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Broome Co. Executive Candidates Talk COVID-19, Airport

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Broome County Executive Jason Garnar is up for re-election two weeks from Tuesday. He debated Republican challenger Karl Bernhardsen in an online forum hosted by the Rotary Club of Binghamton Tuesday afternoon.

Bernhardsen, a former Broome County legislator, announced his campaign in February, just before the initial wave of COVID-19 in the United States hit. The former county legislator explained why he’s been “quiet” in his campaign.

“I didn’t want to muddy the waters with unnecessary political discourse during a crisis and I stand by having made that decision,” Bernhardsen said.

Neither candidate has led an active campaign.

Garnar said he respects Bernhardsen’s decision, citing a need to focus solely on fighting the virus. Garnar said getting out of the pandemic is the most pressing issue for the county, highlighting his own measures before and during the pandemic.

“I can’t think of a worse thing to happen to Broome County short of a bomb being dropped on the county,” Garnar said. “But what I will say is that the investments that we’ve made over the past three years has really put us in a great position to deal with COVID.”

He said the county’s ramping up testing resources to curb the spread of COVID-19 clusters that arose in the county's urban core last month.

Bernhardsen, meanwhile, emphasized the need for strategic long-term economic planning and “right-sizing” the county’s expenditures.

“What are we doing with the variety of legacy projects that we’ve collected as a community when we’ve changed in scope and size?” Bernhardsen said.

Bernhardsen currently serves as the chair of the Community Development Advisory Committee for the City of Binghamton and works in sales at a local liquor store, according to the Press and Sun-Bulletin.

During the forum, Rotary members asked the two candidates about an array of issues related to COVID-19, including the fate of the Greater Binghamton Airport.

The airport currently offers only one passenger flight each day. It goes to Delta’s hub in Detroit. According to Garnar, the county was in the middle of a years-long process to bring more airlines to the airport before COVID-19.

“We were right at the door to get new service and then COVID hit, and that has absolutely destroyed the airline industry in the United States,” Garnar said.

The airline industry’s lost billions of revenue dollars since the start of the pandemic. But with airports also in Elmira, Ithaca and Syracuse, Bernhardsen said it’s a regional problem that extends beyond the pandemic.

“All of these cities are an hour apart from each other, this doesn’t make sense,” Bernhardsen said.

Several airlines pulled services from the airport prior to Garnar’s election in 2016.