Watertown City Council

Watertown City Hall Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Voters in Watertown will find a more complicated list of candidates for the City Council race this year than they normally would in an election year.

There is a pair of four-year seats up for election. Those who will be on the ballot for these positions are Michelle Capone, Cliff Olney, Lisa Ruggiero and Benjamin Shoen. The two candidates with the most votes will win.

There also is a two-year seat that must be filled. Jesse Roshia, who was elected to the council in 2019, resigned his position earlier this year when he had to move out of the city after taking a job in the Syracuse area. The candidates who will appear on the ballot for this position are Patrick Hickey and Amy Horton; one of them will complete the unexpired term.

There’s still one more wrinkle in this election.

In April, members of the City Council appointed Leonard Spaziani to fill the open seat on the council for the remainder of this year. He decided to seek one of the four-year seats available, but he didn’t do so until after the deadline to file a nomination petition. So he announced that he would run for the City Council as a write-in candidate.

Seven candidates are vying for three seats: five for the two four-year spots and two for the one-year post. Voters need to carefully review the ballot to ensure they’re choosing the proper number of individuals.

Six of these candidates will be listed on the ballot, while voters will need to write in Spaziani’s name of in the proper area of the ballot if they wish to support him. Be sure to ask any of the personnel at your polling place for assistance if you become confused.

Given the number of candidates running this year, there’s a lot to take in about their personalities and where they stand on important topics. The editorial board of the Watertown Daily Times had the privilege to interview each of them individually, and we enjoyed the opportunity to engage with them about the big issues on people’s minds these days.

There’s something that made each of them stand out. After this process, we felt confident that the new council will have newly elected members committed to serving in the best interests of city residents.

Capone has a wealth of experience with public entities and community organizations. She would bring her extensive knowledge of programs designed to assist residents and local governments, resources that many people overlook. She understands how the public and private sectors complement each other, which allows communities to prosper.

Few people in the city have achieved a level of understanding about pertinent city issues than has Hickey. He delves deeply into intricate questions because he knows there are no easy answers. He would challenge council members to keep digging into problems until they’ve exhausted all possibilities because that’s how you arrive at the truth.

Horton wants to use her considerable skills in marketing to promote Watertown’s resources and events. She’s a community-minded individual, helping to found a sports organization to provide young people more opportunities. She pledged to push the council to achieve its goals in a fiscally responsible manner.

Having become a veteran campaigner, Olney has demonstrated his deep love and enthusiasm for the city. He believes the best way to attract new residents is to invest in community assets as well as expand economic and recreational opportunities. He’s never at a loss for ideas on how to help Watertown move forward.

First elected four years ago, Ruggiero would ensure consistency on the council as an experienced incumbent. She’s been a thoughtful leader on the council, one who refuses to rubber-stamp proposals. Her involvement with the community gives her a unique perspective on what needs to be done.

If council members believed they were getting a yes-man when they appointed Spaziani to the vacant seat earlier this year, they were sadly mistaken. He’s been a breath of fresh air, often standing alone on positions to force his colleagues to truly contemplate what they’re doing. A longtime city resident, he brings a mix of traditional values and a forward-thinking mindset in his desire to see Watertown flourish.

An experienced construction contractor, Shoen understands what businesses go through when dealing with the city. He has ideas on how to cut red tape so government can operate more efficiently. He wants to see neighborhood aesthetics improved so more people will choose Watertown as their home.

While we appreciate the individual strengths that each candidate brings to this race, only three will sit on the council. Our recommendation is for voters to support Michelle Capone and Lisa Ruggiero for the two four-year seats and Patrick Hickey for the two-year seat. Their combination of experience in government, grasp of policy issues and of understanding of city concerns will infuse vitality into council proceedings and do more to hold members accountable.

Several candidates mentioned that many residents expressed their concerns over a sense of secrecy permeating city operations. Council members Ruggiero and Spaziani believe they’ve been kept out of the loop on some plans. Private conversations outside of formal meetings secured agreements on agenda items before the full council had a chance to discuss and vote on them.

This behavior is unacceptable. While it may technically be in keeping with the letter of the state’s Open Meetings Law, it definitely violated the spirit of the act.

Public business must be conducted during open meetings so that residents can hear why certain decisions are made and comment on items if given the chance.

Pre-planned voting schemes defeat the purpose of government transparency, and voters should hold officials accountable for such deeds.

We encourage residents to do their homework when it comes to this year’s City Council races.

The insights we’ve provided here are a good start for people to make up their own minds.

What’s most important is for people to get out and vote. Local elections don’t attract the same turnout as national elections.

But this is our opportunity to select the leadership of this community and shape the direction of its future.

Early voting has already started, and Election Day is Nov. 2. Ensuring a prospering Watertown requires all of us fulfilling our civic duty to participate in this nation’s wonderful experiment of self-government.

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