CORTLAND, N.Y. – Having served for more than 20 years in the city of Cortland Police Department, Bill Carpenter has gotten a glimpse into the inner workings of local government.
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Carpenter, who was recently elected to represent the fifth ward on Cortland Common Council in a landslide victory, has since retired from the city's police force. He now works as an officer for the Cornell University Police Department.
Carpenter, a Democrat, defeated Republican alderman Clifton Dutcher in last week's election, receiving 78 percent of the vote.
We spoke with Carpenter about the success of his campaign and how he hopes to serve his constituents.
1 - What does this victory mean to you?
It means a lot. I left the city in 2008 and I am excited about working with the city again to make it a better place. I have a lot of pride, I grew up here, I love this city and I want to make it a better place to live. We have a lot of things that can be improved upon. The Cortland Common Council, the mayor [Brian Tobin] and Mack Cook have all done a great job. Moving forward, I think I have experience with the city a little bit, not as much economically, but I worked with the city. I think I have a lot of insight as to what could be better. Obviously, we have the drug problem, and zombie houses are an issue. It's those types of things I want to work on.
2 - What do you accredit to your strong showing at the polls?
I went to almost every door in my ward. I'm just very genuine: I tell people right out what I want to do and what I want to accomplish. A lot of people know me still from being a police officer–my father was a cop here, so they know my reputation as working hard and getting things done. I talked to so many people that knew me either teaching at the high school, or they knew my father. A lot of it was trust. When I would go on the campaign trail, I'd say I was a police officer with the city of Cortland, and everybody agreed that working with the city before had a lot to do with [my victory].
3 - During the campaign, your opponent made some remarks at a Common Council meeting regarding affordable housing that many people interpreted as racist. What was your reaction?
Obviously, I was appalled by what he said, and everybody else was. I think affordable housing efforts need to be done for people everywhere within the city, specifically in the 5th ward. You have to take advantage of the grants. There's grant money out there to fix up these houses. A lot of the things he voted on were against development in the city of Cortland, and I never understood that. Why wouldn't you want to develop housing? We have to attract people that live here, no matter what race or religion. You have to increase the job market out here, get people to fill businesses and get Main Street back to where it used to be.
4 - What, if anything, has your time in the city police force taught you about local government?
You have to work together. If everybody works together as a joint effort to make the city a better place to live, I think it works out better that way. Communication, I think, is a huge thing, as well as working with the mayor, understanding his goals and what he wants to do.
5 - What do you see as the biggest challenges for Common Council going forward?
I think the two-way Main Street is a huge issue. There's been talk about a two-way Main Street. I believe it would be good for the community. Working as a police officer on patrol, I would see drivers going down Port Watson Street onto Tompkins Street. They would want to turn left onto Main Street, but they can't, so they're going to stay on Route 13 and go to the next town. I believe if we have a two-way main street, they're going to stop and frequent this area.
Regarding the zombie houses I know the mayor and Mack Cook have allocated some money to start working on this problem. A lot of these houses are owned by the banks, and there's got to be some repercussions. They are holding these houses and not doing anything with them. The banks are hanging onto the properties, or we have absentee landlords. I know its an issue Common Council is tackling in 2016. We can get on this and see what we can do to get these houses, buy these houses and get them sold. Habitat for Humanity is also a possibility. It's not fair to the taxpayer to have them take the burden of paying taxes on these houses.
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