Editor's Note: This week, The Cortland Voice will be publishing interviews with political candidates vying for office ahead of the upcoming Sept. 12 primary.
Brian Tobin is running for a fourth term as the city's mayor. The Cortland Voice's Sara Sampson recently spoke with Tobin about his re-election campaign, the top issues facing the city and what officials are doing to fix drug abuse and improve the city's housing stock.
In what ways has the city improved in the two years since you were last elected?
We're making Cortland attractive by working on parks, keeping our infrastructure current, improving relationships between all residents, making our community more safe, bringing business to the City, improving housing, and spending taxpayers’ money wisely. How are we doing this? To keep Cortland attractive to families, we have improved playground equipment at Dexter Park, and rebuilt Wickwire Pool To work on infrastructure and prevent flooding, this year we replaced the bridges at Otter Creek, Rickard Street, and soon, we will widen the culvert at Arthur Avenue. With the addition of the berm in the waterworks, we will decrease the potential for flooding along Otter Creek. We're improving the relationship between residents by working with college students on "The Big Event" where they do community service at people's homes. We also have a sorority that has adopted Prospect Terrace to keep it clean. To improve safety downtown, we've put a "beat cop" on Main Street, added more cameras, and hired a second K-9 unit to our police force. To bring jobs to our community, we've worked with McNeil Insurance to help them expand; we've awarded six different startup companies with microenterprise grants; and continue to keep downtown attractive to bring in new potential businesses. To work on housing, we have passed ordinances and laws to hold owners of vacant properties to our community standard; are enforcing the rental registry program (ALL rental properties must be registered with the City Code office); and are aggressively pursuing legal action against properties that are not in compliance with City laws. Financially, we've paid off debt without incurring new debt, raised taxes 0% for the past 5 years, and improved the City's bond rating. The people can rest assured that we are spending taxpayer dollars wisely.
What do you feel are some of the biggest issues facing the city right now?
Housing is an ongoing issue, but we are currently working on updating our zoning laws, which will encourage appropriate growth. Infrastructure constantly needs to be replaced: starting next year, we will undertake the herculean task of working on "the Gateway Project" which will involve replacing 100 year old pipes under Clinton Avenue, and improving its appearance. Also, the issue of drugs in our community is impacting all of us, even if it is indirectly. We need to continue to find ways to prevent illegal drugs from being distributed in our community. However, we need to also get to the root of the problem:why are people engaging in such a negative behavior, and how do we stop people from starting to begin with? We need to work with other community partners to find ways to help people at risk of drug abuse to pursue better options.
What are city officials doing to improve economic development in the downtown core?
Streetscaping is important, so we want the downtown core to be attractive. We increased parking by renovating the lot by the Repertory Theater, and adding spots next to the fire station. Adding overnight parking permits has given better opportunities for upper story development, and we are encouraging more social gatherings to bring people down to Main Street more frequently. We're also working with local businesses to meet their needs, which vary from one business to the next. But, at the end of the day, if we can help businesses reach their goals, we're helping our city.
How have you been reaching out to voters during your re-election campaign?
I am out in the community on a regular basis all the time, but currently, I am also going door-to-door to speak with people. I have been to every ward in the City; I have been to homes and apartment buildings and in every corner of Cortland. I've had good conversations with great people, and continue to work for everyone.
If re-elected, what will be your top priorities for Common Council?
Upon re-election, I will do what I have done the past 3 times I've won: highlight the main topics of concern that I have and share them with the Common Council. More importantly, I will solicit Council members for their thoughts about what direction the City needs to go. I have worked well with all eight members of Council and plan to continue to partner with other elected officials.
What politician do you admire most? Has anyone been a role model for the ethics of your politics?
The great politicians take actions that can stand the test of time, and are leaders who can bring people together. One President who comes to mind is Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was in office during one of the toughest times our country has experienced. He put people to work at jobs that improved our country, guided us through World War II, and had a lasting positive impact that we can still see today.
Have any past or current events shaped your goals?
Part of being Mayor is paying attention to not only the past, but also current issues to help guide the City in the right direction. The condition of the rental housing market in our community got me initially involved in running for office, and I continue to work to make sure that we have appropriate housing in our community.
What's the point of doing one of the all-time hard-to-please-everyone jobs?
Being Mayor has involved a daily list of ever changing challenges. However, when we're able to find a solution that is good for the community, there is a great sense of satisfaction in a job well done. I enjoy the challenges that the position presents. But most importantly, I enjoy helping people. It is what got me involved in education and what motivates me every day. I am very appreciative now of the city employees who work very hard for our community, and the various people who step forward to make Cortland a better place. It is comforting to know that there are many good people who care about their neighbors and are willing to help one another.
What's your favorite way to spend a weekend in Cortland?
I enjoy being able to spend time with my family. I also like to be out in the community:to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening. For example, during SUNY move-in weekend, I spend a lot of time walking my dog near the college and speaking with people. It is the best way to know firsthand what is happening, and a great way to meet new people.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your constituency?
I have served as Mayor for 6 years, and over that time, we have improved the quality of life in the City on every front. Most impressively, we have done so without raising taxes. In fact, in comparison to other cities in New York, we have gone from one of the more highly taxed cities to one of the lowest. Cortland has its challenges. But many people here have a strong work ethic, and when we roll up our sleeves and get to work, great things can happen. I ask that Democratic voters come out September 12 and vote Tobin, so we can continue to work together on our community!