Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen is running for reelection next week, but you won’t see his name on the ballot. The Democrat is a write-in candidate. His message this campaign season: Rome wasn’t built in a day. His opponents, Republican Billy Barlow and Democrat Amy Tresidder are calling for change while Gillen is asking for patience.
“People have this conception of the mayor being this Wizard of Oz who can make things happen," Gillen said. "Believe me, my hands are tied most of the time.”
Gillen said Oswego has seen dramatic change during his tenure in office. He notes that sales tax revenues were up 8 percent from 2011 to 2014. In addition, Oswego is now off the state’s distressed municipalities list.
But, that wasn't enough for him to win the Democratic Party's endorsement this time around. Gillen said he upset the party insiders by not consulting with them on the decisions he made in office.
"Politically, I may not be very good at that, but I’m a good businessman and if the city of Oswego was a business, I think i did a pretty good job," Gillen said.
Michael Kunzwiler, chairman of the Oswego County Democratic Party and member of the Oswego County Legislature, said Gillen wasn't nominated because there was a falling out after he raised property taxes 43 percent following an increase in sewer and water taxes.
“Everything that I represent on the legislature of lowering taxes, I just thought Tom was going a different direction," Kunzwiler said.
Kunzwiler noted that Gillen never appeared at the county party's meeting where Tresidder was nominated nor did he collect the 5 percent of signatures from registered Democrats in the city to force a primary, which would have been only 155.
Regardless, Kunzwiler said he wanted to nominate a more "electable" candidate, so he approached Tresidder, who also serves on the county legislature. She later became the official party candidate. Tresidder said higher taxes were also a catalyst for her decision to challenge Gillen. Instead, she wants to boost another source of revenue for the city.
“Our biggest source of revenue in the city is sales tax revenue," Tresidder said. "So, without our businesses, we aren’t going to succeed. Their success is our success. I will make sure that their efforts are not being thwarted by the city, but supported by the city.”
Tresidder said that starts with investment in downtown Oswego. She wants to expand the port, promote Oswego tourism in the media and bring a SUNY satellite classroom to the downtown area. However, much of Tresidder’s vision for Oswego isn’t available yet. She first wants to sit down with city department directors and in those conversations create goals.
“It’s important to get the expertise from the people who know what they’re doing," Tresidder said.
But, Oswego County Republican Chairman Fred Beardsley isn't willing to wait.
“From our competitors, the Democrats, I’ve heard nothing, but 'well, we will talk to department heads and come up with a plan,'" Beardsley said. "Billy Barlow has a plan.”
Beardsley supports Billy Barlow, the Republican candidate. Beardsley said Barlow has been very productive on the city council. As a councilman, Barlow tackled blight by authoring a tax incentive for home improvements. He also addressed Oswego’s pothole-ridden streets by bringing in an independent filling service.
The 25-year-old Barlow said his youth is an asset for the city -- fueling some outside-the-box solutions. For example, if elected, Barlow plans to bring back the code enforcement department with a new quality of life hotline that residents can call to report derelict properties.
“When you go to a job interview, they’re not allowed to ask you your age," Barlow said. "That’s essentially what I’m doing. I’m campaigning to be hired by the residents of oswego.”
Still, his opponents say that inexperience in life and government is a detriment. Tresidder’s campaign has emphasized her lifelong experience as a taxpayer in Oswego and Kunzwiler notes that Barlow lives at home with his parents.
“You can’t sit there and say about taxes and sewer and water when you’re not feeling the pain that the average taxpayer is feeling out there," Kunzwiler said.
Regardless of rhetoric, this mayoral election may come down to mobilization. According to the Oswego County Board of Elections, the city's registered voters are nearly split down the middle between the two major parties: 3,100 Democrats to 3,040 Republicans.