October 9, 2012

Candidates for City of Ithaca’s Fourth Ward Tackle Collegetown Issues

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The two candidates for the Collegetown seat on Ithaca’s Common Council –– Democrat Stephen Smith and Republican Misha Checkovich ’13 –– sparred on their visions for Collegetown and the city’s current budget deficit at a debate Tuesday.

The forum –– co-sponsored by the Collegetown Neighborhood Coucil and The Cornell Daily Sun –– will be the only event of its kind held in the race for the Fourth Ward seat before the Nov. 6 election. However, of the 19 questions asked at the forum, Checkovich declined to answer four, saying she would provide responses to the questions in a press release at a later date.

One question Checkovich did not answer was about the Collegetown Crossing project, Josh Lower’s ’05 proposed housing complex on 307 College Ave.

But Smith, who is currently serving as as an interim replacement for the Fourth Ward seat, touted the plan’s benefits, noting that “it brings needed things to the area.”

“The fact that it brings a grocery store is great,” he said.

Though she did not allude to the Collegetown Crossing, Checkovich, a member of the Cornell Republicans, emphasized her commitment to encouraging more businesses to set up shop in Collegetown.

“I really want to address the empty storefronts,” she said. “Collegetown is prime real-estate for retail, but [if it is] empty, it deprives the city of a tax base.”

At the debate, Checkovich also declined to answer questions about the mayor’s handling of a discrimination lawsuit against the Ithaca Police Department, the hotly contested and recently rejected Collegetown Plan — which would have set new zoning regulations for developers — and Mayor Carolyn Peterson’s handling of the Jungle, a homeless encampment in Ithaca. For all these questions, she deferred to a press release slated for release later in the week.

Smith, meanwhile, also declined to answer the question about Peterson’s handling of the Jungle residents at the debate.

At the debate, he also proposed a solution to the increasingly early Collegetown housing rush.

“I think a two-month waiting period between the start of the lease and the showing of apartments would be enough,” Smith said.

Checkovich said the city should not dictate when landlords can begin showing apartments because doing so “won’t change anything.”

The candidates also spoke about the merits and drawbacks of the current budget plan that Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 is proposing for the 2013 Fiscal Year.

“The core city function is to provide city health, so the plan should not fire policemen and firemen,” Checkovich said. “We need to bring in more tax bases, more jobs to make the city coffers flow.”

Smith praised Myrick’s plan as economical for the city.

“I think [Myrick] is making the city more efficient,” he said. “He’s done a great job with transparency in the government, and with the budget, we’ll be borrowing a lot less money than other years.”

The candidates also expressed their views about the city’s involvement in the suicide prevention nets currently being constructed at or under seven community bridges. Some of the nets are being built on Cornell’s property, but others are being placed on city owned bridges.

“It’s Cornell’s problem,” Checkovich said. “In their mission statement, they say they have to take care of their students and their needs, and it should not be a burden for the city.”

Smith said that, given the location of some of the nets, the city may have the duty to provide financial assistance to the project. Although the University has agreed to pay for upkeep and maintenance on all bridges for at least five years, the terms of this agreement will be revisited.

“Cornell can afford the project, but some of the nets are going to go in city property, and seeing how students are residents of the city during their time here, I think the city should contribute,” Smith said.

In the wake of former Fourth Ward Alderperson Eddie Rooker’s ’09 vacating his seat one year before the end of his term to attend New York University Law School, both candidates promised to, if elected, remain in Ithaca for at least the duration of their terms.

“[I] will definitely stay for the long haul,” Checkovich said. “I want to see Ithaca develop into a powerhouse city of upstate New York.”

Original Author: Kevin Milian