Candidates for mayor and borough council showed civility and in many cases agreement on issues not always shown at council meetings at the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum on Tuesday night at the .
With two Republicans, two Democrats and a write-in candidate vying for two seats on the council and a contested mayor’s race, the seven people on the dais had to share a debate-style session compacted into less than two hours.
Perhaps the most animated question of the night came when Marty Horn, chairman of the Madison Athletic Foundation who said his group has targeted $500,000 in user fees over the next ten years, asked all the candidates if they would participate in fundraising for the Madison Recreation Complex, where artificial turf fields are currently being built at a cost of about $3.5 million.
While Republican incumbent Mayor Mary-Anna Holden said she had “already been using my office to assist the fundraising,” Democratic councilman and mayoral candidate Bob Conley said he was “committed to make this a successful project,” although he had initially voted against funding the fields. Horn insisted Conley’s statement did not answer the question, but moderator Michelle Bobrow stepped in to stop any further debate.
All five council candidates—Republicans Robert Landrigan and Martin Barbato and Democrats Carmela Vitale and Bob McDowell and write-in candidate Sam Cerciello—said they would support fundraising efforts. Of these candidates, Barbato and Vitale are former councilmembers while Cerciello is currently serving a three-year term, but failed to get back on the Republican roster.
The League fielded four questions, the first concerning a hypothetical situation where the borough faces “no increase in revenues but higher costs during your term in office. What cost savings or action would you propose to keep the budget balanced?”
All candidates said they would look for opportunities for more shared services. McDowell, a former JP Morgan executive, said there should be a three-year planning process while Martin Barbato, assistant general counsel with international engineering firm Foster Wheeler AG, called for a “top down budget.”
Carmela Vitale, a real estate agent and office manager for ReMax, said that borough officials would “have to learn how to be creative” and could rely on “a wealth of very fine volunteers.” Landrigan, also an executive with JPMorgan Chase and the president of the , said prudent financial planning such as the way he “restructured our operations budget and the way we purchase ambulances,” would be the best way. Cerciello, a mason, wants to “make sure we get our money’s worth.”
While everyone seemed to support the turf fields there was a difference of opinion on how the financing was to be done. Conley who voted against the turf fields said he wanted “a partnership to have it done, similar to Chatham, to take on $3.4 million in this economy was the wrong choice,” but Holden maintained that to delay the project would be “foolhardy in this economy when interest rates are extremely low and the interest has been collected for three years going forward.”
Vitale said she would have stood by her fellow Democrat Conley “and say no, Madison can’t do it right now. We can’t spend money we don’t have. We can’t increase our debt ratio on a continual basis” and instead “look at infrastructure and roads that need a tremendous amount of work.“
Landrigan said the fields were a good idea when you compare what other towns are building. “I see what’s attracting people to those towns.“ McDowell said there was no question the fields were needed but upping the amount from $1 million to $3 million was “inappropriate." Barbato said “it was not a debt ceiling issue but a debt service issue” and with the project there was a “break-even cost.“
Cerciello wanted a project that added no cost to taxpayers and said the Vitale Memorial Field on Rosedale Avenue was built by volunteers at “no cost to the taxpayers.“
To a question on how public meetings might allow for public input, most of the candidates liked the idea of town meetings or informal meetings where discourse on issues could be expanded or explained.
Levity was introduced when audience member Rocco Iossa, owner of , asked the candidates how they stood on outdoor dining and outdoor dining with wine? Although this issue was voted down about five years ago when it was proposed by former Councilman Samuel “Jiggs” Mantone, it seems the time is ripe for approval, according to candidates.
“I come from New York,” McDowell said. “As long as it’s good Italian wine, absolutely.“ Cerciello and Holden said they would back the idea, but only for the restaurants that already have liquor licenses.
“Other municipalities do it,” Barbato said. “and I think New York is a great example. You can drink all over New York.”