Mayoral hopefuls spar over student issues

 

Candidates for city of Oswego mayor struck different postures on issues affecting college students in a debate Wednesday.

The factors the candidates thought would lure young people to the area and keep Oswego State students in the city after college were among their many divides.

“If we clean the place up, people will come here,” republican candidate Dave White, said. “If I have to go street by street and make these neighborhoods into what they used to be, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

White stressed community restoration and returning Oswego to its former glory days as goals integral to his campaign. But the democratic candidate, Tom Gillen, said he would pursue a different tact, one that stresses economic growth.

“They will come here because we provide jobs,” Gillen said. “That’s just how it is.”

That exchange typified the messages of each candidate in the mostly congenial 70-minute debate hosted by The Palladium-Times and moderated by WRVO’s Fred Vigeant. Gillen emphasized local growth and expanding the tax base to relieve local tax burdens, while White asserted that his top priority was repairing communities and raising home values.

Nearly 150 people attended to hear the men tangle on issues including synthetic, legal drugs such as bath salts and ‘happy shaman’ incense sold in the city.

“We need to do everything we can to get these out [of] our children’s hands,” Gillen said. He said he would do everything possible to end the sale of such products in Oswego.

“I don’t think we can ban these if they’re legal,” White said. He said the problems lay mostly in the use and trade of illegal drugs, not their legal substitutes. White also endorsed petitioning the federal government to ban the substances under a law that permits the government to prohibit the use of drugs that are substantially similar to illicit drugs.

Both candidates seemed to take a hard line against student renters in the city who hold loud parties and damage property.

“It’s very real and it’s very scary,” Gillen said. “I’ve talked to people who are afraid to be in their own homes… we’ve got to crack down on these parties; they’re illegal and they’re not supposed to be there, and we have to stop it.”

White said strict enforcement of current laws would be his best weapon to combat the problem.

“The five percent of kids who do this are not representative,” White said. “But we have to enforce the law against those who do.”

White then told the crowd about a student arrested for vandalizing one of his campaign signs. According to White, he was offered $300 in restitution from the student, but refused the deal and chose to press charges anyway to impress the importance of personal accountability.

The discussion was prompted by a question about busing services such as the “D-bus” and “A-bus” popular among Oswego State students traveling to social events in the city on weekends. Residents of communities the buses travel through have complained about the noise and commotion created by students who party and then drunkenly engage in fights and property destruction.

White is the current president of the Oswego City School Board and has held several local political offices in the past. Gillen, a member of the Oswego Port Authority, is a political newcomer recently retired from a career in sales departments at companies such as AT&T Inc. and Apple Inc.

Neither candidate faced a primary challenge to win their party’s nomination after current mayor, Randy Bateman, declined to run for another term.