Suozzi visits city, questions Spitzer’s promises


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Tom Suozzi talks to local leaders Thursday about local issues at the Community Restaurant on Main Street in Cortland

Staff Reporter

Despite Thursday evening’s rain and flooding, gubernatorial candidate Tom Suozzi made it to the Community Restaurant on Main Street as part of his Upstate New York campaign swing for support.
“Is this common up here?” he asked. “So what do you think it is — the end of the world or not?”
Suozzi, the Nassau County executive who’s running against Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, is seeking to boost poll numbers that show him almost 70 percentage points behind Spitzer.
He was supposed to meet 18 community leaders at the restaurant who could spread his message, but only five showed up. “This is the smallest group I’ve talked to,” he said.
Peg Murphy, a SUNY Cortland political science professor who assisted student and Suozzi staffer Joe Agovino in organizing the event, said the weather was a factor.
“We had a deluge and that could be a part of it,” she said.
But despite the low turnout, Suozzi spent a good hour criticizing Spitzer’s budget promises, touting his agency consolidation successes in Nassau County and arguing he could bring more small businesses to New York.
Suozzi charged that Spitzer cannot fund universal health care, New York City schools and environmental causes, among other initiatives, as he says he can. Spitzer’s proposed projects are too costly, especially since he also promises to lower property taxes, he said.
“The budget’s up to $47 billion now,” he said. “Where’s the money coming from?”
Christine Anderson, spokeswoman for Spitzer, said Suozzi incorrectly totaled Spitzer’s budget. Spitzer’s plan toward universal health care, for example, would only cost $900 million as opposed to the almost $5 billion Suozzi estimates.
Plus, Spitzer’s proposals actually represent $11 billion in budget savings over the next three years.
“He can cover his proposals entirely with that,” she said.
After criticizing Spitzer, Suozzi discussed one of his own greatest accomplishments in Nassau County.
He played a major role in consolidating eight social service agencies into one giant agency, he said. That saved money and helped needy people more easily obtain a variety of services, he said.
“It’s not just about balancing the budget,” he said. “It manages the sprawling behemoths.”
Suozzi said Spitzer is not concerned enough with trimming government costs. Spitzer needs to expand from just reforming Wall Street, he said.
“He has not gone after the government after seven years in office,” Suozzi said.
Anderson said Spitzer has fought government waste. He’s increased Medicaid fraud recoveries by 2,000 percent since his predecessor, she said. Also, he exposed corruption in New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“Cracking down on fraud is something Eliot’s done quite well,” she said.
Suozzi said he plans to boost small business growth by lowering property taxes, insurance costs and worker compensation costs, he said.
“We have the highest local taxes,” he said. “More people leave New York than any other state.”
After Suozzi’s talk, Victor Siegle of Homer asked why Suozzi’s Web site says he supports more Internet business taxation if he is so adamant about low business taxes.
“Internet taxations are completely impractical,” Siegle said. “They would ruin businesses on the Internet.”
Suozzi said he would consider rethinking that proposal.
Ward Dukelow, of the Homer Business Association, asked Suozzi not to expand Empire Zones. The zones often do not apply to small businesses, he said, because the business cannot afford the requirement of hiring more employees.
“To remain competitive — don’t add to the zone,” he said. “They can’t get benefits from it.”
Suozzi said he understood Dukelow’s concerns and would look into the issue.
After responding to those concerns as well as a few others, Suozzi and his staffers, including his sister — Rosemary Suozzi Lloyd — left for a press conference in Ithaca. It was their third stop of the day after the Broome County Fair in Whitney Point and the Community Restaurant dinner.
Reaction to Suozzi’s visit was mixed.
SUNY Cortland’s Murphy thought Suozzi could have given guests more time to ask questions.
“He spent too much time talking and not enough time listening,” she said.
Ann Siegel said Suozzi did the best he could under the time constraints.
“He had two missions — let us know about him and hear about us and I think given the time constraints he probably did some of each and what he did was probably appropriate.”
She added his talking allowed her to learn more about him as a candidate. She was just sorry that more people did not show up.
“I was hoping for his sake he’d have a bigger audience and have more opportunities and questions to respond, too.”



