January 21, 2022

Parks a top accomplishment

Brian Tobin, Cortland’s longest-serving mayor, to step down

Yuner Gao/staff reporter

During his 10-year run as mayor, Brian Tobin says he’s most proud of the infrastructure projects the city completed, including millions of dollars in parks improvements, as well as water, sewer and street projects

After an unprecedented five terms as mayor of Cortland, Brian Tobin will leave office in a few days. As he looks across the city, the biggest accomplishment he sees: the parks.

Tobin, 50, has spent half his life in Cortland — four years in college and two decades in his professional career. He served two terms on city council before becoming mayor in 2012, defeating incumbent Democrat Susan Feiszli, 498-230, in a primary before defeating Republican Erich DeMunn.

“Cortland always feels like home,” Tobin said, “it was a very nice community.”

However, during his 10 years in office, Tobin said he was most proud of the infrastructure projects the city completed, including millions of dollars in parks improvements, as well as water, sewer and street projects.

“I think the parks are the biggest and the most important thing we can do,” Tobin said Monday. “It doesn’t matter if you are 5 years old or 80 years old, if your family has a lot of money or your family has no money, you have the same resources when going to the parks.”

Suggett, Beaudry and Dexter parks all got new playground equipment, funded by grants. The Wickwire poolhouse at Suggett also got a nearly $700,000 makeover funded by grants.

“Parks are gathering spaces. The community needs gathering spaces where people can go and socialize,” he said. “That’s the gathering space where people can go for different things.”

Downtown development was a hallmark of his term, which saw a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from the state in 2018 and $21 million in state and federal grants and loans to overhaul the east-west corridor of the city, from Interstate 81’s Exit 11 down Clinton Avenue and a portion of Groton Avenue.

Tobin worked to improve economic development to keep the residents driven to the city of Cortland.

“This is one of the areas I think we’ve partnered very well with different businesses and different owners to try to make sure we are helping them to meet their needs.” However, the city’s population dropped 8.6% from 2010 to 2020, U.S. Census data show, to 17,556 from 19,204.

One of the partners Tobin has worked with closely was Garry VanGorder, the executive director and CEO of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Cortland County Industrial Development Agency.

“It’s not easy being a municipal leader, but Brian has always been steadied by a strong commitment to make our community a better one,” VanGorder said. “I appreciate his partnership in pursuing that goal over the years, and I think he can look upon his time as mayor as impactful and productive for the city of Cortland and its residents.”

Looking back on his tenure over the past decade, Tobin said he was pleased with his performance. “I sleep well at night because I think we’ve done a great job,” he said.

That said, he admitted he could have done some things better, particularly monitoring rental properties. “Maintaining the property is one of the things I wish I could’ve done more, but if you have people that are not going to do the right thing, that’s a constant fight to get them to do the right thing,” Tobin said.

Councilperson Thomas Michales (R- 8th Ward), has known Tobin since they served on the council together.

“We’ve maintained a good working relationship until his departure,” Michales said Tuesday. “We’ve been able to express our opinions without damaging our relationship even when we are not on the same page.”

But he also pointed out that the mayor has left some things to be desired. “He should’ve been in closer contact with all the departments,” Michales said, adding he thought Tobin’s full-time job as a SUNY Cortland swim coach could distract him.

Although Tobin is leaving office, he isn’t leaving Cortland.

“I view mayor as a way to serve the community,” he said. “There are other ways and things I want to do to continue to serve the community.”