Tonawanda News — In the waning weeks on the campaign trail North Tonawanda Democrats laid out their party’s platform Thursday as they seek to reverse a city dominated by Republican governance for years.
Standing on the steps of City Hall and led by city attorney candidate Joshua Dubs, the coalition said if elected it would use a $3 million city surplus to lower taxes, and water and sewage rates, end what they termed “goverment secrecy,” and bolster the city’s police force.
Dubs, who is vying against incumbent Shawn Nickerson, said short councils meetings, decisions made “in back-room caucus deals” and the “slow completion of projects” were chief among his concerns.
“We seek to bring transparency back to our city government,” he said. “(It) has been operating too much like Albany lately.”
Jan Zehr, who is attempting to unseat Mayor Rob Ortt, said she would use the city’s savings to lower tax and utility bills and push to return the mayor’s post to a part-time position.
“Let’s put some of those savings to use,” she said.
Darlene Bolsover, a registered Independent running against Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka, who defeated her on her own party line in the primaries, said her focus would be on repairing the city’s infrastructure.
And Beverly Loxterman, who is challenging Bob Clark for an at-large slot on the council, said she would move to add police officers to the city’s force and attempt to bring fire and police dispatchers back to within city borders, a reference to the merging of both entities with the county.
The platform, largely made up of attacks on the Republican establishment, was criticized by North Tonawanda Republican Committee Chairman Bill Paton, who lodged his own verbal counter-punch, stating that Democrats have brought little to the political table in recent years.
“All they’re doing is moving people around and these aren’t people with new ideas,” he said. “How many times have these candidates run for office?”
He added that Republican successes have more to do with individual character than their party ties.
“They’re individuals who happen to be Republicans,” he said. “They come in with their own ideas and plans. We look for people who can work together, we look for people with plans, who want to move the city forward.”
But North Tonawanda Democratic Committee Chairman Mark Houghton said Republicans often have taken credit for initiatives that were launched by their Democratic predecessors, including the addition of Walmart and the Remington Lofts in the Lumber City, adding that Second Ward candidate Lisa Spencer, First Ward candidate David Kelly, Bolsover and Loxterman all are newcomers to the political scene.
“It’s easy for them to rest on their laurels and say we recycle candidates when they’ve proven they steal the minor party lines,” he said.
On the issue of the surplus, Ortt said it was “fiscally irresponsible” to use up a fund balance to lower taxes for short-term gains, adding that the state comptroller’s office recommended holding reserves of roughly $2 million. He noted that the city, in actuality, has a $5 million in reserves, $2 million of which has been designated to hold the line on taxes.
“What happens if a road collapses next year,” he said. “Being fiscally conservative is also being fiscally responsible. They’re saying that because they want to get votes.”
Dubs, however, said the crux of the Democratic platform was to “reintroduce a progressiveness which has been sorely lacking in our city over the last four years.
“One one-party government here in North Tonawanda serves as a rubber stamp accountable to no one,” he said. “The Democratic candidates seek to reverse that trend.”