The Auburn City Council race this year features two incumbents seeking second four-year terms, a former one-term councilor and a newcomer to the local election scene. Voters will chose two people to represent them on the five-person council, which is currently comprised of all Democrats.
The incumbents are Democrats Terry Cuddy and Debby McCormick, who are also running on the Working Families and the independent Auburn First party lines. John Camardo, who served four years on council but lost a 2015 re-election bid, is running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines. Adam Miller is also running on the Republican and Independence lines.
Miller is new to the Auburn city politics scene, having decided to jump into this contest after having volunteered on federal campaigns such as U.S. Rep. John Katko's run for congress and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's run for president. Miller is an intelligent, well-spoken candidate who brings a common-sense approach to solving problems. However, when you listen to all four candidates debate city-specific issues, it's clear that Miller is the least informed in the field when it comes to municipal government operations. He's talked about deciding to run because he views it as a place to start his political career, but we'd like to see him get a little more experience working on city issues before feeling comfortable in his ability to represent Auburn residents on council.
After losing two years ago, Camardo kept a low profile for a while before deciding he wanted to run again. Like he did in his previous campaign and during his time as a minority member of council, Camardo has been highly critical of the Democratic leadership at city hall. He pointed to the rollout of the state-funded welcome center site, which generated considerable negative feedback from the community, as an example of how the current council is not listening to city residents. He also was critical of the council's handling of the city manager search in 2016, when the final decision was to promote former Fire Chief Jeff Dygert into the role without allowing a community search committee to interview any other candidates.
Cuddy's and McCormick's campaign messages have been about blasting Camardo's past council performance while also touting the improvements that they've seen in how the city operates over their first four years on council. A top example is the more stable financial picture that's resulted in much less drama during budget processes the past two years. The Democrats delivered on many of their 2013 campaign promises, including the hiring of a city comptroller and the buy-out and eventual shutdown of the money-sucking landfill co-generation facility.
One area where Cuddy and McCormick have not been in agreement is with the long-term plan for restoring the health of Owasco Lake, the city's drinking water source. McCormick has been diligently serving as the city's representative on the Owasco Watershed Management Council, an intermunicipal agency that oversees watershed policy and is in the process of taking over supervision of the watershed inspection program. She's also on the steering committee for the effort to revise the watershed's rules and regulations. Amid all of this work being done by his colleague, Cuddy put on his activist hat last year and became a ringleader of a citizens group called Save Owasco Now! That group has challenged the approach of the local experts and officials working on the problem. Cuddy insists that a Total Maximum Daily Load plan is required for the lake to successfully rebound, despite the conclusions of the people who have been directly studying the lake that a Nine Element Watershed Plan is the approach that best fits our watershed.
This difference between Cuddy and McCormick is important because, in evaluating which two candidates would make the best choices this year for city council, we've come back to a conclusion we reached in 2015. While we don't always agree with Camardo's stances on issues, we see tremendous value in having a voice of dissent on the council. While one could argue that the all-Democrat council has done a solid job overseeing the city the past two years, we think it could have been even better. Instead of fumbling through a plan to address parking concerns related to the welcome center project, a voice of dissent early on may have brought local concerns to the forefront quicker. A voice of dissent may have made the city manager search more publicly transparent and more thorough. And a voice of dissent may have saved a few taxpayer dollars here and there, too. John Camardo, while he may rub some people the wrong way, will never hesitate to ask questions. And that's an important part of a council's job.
So that leaves us with the choice of McCormick or Cuddy. They are both good candidates and have served Auburn well, but we view the work that McCormick has done on water quality issues as the factor that gives her the edge. As city and county officials continue to work through the challenges that have emerged related to Owasco Lake, a unified approach and consistent leadership will be key. McCormick has provided that and will continue to do so if she's re-elected.
The Citizen endorses Debby McCormick and John Camardo for Auburn City Council.
The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.