mayor Smith receives during the campaign – whether from the candidates or himself – is a source of frustration for Ms Horton and candidate Benjamin Shoen, they said.

“At the end of the day, it’s about us and our ideas,” she said.

None of the voters she met during the campaign mentioned the mayor’s role in the race, she said. They want council members to work together, stop their bickering and get to work for the city, she said.

Not all feuds between the mayor and the candidates are good for the city, she said.

“At the end of the day, you have to work together for more than two years,” she said.

Mr Shoen said it was a distraction to intervene with the mayor during the campaign. He pointed out that he had never even spoken to the mayor.

Earlier this year, Mr. Shoen and Ms. Horton wanted to be appointed to the council seat now occupied by City Councilor Spaziani. The two were the only candidates to apply for this seat while it was still vacant.

With the mayor’s insistence, none of the other candidates were interviewed, but neither was ultimately appointed to the post.

Eventually, city councilor Spaziani was appointed.

“I wouldn’t even be here,” said councilor Spaziani.

Mayor Smith was set to return to the hotline next week after Mr. Graham finished interviewing each of the candidates on his radio show.

His opponents feared this would give the mayor the last chance to refute what they said about him in their talks.

On Thursday morning, however, Mr Graham said he received a call from the mayor canceling the interview, citing the results of a private poll in the race.

The cancellation fueled speculation the mayor was done campaigning and was ultimately going to sit on the sidelines until election day, critics said.

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