The League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates event at Dunkirk's City Hall provided mayoral hopefuls an opportunity to answer questions and provide voters reasons for supporting their candidacies.
Incumbent Richard Frey and challengers A.J. Dolce and David Barnes answered those questions, and in doing so, provided a look at how they perceive the city, its needs and wants, and what can be done about both.
After opening statements the first question asked was about candidates' proposals for dealing with rundown rentals and vacant homes in the city.
A.J. Dolce, Richard Frey speak at city debate
Barnes, who is running on the Peoples Party line, called for big changes, including remarketing with new facades and gated communities a possibility.
"Then move families into it, that makes it their primary home, not rental property," he explained. "Get rid of rental property, then entice people to come live in Dunkirk."
Dolce is currently councilman-at-large and is running with the endorsement of the Democratic, Working Families and Dunkirk First parties. He talked about working on a proposal in committee.
"The legislation to me is to get a handle on the ever-growing decline of the rental properties," he explained. "The main point of this legislation would require an on-site agent within Chautauqua County, someone we could physically hand a summons or a violation to, because we hear time and time again that they're out of state. ... It's not finalized, there are a few details to work out. This legislation will solve the majority of our issues."
Mayor Frey has the support of the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties and said it was a case of enforcing the current laws. He also said people should look for themselves.
"Drive around Dunkirk, see what's going on. ... Go up on the upper 700 block of Grant Avenue see the house that was redone. Go out on Willowbrook Avenue and see the houses that were taken over in tax foreclosure and completely redone," he stated. ""Don't keep painting the city with a wide brush. I think we have a lot to be proud of, we have a lot to go yet." Frey also noted New York state laws supersede any city laws.
Candidates were asked if they support the November proposition calling for the abolition of the city's two part-time assessors.
"I'm the one that proposed it, but I worked very closely with our present assessor and our previous assessor before. We've talked about this for seven years and trying to do something like this," Frey replied. "With modern technology, yes, this can be done, and yes, I am in favor of it."
Dolce said he voted to put the issue on the ballot and it is up to the public to decide but he did have a concern.
"We have two candidates currently running for that position. My preference would have been to have this start in 2014 when their term expired," he explained.
Barnes replied with a yes to the question.
A question for Dolce about the mayoral pay raise approved in 2007 noted he voted against it then and wanted to know what he will do with the raise if elected.
"First, I'm more concerned about getting elected, that's what this time of year is all about," Dolce replied. "I'm not concerned with the salary. At the time yes, I did vote against it, but the concern at the time wasn't that the position didn't deserve a raise, it was that it was 39 percent in two years. ... That's why I voted against it at the time."
Barnes said he would give the raise to the school system or to an after-school program.
Dolce said he'd answer first to the question: "What right does a city official have to get involved in promoting a union in a local, private industry?"
"There was a pretty big headline in Sunday's paper that was blown way out of proportion, in my opinion. If you read my statement, and I'll stick to my statement, my letter was simply showing my appreciation for the hard work and dedication to the Cott employees," he explained. "In no means, or is it my place, to get involved in this situation."
Frey said it was a mixed message Dolce was sending.
"It was very bold on the front page that you supported the union at Cott Industry. On the inside, you backtracked to change your situation and said it wasn't your right to do it," Frey stated. "I don't think there's any problem with what you did, but I think you did sign it as councilman-at-large in the city of Dunkirk."
Frey said he had a call from council members and employees asking if council was in favor of Dolce's stance.
"I ask you to do a close reading of that letter. The headline said what it wanted to say, the letter says another thing," Dolce replied. "There's nothing flip-flopping about it. My stance is clear, I'm supporting the workers but it's not my place to get involved. I signed it, I am a councilman, I signed it as councilman and no one else. I didn't say this was from the members of the Common Council."
Barnes had a problem with Dolce's reply.
"This is exactly what I mean by, if you read anything A.J. writes you've got to be ready for the contradiction coming the next day," Barnes said. "He contradicts everything he votes on, everything he says."
Dolce replied that if Barnes had been around the last eight years he might think differently.
"You would have a better understanding of my policies, my voting record and my commitment to the city and all the residents who have called me over the last eight years," Dolce stated. "I invite you to talk to them and ask them if they're satisfied with the level of service they get from me."
Developing a strategy for Dunkirk's future was the topic of a question.
Dolce said it came down to working with surrounding communities.
"I said it before, I think that's where my personality is best suited for the position. We have to sit down with the other communities at the table. We're all facing the same fiscal woes and the only way we're going to get better and strengthen our bottom line is working with others," he stated. "We also need to commit to working with our department heads, volunteer boards and council, to get their input as to where we could save money on a day-to-day basis."
Barnes said Dunkirk needed to be run like a business.
"We have to outsource what we have to outsource if it will save us money and look at every single avenue that way and we bring pride back to our community," he stated.
Frey said the city needed to keep doing what its doing.
"Consolidate our services internally. Get more for less, work with our people, consolidate our departments," he explained. "Modern technology has made a lot of this available too, which is not getting rid of jobs. This is jobs people retired from."
Editor's note: More coverage of the mayoral candidate debate along with coverage of the Common Council candidates debate will follow in future editions of the OBSERVER.
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