The mayor of Plattsburgh lost June’s Democratic primary, setting up a two-way general election campaign between the winner — Area Nine Clinton County Legislator Chris Rosenquest — and Republican Scott Beebie, a retired police lieutenant. Last week, the two debated at Mountain Lake PBS studios in Plattsburgh. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was a panelist and has this report.
Perhaps the biggest issue currently in Plattsburgh is the downtown redevelopment project funded through $10 million in Downtown Redevelopment Initiative funds awarded to the city in 2016. Plans for the Durkee Street parking lot in the downtown have generated heated debate.
Both candidates oppose the plan that has been approved by the outgoing mayor and common council for an apartment complex and commercial space. Rosenquest says an alternative must be considered. “If nothing changes on that project I don’t believe that the Zoning Board will be able to pass, or will want to pass, and I agree with that. I don’t think they should. So what’s Plan B? Let’s leverage our local developer and our local developer skill set. Let’s propose a project, a smaller scale more closer to the Durkee Street Reimagined, a smaller scale housing development, and continue to develop and plan on developing the Arts Park and the Greenway to the Saranac River Trail. I think that would be a solid Plan B.”
Republican Scott Beebie: “You’re diving into a huge unknown. There’s a proposed law right now that they’re going to have a public hearing on October 15th. If that law were to pass that’s going to give more power to the city to press forward with this project as unpopular as it currently is. The process is flawed for how we got here.”
The city is considering revisions to the 2021 budget and it is expected cuts will occur in the police and fire departments. Beebie looks at it from his nearly 30 years working in the police department. “If we look at the police department right now you’re going to see an agenda already in play. You’re going to see multiple positions that have been removed from the police department going back to April. So the defunding of the police department’s already happened. It’s in progress right now and it’s an agenda of the administration. During a global pandemic we need to equate what we can afford and what we have. Right now that’s not the thought process.”
Democrat Rosenquest: “Just like my opponent I too have come out in strong opposition of just arbitrarily cutting one budget over another.”
A viewer question led to an exchange over affordable housing needs in the city. Rosenquest says it’s clear the city and region are in a housing crisis. “And lack of housing definitely stymies jobs. It stymies people moving into our community and community growth.”
Beebie: “I believe that we have targeted housing crisis in a specific rent dynamic. I believe there’s adequate housing at the upper levels.
Rosenquest: But the concern that we’re seeing at the county is that you know when landlords improve their apartments and their buildings they are pushing lower income people further and further away from the job center.”
Beebie: “Seven to ten percent of our current populous live at the federal poverty line or lower and that’s the demographic that needs our attention first.”
The candidates sparred over who has better qualifications to manage the city. Rosenquest said Beebie may have supervised people as a police lieutenant but that does not qualify him to manage a city. “As much as you want to say that you have you know you’ve managed people you’ve never had to fire somebody. You’ve never promoted anybody. You never had to budget. You know that’s the concern going into this office that you are also going into this office without the career experience required to be effective as a mayor.”
Moderator Thom Hallock: “Any rebuttals?”
Scott Beebie: “I spent 11 years dealing with the most urgent needs of our city as a police manager. Forty members worked directly for me when I was the lieutenant in charge of the uniform division. Not to mention the fact that I worked in every facet of the Plattsburgh City Police Department budget depending on what title I held at that time. So your assertions really don’t hold water.”
Chris Rosenquest: “Management is not supervisory. You don’t have budgeting experience. You may have looked at a budget but that was all done by your superior. I appreciate your experience but when it comes down to it going into a mayor’s position with no management experience and no budgeting experience is a concern.” (both candidates in cut)
Audio is courtesy of Mountain Lake PBS.