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Fran DeMichele, Special to The Citizen 

From left, 2018 The Citizen Masters women's runner up Becca Young, women's champion Alyssa Lawrence, men's champion Mike Suarez and men's runner up Kevin Lukins pose with their trophies at Falcon Lanes in Auburn.

DeFrancisco, No. 2 in NY Senate, running for governor

John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican and deputy majority leader of the New York State Senate, is vying for the GOP nomination to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, said in a phone interview with The Citizen Monday that he has formed a campaign committee to run for governor. He will make an official announcement Tuesday in Liverpool. 

He is the third Republican to enter the race for governor, joining Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra. 

DeFrancisco, who began exploring a run for governor last summer, said he made his decision within the last few weeks. He added that he was "really certain" he was going to run after hearing Cuomo's executive budget address. He questioned Cuomo's decision to include $1 billion in "revenue raisers" — new taxes and fees — at a time when upstate New York's economy continues to struggle. 

"All of these things came out during the budget presentation and it made no sense to me," he said. 

But before announcing his candidacy, he wanted to have his core staff in place and volunteers who could support his campaign. If he secures the GOP nomination, he will face Cuomo and the governor's $30 million war chest. 

Polls show Cuomo is favored to win re-election. Democrats hold an enrollment advantage over Republicans in New York.

DeFrancisco isn't fazed by the governor's campaign cash, the poll numbers of the voter enrollment edge. He acknowledged it will be a challenge, but he believes there needs to be a new top executive in the state. 

"You gotta sometimes do difficult things in order to right a wrong," he said. "If you want to do things right, sometimes it's not easy and it's not going to be easy. But I'm willing to do everything I can in order to run a successful race. 

He added, "I won't raise as much money as (Cuomo) can, but I can tell you one thing that if people start hearing what they have been wanting to hear for a long time and start feeling that the person is honest and sincere about what he wants to get done, I think that the momentum will start building over this next nine months to the election."

DeFrancisco will have a jump-start on fundraising for his gubernatorial campaign. He has more than $1.4 million in two Senate campaign accounts, according to the latest financial reports submitted to the state Board of Elections. That money can be transferred to his newly-formed campaign committee. 

A former member of the Syracuse Common Council, DeFrancisco has served in the state Senate since 1993. His current district includes parts of Cayuga and Onondaga counties. 

He hasn't made a decision on whether he will seek re-election to the state Senate this year. If he wins the GOP gubernatorial nomination, state law will prevent him from seeking another term in the state Senate. 

He said it's unlikely that he will run for re-election even if he doesn't win the Republican nomination for governor. 

For now, his focus is on winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination and defeating Cuomo in November.

"I think it's doable," he said. "If I didn't think it was doable I wouldn't do it." 

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Volunteers needed for Auburn's Casey Park playground community build during first week of May

AUBURN — Children of all ages and abilities will be able to play on the brand new, all-inclusive, handicap-accessible playground at Casey Park by the first weekend in May. 

During a presentation to the Auburn City Council on Thursday, senior planners Renee Jensen and Tiffany Beebee and Play by Design playground designer Laura Sehn revealed the design and construction timeline for the project.

The playground will include equipment that can be used by children from 2 to 12 years old. It is split into two sections, one for children ages 2 to 5 and the other for 5- to 12-year-olds. There will also be a zip line. 

Equipment for younger children features a playhouse, tunnel, rock wall, suspension bridge and mushroom hops, while the section for older kids includes a tree house with a climbing wall and racing ropes, a castle with two slides, a catwalk and fire pole and a look-out tower with a six-foot twisty slide and ladder. There is also an obstacle course section of the playground that will have equipment that can be used by able-bodied children at the same time as handicapped children, such as high/low monkey bars and rings. 

"We like to include parallel play, like the high/low monkey bars, so that not only can (wheelchair-bound children) use it, they can use it with their friends," Sehn said.  

Natalie Brophy / Provided 

A second rendering of the new playground at Casey Park in Auburn. 

Additionally, children in wheelchairs will be able to use the Liberty wheelchair swing and inclusive orbit, a spinning structure that is able to support a wheelchair with room for sitting and standing children. The playground design includes six-foot wide ramps, ground level components and elevated components that are wheelchair accessible. 

Community volunteers will be needed to build the playground. The community build will take place from Tuesday, May 1 though Sunday, May 6. The ribbon cutting will take place in the afternoon on May 6, Jensen said. 

"We are requesting the help of all community members, skilled and unskilled, to help with the construction of the playground," Jensen said. 

