Candidate interview: Teri Rennia

Teri Rennia via Facebook
November 4, 2013

Binghamton voters go to the polls tomorrow to choose a new mayor. All Things Considered host Crystal Sarkas spoke with Democratic Council President Teri Rennia today as the last full day of campaigning came to a close.

CRYSTAL SARAKAS: Mrs. Rennia, thank you for taking the time out of your very business schedule to talk to me today.

TERI RENNIA: Well, thank you.

SARAKAS: If you are elected tomorrow, what will you do on day one of your administration?

RENNIA: You know, I’ve said all along that one of the first things I want to do is make it a point to meet with as many employees of the city as I possibly can. As a council representative, we’ve had great opportunities to meet with department heads and you know, once in a while, some employees or supervisors but you know I’m interested in speaking with the people who do the various jobs every single day because I think when we’re talking about identifying efficiencies, they’re the ones that do the jobs, they’re the ones that are going to help us find that quickest.

I also want to just take the opportunity to thank everyone for all the hard work they do for our residents everyday.

SARAKAS: When we talk about this election, are you surprised that crime has become such a major issue in the election?

RENNIA: You know, I have to say, I am. We all know that we have some challenges in the city with crime, we have some challenges with poverty and certainly those things tend to go hand in hand, we have some challenges with juvenile crime and the need for more youth programming.

We have the lowest home ownership in the state and we know that crime has way more complicated underlying factors. Home ownership, poverty, lack of quality jobs and that’s why my position from the beginning has been we certainly need to address crime and public safety, we certainly need to address blight, but we need to look at all of this as a complete focus if we’re going to address crime, poverty, all of that, we need to have a complete focus on jobs, housing, neighborhood development, public safety, partnering with the schools, all of those things have to go together if we’re going to have a long-term impact on crime.

SARAKAS: Your opponent, Rich David, wants to add back the 20 police positions that have been made over the last few years. Why were those cuts made as opposed to making other reductions?

Other reductions were made as well, I mean and that’s sort of the thing that’s been frustrating for me. There were reductions made across the board, indeed, we know there were reductions made in the fire department, we actually closed a fire station. There were reductions made in a variety of departments. The city was in a you know very, very precarious financial situation and the cuts had to be made to try and stabilize things and make it so that our residents were, the tax base was stabilized and our residents were going to continue to receive the services that our tax dollars paid for.

And the cuts were not easy decisions, they very difficult decisions and they were precision cuts. They were cuts that were made in an effort to you know limit the impact on services while improving the financial condition of the city. And some of them seem worse this year, certainly the shortage in the police department over the last year in particular has been really challenging but that wasn’t because the positions weren’t budgeted for, that was because of a very successful early retirement incentive that was offered by the city that’s yielding big savings already, as we saw in this year’s budget. But because so many went at that time, we had no choice.

We were very short the last nine months but we are back up to a full complement now and I look forward to moving forward. I’m sure we will see great improvements.

SARAKAS: In August, Police Chief Joseph Zikuski came out and mentioned crime in the city had increased. I think he mentioned violent crime is up 31.8%, violent crime is up about 28%. Do you connect any of those rises in the crime rate with the reduction in the police force?

RENNIA: Certainly, as I said, this past year, we were short-staffed for a variety of reasons but I think it’s important to note that Police Chief Zikuski briefs council on a regular basis. You know this has sort of been presented as if this is some sort of crisis situation that he felt the need to come and tell council about. He briefs us on a regular basis on these things. Crime fluctuates, it goes up and down, and certainly if you look at other upstate cities that are experiencing the same thing that we’re experiencing with unemployment, low homeownership, the high poverty rate, you’ll see these fluctuations to a greater in communities that are facing these challenges. That’s why my position is to try and address all of those things so that when we achieve the lowering, it’s going to be sustainable.

SARAKAS: How do you approach the final day of a campaign?

RENNIA: How am I approaching it? I am still reaching out to as many voters as I can, on doors, out in restaurants, I’m going to be making a variety of phones calls. But you know I do also have, I am a sitting council representative and believe it or not tonight is a council work session and so I will be going to council tonight at 6:00 for a city council work session that I anticipate, like any other one, will probably go until nine or after.

So that will take care of my evening.

Tomorrow, same thing, I will just continue reaching out to voters throughout the day, asking for their support, answering their questions when I can and encouraging them to get to the polls.

SARAKAS: Is there any misconception about you created during this campaign that you’d like to clear up?

I think this idea that you know somehow we just cut the police department without planning, we cut the police department without making any additional investments, that there was, that we didn’t care about what happened with the crime rate. I think all of those are very unfair. There are assertions put out by someone who is not taking into consideration all of the things that we had to deal with as a city. We had to deal with a bankrupt hotel in foreclosure, we had to deal with a very unstable financial situation and I think if folks were, I wish more people had come to the budget hearings, more people had come to city council meetings where these things were discussed. That would have been a much more valuable way to learn the facts. Rarely are things as simple as we get in a two–minute soundbite and that’s certainly the case here.

SARAKAS: Teri Rennia, thank you very much for joining me today.

RENNIA: Thank you…