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Plattsburgh Mayoral Candidates Debate

Colin Read (left) and James Calnon
Candidates' Facebook pages
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Colin Read (left) and James Calnon

The two candidates running for mayor of Plattsburgh met recently in a rancorous debate. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was a panelist and reports there was no love lost between the duo during their first debate, which aired on Mountain Lake PBS.
Incumbent Independent Mayor James Calnon has received the endorsement of the Republican Party and appears on the Independence Party line. He had sought the Democratic nod also, but the party instead chose Colin Read, a professor of economics at SUNY Plattsburgh and county legislator. Read quit his legislative seat mid-term and moved from the town to an apartment in the city to pursue the mayoral contest.  Read also will be on the Working Families and Women’s Equality party lines.

The interchanges between Calnon and Read were icy from the start. A recurring theme had Read offering what he called new and clever ideas with Mayor Calnon deriding such comments.  “Colin’s position is that he’s stating something that’s already happening and claiming that it’s a novel idea.”

Sniping was most obvious during exchanges over beach water quality issues that have plagued the city for the past two seasons.  
Read:  “I have proposed that if each time we sent a sample in, what if we had taken a second sample each time? Send that second sample out for D.N.A. testing so we would have more data to actually look at what caused the beaches to be closed this year.”

Moderator:  “Jim, thirty seconds.”

Calnon:  “In fact we have been taking two samples every time we take a sample. We freeze one for D.N.A. purposes. So we have been doing what Colin suggested and we were doing it before he suggested it. I think what I'm just going to say each time now and I'm just going to say: Do your homework before you make these propositions because you didn't do your homework on this one. You didn't do your homework on a lot of these other ones. And frankly it's just rhetoric. Talk about what you've done.”

Read announced he would run in May but did not begin regularly attending City Council meetings until August.  When quizzed why he believes he could manage the city, he cited sporadic appearances before the city council and his experience on the County Legislature. “I've appeared in front of the city council many, many times in the past trying to champion some of the things we're trying to do with economic revitalization in the downtown core. And I did some things at, uh, the county which I'm particularly proud of. I really championed economic development. I did other things like moving into long term planning for building and grounds and for IT and our county operations committees.”

Calnon:  “The relationship between the town and the city has never been better. I think that that you know we need to get to some specifics in this conversation. Talking about planning and talking about discussions that you've had are not accomplishments. They’re process. And I think people want to know what have you actually done.”

The mayor appeared most exasperated with his opponent during an exchange over economic development.  Plattsburgh received a $10 million downtown revitalization state grant and Read referred to an old development plan during the discussion.   “We've got the $10 million dollars and many of you seen some plans, basically the Frank Arvay plans from I don't know the 70's or 80's, a fifty year old plan that we brought back out again and asked the public for their consideration.”

Calnon:  “The strength of an argument is not enhanced by how many times you repeat something that's false. The Frank Arvay plan has never been part of the planning for downtown revitalization. It was put into our grant application as an indicator of how long we've been talking about developing downtown. And the fact that you've, you've, you've honed in on that to try to make a $10 million grant a negative thing is shameful.”

Incumbent Calnon repeatedly expressed annoyance with his opponent.   “You were on the Clinton County Legislature and the fact of the matter is you have nothing significant to show for your time there. I'm running on my record. I wish you'd stop running on my record too.”

Both candidates agreed that they would prefer a strong mayor and city council form of government rather than a city manager.  That charter change question is on the city’s ballot in November.

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A clarification on Colin Read's residency:
He tells WAMC that he has had a downtown apartment since December, before he considered running for mayor.  He had the apartment because he operates a business in downtown Plattsburgh and says it's part of his involvement to build up the downtown area.

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