Each construction day will be broken into three shifts: 8 a.m. to noon, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 5 to 7:30 p.m. Eighty volunteers will be needed per shift. Businesses and individuals are needed to donate tools and food.     

"It really creates a sense of community pride when you have all these people getting together to make something that's so good for the community, so good for their kids," Sehn said of the community build process. "They really feel proud of themselves, proud of the community and they really take pride in the playground itself, which really helps down the road as far as vandalism and people really taking care of it after it's built." 

The $215,000 project will be funded through the city's federal Community Development Block Grant allocations. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can contact Jensen at 315-255-4115 or 

Casey Park playground volunteer flyer

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Hundreds show outpouring of support at benefit for Owasco town board member

FLEMING — At least 1,000 people flooded the Springside Inn Sunday afternoon to support Owasco Town Board member Ashley Lattimore Melendez, who suffered a hemorrhagic stroke at the end of last year.

Friends and family held a benefit and dinner for the 35-year-old woman, who is recovering at The Centers at St. Camillus in Syracuse. 

Melendez's mother, Cindy Lattimore, stood in the inn's foyer, shaking the hands of hundreds.

"On behalf of the family, we're very grateful for the community's support and generosity," she said. "She's (Melendez) working very hard for her recovery."

Melendez's uncle, Terry Lattimore, said it was a shock when Melendez had a stroke. He thinks, however, that she will make a full recovery. He was also happy to see the turnout on Sunday.

"It just proves that people understand just what a nice person she is," he said.

Melendez was elected to the Owasco Town Board in the November 2015 election. She was also a property manager for Christopher Community Inc., but Cindy Lattimore said she is no longer working there after the stroke. 

The benefit, organized by friends Geri Marginsky, Cheri Stebbins, Tina Weiman and Owasco Town Board member Tim Kerstetter, included a 50-50 raffle, raffle baskets, door prizes, a pasta dinner and music by Humphrey DJ Service. Marginsky said dozens of local community members and businesses donated the raffle items, food, and the Springside Inn donated its venue and staff time. Proceeds, she added, go to benefit the Ashley Melendez living trust fund.

Fliers for Auburn Community Hospital's Hope After Stroke Support Community were stacked on a table in the foyer. The group meets once a month, giving those who've suffered a stroke, as well as caregivers, a safe place to talk about their experiences and find support. Marginsky said they had the fliers out to help raise awareness. 

The group sold about 800 pre-sale tickets for Sunday's event, with many still buying tickets at the door. Cars packed the inn's parking lot, lined West Lake Road, and a bus dropped off and picked up more people from the Auburn High School parking lot.

Owasco Highway Superintendent Bob Bruno calls Melendez "my girl," and said he's confident she'll bounce back. 

"She's really a beautiful girl," he said. "She helps everybody, and now it's showing. Today is showing how much she's reached out to people."


Owasco Lake watershed rules draft could be ready in May

The public could see draft revisions to the Owasco Lake watershed rules and regulations as early as May. 

The document, which describes enforceable rules to protect water quality for those living and working in the watershed, was last updated in 1984. The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council, a body created by the city of Auburn, town of Owasco and Cayuga County, has collected the public's feedback over the last several months on the current set of regulations through an appointed steering committee.

The committee held two public meetings last summer, and continued collecting feedback through its website and stakeholder meetings. 

Cayuga County Health Director Kathleen Cuddy and Cayuga County Planning and Economic Development Director Steve Lynch told the committee in a memo Jan. 24 that working groups are addressing revisions for different subjects — septic systems, wastewater, agriculture and others.

Rather than release edits in a piecemeal format, however, Lynch and Cuddy said they will wait to release a full draft of the rules "to see the full scope of proposed revisions and how each subject matter sections ... are being addressed and how they relate to each other."

They hope that full draft will be available sometime in May.

In a phone interview with The Citizen Monday, Cuddy said the process for updating the rules was taking a bit longer than she had wanted. Once the initial draft is released, however, she said she hopes the process will move faster. Though edits are made at a local level, the ultimate authority for approving the rules and regulations resides with the state Department of Health.  

"We need to have a good product to offer, and people need to understand why any edits may be recommended and consequently be adopted by the city and town, and push it up to the state," Cuddy said. "There's science behind the reasons, and there's practicality behind some of the suggestions. It's important to our steering committee that it not just be random choices made for changes."

The working groups examining the proposed revisions include representatives from the county health department, the county planning department, the county soil and water conservation district, the city, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Finger Lakes Water Hub. 

Cuddy added that the public is still welcome to continue submitting feedback about the update process and the rules themselves online at