AUBURN — Candidates running for the Cayuga County Legislature District 13 seat squared off at a debate forum Thursday afternoon at Cayuga Community College.
Incumbent Legislator Tim Lattimore is seeking his third and final term on the body under the Republican, Conservative and Independent party lines, while newcomer and retired Auburn teacher Bob Nodzo is hoping to unseat him, running on the Democrat and Auburn First parties.
Lattimore, who has served in public office for decades, was asked whether he'd make another attempt at running for Auburn mayor in two years when the seat is up for re-election. Lattimore was mayor from 2004 to 2007 and as a county legislator two years ago, ran again for the city seat. Dancing around the question, Lattimore said he thinks it's good to campaign.
"I love this community, Auburn and Cayuga County," he said, finally. "I normally show up where I'm needed. I'll probably stay on the county."
Meanwhile Nodzo felt that his lack of political background would be an asset to the Legislature. He said he was ready to see "how the machine works."
"I come to this with my eyes open, my ears open, and ready to dig in," he said. "I'm ready to go to work."
Turning to specific issues, both candidates expressed interest in changing the structure of the Legislature, but offered different ways to approach it. Lattimore, who is frustrated with how current Legislature Chairman Keith Batman is running things, said he'd be interested in seeing a county executive. That would mean changing the county's charter. He pointed to Onondaga County's Executive Joanie Mahoney, and said she is able to get things done.
Lattimore also suggested cutting down on the number of legislators. He said "15 people are very hard to deal with." Nodzo agreed, saying there are a lot of legislators and that he does not like the weighted voting system. He'd like everyone to have an equal vote.
Going into more detail on Batman's leadership, Nodzo said the District 7 legislator has done a good job as chairman and would consider him to continue holding the job. Batman is also seeking re-election this November, and has held the chairmanship for two years.
"Keith (Batman) is a person who is open," Nodzo said. "He's welcomed both sides of the table in discussions."
Lattimore painted a very different picture. He said Batman does not discuss enough openly, and pointed to an agreement legislators had to sign forbidding disclosure of the reasons for former county administrator Suzanne Sinclair's departure. He added that he feels Batman has divided legislators more than united them.
With constituents served by drinking water from Owasco Lake, Nodzo and Lattimore shared their insight on efforts keeping harmful algal bloom toxins at bay.
While acknowledging work that has been done, Lattimore expressed frustration that the Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration and Riparian Buffers Initiative took about seven years to get permits. The project plans to collect sediment in basins near the Owasco Inlet, to keep plumes filled with nutrients from entering the lake. While Cayuga County works to update the lake's watershed rules and regulations, too, Lattimore said there needs to be more stringent rules around farm and industrial runoff.
Nodzo said the work around Owasco Lake is just beginning and more needs to be done besides the $2 million the state gave to Auburn and Owasco for water treatment plant upgrades. He said the county needs to do more problem solving when updating the rules and regulations.
"Everybody is involved with this," Nodzo said.
Finally, the two candidates discussed the heroin epidemic. Nodzo said the crisis hit home for him when he found a young man breaking into his home to steal money. It was one of his former students. The man served time in jail. Later, Nodzo said he'd heard the young man's address called up on a police scanner one night, reporting that he had overdosed. Nodzo said the saddest thing about the experience was the former student had been very bright and was one of his favorites.
"I'm validated to do anything I can to make sure we do something about this problem," he said.
Lattimore agreed. He said with the number of overdose deaths increasing in his district, he's hopeful that his fellow legislators will also support a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that produce opioid drugs.
"I feel the pain of these parents," Lattimore said.