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City Candidates Mobilize as Primary Battle Looms


WATERTOWN — Yard signs are popping up around the city. Palm cards are getting printed. Candidates are going door to door to talk about issues.

It’s already campaign season, with the mayoral and council primary just a short six weeks away.

Always held in early September in the past, primary day will be held on June 25 this year.

Four mayoral candidates — City Councilman Cody J. Horbacz, former Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, former council candidate Cliff G. Olney III and political newcomer Allison Crossman — will be vying to run in the November general election.

The two top vote-getters move on to November. Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. decided not to seek a second term.

Mrs. Crossman, 27, has been focusing on getting people to know who she is, since it’s the first time she’s run for political office. That meant quickly distributing as many yard signs as she could.

“I want people to associate my name with my face, so they recognize me,” she said.

The three other candidates don’t have that problem.

Councilman Horbacz, 34, is the senior council member after he was elected in 2015. Mr. Smith, 49, served on council for 12 years and ran for mayor in 2011. And Mr. Olney, 64, ran two unsuccessful campaigns for council in 2015 and 2017.

Mr. Smith believes he has more experience than his opponents.

“What sets me apart from opponents? My overall background and experience with involvement in local elections, as a businessman and community person,” Mr. Smith said.

Councilman Horbacz believes that voters like the direction of the city, citing growth in downtown development, new businesses opening, a conservative proposed budget and putting together strategic and comprehensive plans for the future.

“I think there’s a general feeling that we’re going in the right direction,” he said.

Mr. Olney — known for his swipes at the city on social media — said he knows the issues and what to do about them. He insisted he studies the issues and facts before solving an issue, Mr. Olney said.

“I don’t want people to think I’m an angry candidate or a policy wonk,” he said.

He’s already come up with a plan for what happens when a 29-year contract to provide hydroelectricity to National Grid when it ends, causing the annual loss of several millions of dollars in revenues, Mr. Olney said.

He proposes building three new hydro plants along the Black River, refurbishing the city’s existing plant on Marble Avenue to make it more efficient and purchasing equipment back from National Grid that was given up in the original contract.

Some other issues that came up during recent elections have resurfaced again.

The nearly five-year contract dispute between the city and firefighters union, how much it will cost to replace the Thompson Park pool and a lease for the Watertown Golf Club have popped up this time, too, they said.

Mr. Smith and Mrs. Crossman are opposed to spending money on a new pool, while Councilman Horbacz and Mr. Olney have been proponents of the project.

Mr. Smith said people care more about fixing roads and sidewalks and keeping taxes down than the controversy over whether a golf club parking lot, septic tank and three tee boxes encroach on city-owned park land.

Mrs. Crossman — the first woman to run for mayor — said that developer P.J. Simao, who owns Ives Hill Country Club, has “some valid points” in complaining that the Watertown Golf Club is getting special treatment because of the lease.

Mr. Olney contended that the golf club lease issues go back to the city’s failure to be transparent. He has been a longtime critic of the city keeping too many secrets from the public.

Councilman Horbacz acknowledged that he’s frustrated that the city could end up spending as much as $75,000 in legal bills pertaining to the lease, since the golf club is a private entity.

He also believes that someone in the city must have known that the golf club was encroaching on park land all of these years.

This past week, the fire department dispute made the news once again when the state’s highest court decided not to take up the city’s request to hear whether an arbitrator should decide staffing issues.

Councilman Horbacz wasn’t surprised by the Court of Appeals decision not to hear the case, resulting in the bargaining unit most likely keeping 15 firefighters on duty at all times.

“People want to resolve the issue,” he said. “They’re just tired of it.”

Mrs. Crossman keeps hearing from voters that they are upset that the city has spent more than $832,000 in legal bills to fight the union.

But Mr. Smith pointed out that he had nothing to do with the prolonged contract dispute. He left City Council before the dispute became so contested and Long Island attorney Terry O’Neil was hired.

Mr. Olney had been an advocate of ending the contract stalemate long ago, he said.

Mr. Olney will continue to use a social media blitz to get his message out, noting that he will add a website next week to his campaign.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Smith distributed a mailer saying that he will stop an expensive state-mandated City Hall city court expansion and expressing his concerns about long-term city debt. He’s already started going door to door.

Councilman Horbacz plans to use a phone bank, going around to neighborhoods to talk to voters and sending out a mailer, while Mrs. Crossman has similar plans.

While she has the distinction of becoming the first woman to run for mayor, Mrs. Crossman said she won’t be slowed down by being about seven months pregnant. She’s due July 25.

The young mother of a 2-year-old daughter, a 7-year-old adopted child with special needs and two teenage foster children has always been able to juggle many facets of her life, she said.

“I think it shows young people are capable and that others should get involved,” she said.

From now until the primary, eight city council candidates also will be fighting it out to get exposure and get their names out there.

Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo, who was appointed in January to fill a vacant seat, is seeking election.

Stanley Cosper, Patrick Hickey, Jesse Roshia, Aaron R. Clemons, Matthew Melvin, Robert Schorr and Frank Roberts also are running for council.

With so many candidates for council, the four candidates with the most votes will run in November.

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