City may get a new clock tower building

Staff Reporter

City officials are working with the owner of the historic Squires Building, which was lost to an April fire, on a plan to develop the site that may include a new clock tower.
The layout of the new building will be set up much like the former three-story building had been — which was constructed in 1883 — with mixed-use retail on the first floor and residential on the above floors, said John Scanlon, owner of the 120 Main St. property.
A new building might be as high as four-stories, and a new clock tower is a possibility, he said.
The clock tower had become a symbol of downtown. The prominent image was used in the logo for the Downtown Business Association and the lighted New Year’s ball was dropped from the tower each year since the First Night celebration was begun in 2000.
“As far as the site goes, we do have some rough outlines of building models, and I’m in the process of talking to different companies and different businesses that are looking for space right now,” Scanlon said Wednesday. “The first-floor tenants sort of dictate much of the structure. Residential units upstairs are very flexible and the room and the space you have can be moved around quite easily.
Scanlon said that Mayor Tom Gallagher had been very helpful throughout the process in helping to locate businesses that may be interested in establishing themselves in the new building.
“He (Scanlon) is very conscious of what the community wants as far as being aesthetically pleasing and keeping it within the historic design of the rest of the main street area,” Gallagher said Wednesday.
“What we are looking at is a structure that will incorporate many of the features of the building from the turn of the century; however it’s not going to be designed to look like it, it will be designed to blend,” Scanlon said. “I don’t think it will stand out as being so different. Hopefully from a distance, you won’t be able to tell the difference.”
Scanlon said that the architectural firm handling the design work, Syracuse-based Holmes, King, Kallquist and Associates, has done work in Armory Square in Syracuse and in Cortland, and Gallagher said that the firm’s specialty is buildings that fit into historic downtowns.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and the Industrial Development Agency, said she drove to Albany with Gallagher and Bernie Thoma of Thoma Development Consultants, and discussed some possibilities of financial assistance from the Governor’s Office for Small Cities for building a new clock tower.
The Office for Small Cities has assisted in the relocation of some businesses that were displaced when the Squires Building was destroyed by fire in April.
“When we had been talking to (John Scanlon) originally, days or weeks after the fire, we had talked about what we would do about the clock tower because of the public sentiment about what it means for downtown and the whole city,” Gallagher said Thursday. “I said it would not be conducive to him to build the clock tower, because it wouldn’t bring him any business, and that’s why the city is working with him to rebuild the clock tower.”
But whether or not money from the Office for Small Cities will be used in construction of the new clock tower is still up for negotiation, said director of communications Joe Picchi.
Gallagher said that the city and the BDC/IDA will do all they can to help move the process forward.
Hartsock said that because the site at 120 Main St. is within the Empire Zone, businesses interested in moving into the new location would be able to receive some assistance, as will Scanlon to a lesser degree as a real estate developer.
“He wants to take his time,” Hartsock said about Scanlon. “Meeting with some of the companies he’s been talking to, they said he’s taking his time to do this right, to understand the market, and to not rush anything.”
Scanlon said that there is no definite timeline or estimates of total costs for construction yet, but hopes to begin by the next spring. When a more finalized design has been decided upon, Scanlon said he will present the architectural renderings to the community.
“I’m just excited to put forward a model for this community to see and hopefully get behind, and hopefully get some feedback on,” Scanlon said.




County delays decisions

Staff Reporter

A new local law that would create an additional public defender  position was tabled by the Legislature Thursday for procedural purposes, while a vote on contracting with a Syracuse environmental firm to dispose of county residents’ hazardous wastes was put off so more options could be explored.
The formal creation of a county conflict attorney’s office was put off until the Aug. 24 legislative session, because proper notice was not given in time for the law to be voted into effect at Thursday’s meeting.
The new law has to be on the legislative chair’s desk seven days prior to being voted on, according to County Administrator Scott Schrader, and a public hearing has to be scheduled, with five days public notice given prior to the hearing.
Schrader said he assumed the hearing would be scheduled for the August meeting, notice would be given, and the new law would be voted on.
The conflict attorney would handle cases that pose a conflict for the Public Defender’s Office, including situations where the public defender has a history with a particular client, instances where there are co-defendants and situations where there is a scheduling conflict.
The county set aside $80,000 in its 2006 budget to pay for creation of the position, with about $45,000 going to the new attorney, and the rest being used to hire support staff and create the office.
Also withdrawn from consideration was a resolution to contract with Syracuse-based EPS of Vermont Inc. to implement a household hazardous waste disposal program.
The contract would have paid EPS $1,500 to accept hazardous household wastes such as cans of paint, used batteries and used motor oil, and dispose of them properly.
Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said the decision to pull the resolution from the agenda was made because the Highway Committee had asked him to look at disposal options that would not be as costly to community members.
The proposed contract would have required county residents to pay a fee per item they dropped off for disposal.
“The committee wanted to explore different avenues, so I’ll be contacting surrounding counties to ascertain different types of programs we could consider.”
Chambers couldn’t say at this point what other types of programs were available.