Tonawanda News — With less than two weeks until voters go to the polls Nov. 5 to decide the fate of most of North Tonawanda City Council and the mayorship, candidates met to debate top issues in a forum sponsored by the Tonawanda News and the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas.
On Thursday evening in an auditorium partially filled with about 50 onlookers at Spruce Elementary School, both sides, Republican and Democrat, largely stayed in tune with platforms doled out over the weeks and months leading up to the election.
With Eric Duvall, managing editor of the News, serving as moderator, 10 candidates sparred on topics focused on taxes, development, crime and the betterment of the Lumber City at large.
The most involved portion of the debate fell on two candidates, one of whom will lead the city for the next four years. Mayor Rob Ortt, a Republican incumbent who won a landslide election in 2009 over former Mayor Larry Soos, and Democratic candidate Janet Zehr, tussled over the future of the city through development, the police department and the party makeup of the common council.
Ortt said he has sized down the government, overseen a bevy of development projects and 32 miles of paved roads, and held the tax rate steady during his term, with a plan in place to buckle down on the city’s aging water and sewer lines.
Zehr, pushing what would become a Democratic theme throughout the evening, said she would add to the police force and consider reducing the mayorship to a part-time position, opening up city goverment and forming town hall meetings.
Ortt called her claim that his administration was not transparent “intellectually dishonest,” and said that the reason Republicans have controlled the council was less about organized control and more about the voters realizing who would be best suited to improve the city. He said that the city holds “four meetings a month,” noting that much of the behind-the-scenes work is conducted in work session meetings, which are open to the public.