November 26, 2021

Cortland mayoral candidates debate

Democrat Tytler, GOP’s Steve face off at CHS

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Cortland High School Junior Jillian Riccardi, left, the graphics controller, engineer Steven Spagnola and director Melissa Quinlan watch the video Thursday during a dress rehearsal of a debate between Cortland mayoral candidates Scott Steve and Bruce Tytler.

Going forward with the Parker Elementary School project, priorities for revitalizing downtown and reversing population decline were among the topics discussed during the Cortland mayoral debate Thursday between a Cortland councilperson and a local business owner.

Democratic candidate Bruce Tytler, the 3rd-Ward representative and Scott Steve, a local business owner running as the Republican candidate, debated these issues livestreamed at Cortland High School by the Cortland Standard and the X101 radio station.

Tytler and Steve are seeking the position of mayor as Democrat Brian Tobin announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election.

Tobin has served since 2011.

During the debate, the candidates were given chances to provide opening statements followed by questions on the following topics:

  • Why should the city follow through on converting the former Parker Elementary School into an early child care center given potential financial risks the city could incur?
  • What the next priorities were in revitalizing downtown as part of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
  • How to make Cortland a more attractive place for recent high school graduates.
  • How would you reverse population decline trends the city has faced over the last 10 years?

Tytler previously served as mayor from 2000 to 2001 after serving on the Common Council. He was elected again to the council in 2019.

Steve, who owns Scott Steve Builders, served on the Cortland County Legislature from 2002 to 2005, including a stint as chairman.

He serves as a commissioner on the Cortland Zoning Board of Appeals.

On Parker, Tytler said child care is needed everywhere in the country, including Cortland.

“The Parker School project is a way to repurpose a building in the heart of our community and get the kids back in it,” he said.

Tytler also said the money for funding the project is there, including $1.3 million in state funding and another $500,000 the city can use.

Steve said he supported and understood the need for child care in the community but that the Parker School project is going to be more expensive than the city has planned for.

He said the city’s school district did a facilities report in 2016 and found that the building needed $5.5 million worth of upgrades, which the city doesn’t have the money for beyond the nearly $2 million Tytler discussed.

Tytler replied the city has the money for the project and it won’t cost the taxpayers extra but Steve suggested doing the project at a different location, such as at the Riverside Plaza or the Homer Avenue Plaza.

On the Downtown Revitalization Initiative project, Tytler said his priorities if elected would be turning Main Street into two-ways and replacing water and sewer lines along with adding new sidewalks, curbing and lights.

Steve said the initiative is a “great shot in the arm” for downtown but said he had some concerns, especially with broken sewer lines that aren’t going to be replaced.

He was also frustrated in the inaction of work on Main Street, even with COVID.

“We’ve been two years into this,” he said. “Even though COVID has held things up, we’re not even finished with design work.”

He was also concerned the $6 million underground work for the Main Street work wouldn’t be enough.

Following that, Cortland High School senior and class president Joseph Cataldo asked both candidates how they would make the city more attractive so students like himself wouldn’t leave after high school.

Tytler said he would create sidewalk and home repair funds where homeowners will be able to apply from a city loan fund to improve sidewalks near their home and their homes as well. Both would be funded to $100,000.

Steve said he would work with the school district on a tree planting program and potentially painting programs.

“But ultimately, we need to reduce taxes,” Steve said.

Similarly, on how to reverse the city’s population decline, Tytler said helping homeowners fix their properties would be one way to help keep people in the city. Steve said he would like to work with SUNY Cortland and find a way to help the students become more ingrained in the community, such as through internships or other programs.

Creating a land bank with American Rescue Plan Act funding to buy up vacant properties may also help attract people to the city, Steve said.

“I’m running for mayor because I believe leadership matters,” Tytler said in his closing statement.
“I have a vision for what I believe this city can be,” including transforming the city’s child care, streets and infrastructure.

“I want to make this community as good as we can,” Steve said. “I don’t think I can. I know I can.”

Steve continued in saying that voters should listen to all candidates’ plans, regardless of party affiliation.

Missed out? Catch the full debate from last night.
Don’t forget to tune in Tuesday Night, 10/19, for the Cortlandville Supervisor Debate at 7pm!