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City candidates gearing up for final days of primary season

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The primary race for Watertown City Council has not produced much heated debate among its six candidates.

After spending nearly three months getting their messages out, the candidates are using the last couple of days before the primaries to remind folks to vote, they said. Turnout is expected to be low, so letting people they know personally — even friends and family members — could be a make-or-break situation.

The candidates intend to go door to door during the waning days of the primary campaign, they said.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso said she will continue to combine her business with campaigning. She intends to remind her customers to vote for her Tuesday when they stop at Brew Ha Ha, 468 Coffeen St., for coffee.

“I do a lot of interacting,” she said. “I’ll talk shop when they order their coffee.”

Four political newcomers are challenging Ms. Macaluso and Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith. The other candidates are Jasmine W. Borreggine, Stephen A. Jennings, Cody J. Horbacz and Rodney J. LaFave.

The top four vote-getters in the primary will move on to the general election Nov. 5. Elected offices in the city are nonpartisan; any registered voter can vote in the primary.

With few signs that the public has paid close attention to the race, some local political observers predict that voters will not flock to the polls.

Council primaries were held in 2003 and 2005, when five candidates sought seats. In 2003, a total of 2,284 people voted, with Mr. Smith accumulating the most votes with 1,199, and the last-place finisher receiving 286, according to the Jefferson County Board of Elections. Numbers dropped two years later with 1,140 voters going to the polls. The winner ended up with 735 votes and the last-place finisher had 375.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham predicted the winner of Tuesday’s primary could get 900 to 1,000 votes and the last-place finisher could squeak out about 300.

While he would not predict how many residents would vote Tuesday, Jerry O. Eaton, Republican elections commissioner for the Jefferson County Board of Elections, said the 2003 primary produced high turnout, but numbers for local elections have been going down since then, while the city’s population has been on the rise.

Despite that, the six candidates said they heard that voters are excited about the primary.

“I think having six people in the race draws attention,” said Mr. Horbacz, who has criticized the City Council for not listening to constituents.

At a meet-the-candidates night Thursday, a panelist asked Mr. Horbacz whether he will be accessible if he is elected in November. He pulled out his cellphone and told the audience that constituents would always be able to reach him on it.

He also was strongly critical of the way council members handled a controversial zoning change involving roomers living in single-family homes in residential A districts.

During the campaign, Mr. Horbacz has used social media, mainly his Facebook page, “Cody for Watertown,” to communicate with voters, getting more than 700 hits. It’s been an effective tool that he will continue to use to persuade residents to go to the polls, he said.

While she did not accumulate as many responses as Mr. Horbacz, Mrs. Borreggine also has relied on Facebook to communicate with voters, first informing them of how to register and then letting them know how she stands on city issues and about her activities during the campaign. She also intends to use it to see if people need a ride to the polls Tuesday.

Throughout her campaign, she has said that the city should lower taxes to keep more people here and that government should have a limited role in people’s lives. To keep property taxes down, Mrs. Borreggine has proposed establishing nominal fees to use some public venues, such as the city’s pools.

Mr. Jennings turned to his own Web page to get his views and other campaign information out.

He has said he would like the city to do more to improve housing and neighborhoods since announcing his candidacy in June. Mr. Jennings, a public health planner/public information officer with the Jefferson County Public Health Service, said his active community involvement will help him if he is elected.

He has served on or led many community and state boards and councils, including Hospice of Jefferson County, the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization and a state cancer consortium.

“I have shown that I will listen, and I will deliver,” he said.

Mr. LaFave was not as active on social media, but relied more on going door to door to get “face time” with voters. That works better for him, he said.

His campaign has promoted providing more assistance to locally owned small businesses, establishing an annual inspection program to ensure rental property is kept up to code and supporting staffing and equipment levels for the police and fire departments.

“I will do what’s in the best interest for all residents, all the time,” he said.

Neither Mr. Smith nor Ms. Macaluso has ventured into social media for their campaigns. They use only the more conventional ways of campaigning — talking to voters, putting up lawn signs and doing media interviews to drum up support. If they are in the top four on Tuesday, the two incumbents said they will begin a full-court press during the election campaign.

Mr. Smith has run on his 10-year record, citing state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s glowing report on the city’s finances earlier this year. As he has worked with his colleagues on the council, Mr. Smith said, property taxes have gone down during the past six years, the city’s bond rating has gone up and city debt has been reduced.

“I don’t think we should rest on our laurels,” he said. “There are things we can do better.”

Mr. Smith said he is willing to take on a sacred cow, looking hard at staff levels for the police and fire departments. Council members should consider reducing the size of the departments by not filling vacant positions as employees retire. He pointed to two vacant positions in the fire department that were eliminated during this year’s budget cycle.

Ms. Macaluso, who’s running for a second four-year term, said she believes people already know her and what she has done on the council. She thinks voters like her no-nonsense style in approaching city government.

In her four years, she has become a close ally of Mayor Graham, who has relied on her to back him on many issues. She also was the only council member who strongly condemned the zoning change — the so-called roommate law — that became a public relations nightmare for the city earlier this year. She has called it “ridiculous,” stressing the city “should not get into people’s bedrooms.”

As for the primary, she said she’s been irritated with some candidates who have promised such things as cutting taxes without saying how they will accomplish them.

“I don’t promise things I can’t do,” she said.

While the six candidates differ on many of the issues, the biggest flap during the campaign season ended up having to do with a ballot mistake that the Board of Elections made. The ballots indicated residents could vote for four of the six candidates on Tuesday when actually they can vote for only two.

Mr. Eaton said he doesn’t believe the error will have much impact on Tuesday’s results, however. Of the 299 absentee ballots sent out, 253 were for senior voters who typically don’t vote on election day because they live in nursing homes and are unable to go to the polls, he said.

He expects the overwhelming majority of new ballots will be returned to his office by Monday.





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