By CRAIG FOX
PUBLISHED: SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2019 AT 12:30 AM
WATERTOWN — The only sparks produced at Saturday’s candidates’ forums came from the mayoral candidate who wasn’t there.
In a news release, mayoral candidate and former City Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith complained that he could not attend the forum at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church because he was on vacation with his family for spring break.
He expressed disappointment to Robert South, the church member who organized the event, that Mr. South didn’t find out about the availability of all the candidates before the date was selected.
“I appreciate your desire to hold a forum and hope you can hold another forum prior to the June 25, 2019, primary, where all mayoral candidates will be available,” Mr. Smith wrote to Mr. South.
Otherwise, it was a low-key candidates gathering for both mayoral and City Council candidates. About 40 people attended the forum for council candidates. Five of the eight candidates were there.
During the separate forum for mayoral candidates, about half of the audience stayed to hear what they had to say. Questions were submitted by audience members, with each of the candidates having the chance to answer them.
The escalating costs to replace the Thompson Park pool, the transparency of city government, downtown revitalization and abandoned “zombie” properties were just some of the topics of questions during both sessions.
Candidates mostly agreed with each other on the issues.
The three other mayoral candidates — Councilman Cody J. Horbacz, former council candidate Cliff G. Olney III and political newcomer Allison Crossman — were asked why they are worthy of votes.
Councilman Horbacz said he helped get the new playground and splash pad built and is working to replace the old park pool, despite hearing people who had “a negative mindset.”
“I have a vision for Watertown,” he said.
Mr. Olney said city politicians forget that voters are their bosses, noting that citizens “should be at the top of the organization chart.”
“We, the people, are the bosses,” he told the audience.
While she doesn’t have any political background, Ms. Crossman said, she’ll listen to constituents. She’s ready “to move the city in the right direction and right the ship,” she said.
One woman expressed anger that she pays her property taxes and contributes to the city’s economy by living in the city, but between 60 and 70 percent of city firefighters reside outside of Watertown.
She wanted to know what the mayoral candidates will do about that.
Councilman Horbacz said he supports making new hires live in the city, adding that it could be negotiated. Mr. Olney would like to see what can be done about the situation.
Their answers were met by applause from the audience.
Ms. Crossman wondered whether the solution could be requiring firefighters to at least own property in the city, even if they don’t live here.
The city and the firefighters’ union are in the midst of a five-year contract dispute involving staffing issues.
The five council candidates at the forum were Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo, Patrick Hickey, Jesse Roshia, Robert Schorr and Frank Roberts.
Stanley Cosper, Aaron R. Clemons and Matthew Melvin didn’t show up.
At the beginning of the forum, Mr. South explained he had handled the event differently in the past, mentioning that he had contacted the candidates first and then scheduled a date when they all could be there.
“It’s my fault,” he said.
He doesn’t plan to organize another forum before the June 25 primary, but might have one for the November general election. As it’s still early in the seven-month campaign, he expects other organizations to hold forums before the primary.