BGM Mayoral Candidates Debate Tonight On WSKG Radio-TV
The broadcast begins at 8:00 P.M. on WSKG Radio, TV and will be live streamed on WSKG.Org and WSKG's YouTube Channel.
VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Voters in the City of Binghamton will choose their next mayor in this year’s election. Jared Kraham, current executive assistant to term-limited Mayor Rich David, is running on the Republican and Conservative lines against City Councilman Joseph Burns who is running on the Democratic line.
Both candidates sat down with WSKG News in our studios in Vestal in mid-October to discuss their candidacy and perspective on several policy issues impacting the city. Those videos are available in their entirety on WSKG’s YouTube channel.
On the Issues
With rents high and availability low, housing is a major issue for both Jared Kraham and Joe Burns as the look to shape the city’s social and economic viability moving forward.
Burns said he wants fewer properties to end up in the hands of out-of-state landlords. Instead, he wants to involve the city in flipping properties and selling them to be owner-occupied.
“I want to be able to direct the land bank on the properties that we're going to deal with,” Burns said. “So we then can grant the money to fix the house up, get it ready and get it to a first time homebuyer or a young family who wants to live in there."
Burns and current Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Jared Kraham agree on utilizing public funds to leverage the development of more housing units overall.
"In order to make things more affordable, we have to leverage these investments that federal government and the state government has made as it relates to affordable housing–low income housing tax credits, programs through the homeless housing prevention programs in NYS,” Kraham said.
Kraham leans on his experience in working on projects like the mixed-use Canal Plaza development while in the mayor’s office.
Both Kraham and Burns say they don’t support any city incentives for more student-focused housing.
Joint Sewer Treatment Plant Management
Management of the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant has been a regular source of political consternation over the years. Both candidates for Binghamton Mayor are looking to cool down tensions over the plant’s management.
Parting ways from Mayor Rich David, current Executive Assistant to the Mayor Jared Kraham said he is not interested in pursuing private management of the joint sewer plant.
"Private management for me is off the table,” Kraham said. “I want to find a public managed way that that place can be governed."
Kraham said the existing governance structure of the plant between Binghamton and Johnson City is to blame for many of the existing tensions that have arisen over the years.
“I think that the issues at the plant which are decades in the making have more to do with the governance structure,” Kraham said. “The fact that you can have seven council members at city hall, five village trustees, two mayors, two sets of attorneys, a plant manager and then a six-member board as well who are appointed, there are a lot of different cooks in the kitchen on this and I think that that system leads to ineffective governance of the plant."
Councilman Joe Burns, has opposed private management over the years and would keep the plant publicly managed.
"I think I would just keep an eye on it more, as opposed to changing the structure of it," Burns said.
Burns said he believes the city’s appointments to the Joint Sewer Board should have experience in sewage treatment and that he would not make “political” appointments.
American Rescue Plan Act Funds
Councilman Joe Burns criticizes Mayor Rich David’s administration for not putting forth an overarching plan and dedicated public input process for spending the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
"The mayor, this administration, they spent the money without asking the citizens what they wanted to do with the money,” Burns said. “The Democrats on city council, we actually had a public forum where people on Zoom, we had people call in and talk about what they wanted us to do with the money.”
Asked why he and city council Democrats didn’t then write their own legislation to spend the federal pandemic funds, Burns couldn’t provide an answer.
His opponent, Executive Assistant to the Mayor Jared Kraham, defended the process as it has been carried out and touted some of the areas like housing development and water infrastructure where some of the funding has gone.
"The areas in which we are making these investments are areas that are allowable under the ARPA funding as well as what residents want,” Kraham said.
Kraham also defended the Mayor’s move to spend nearly $700,000 of the federal stimulus funds on repairs to the city hall roof and abate asbestos in the city council chambers.
"It's as simple as that is the largest public area in which the public can come and meet. I think that it was the belief that we were not returning to the virtual only method of meetings, so in order to facilitate having people in that city council chamber, repairs needed to be done to the ceiling that when it was vacant for many months needed repairs,” Kraham said.
Dilapidated properties and negligent landlords continue to frustrate many residents in the City of Binghamton. Both candidates for mayor want to do more to tackle the issue, but they have differing strategies to handle it.
Jared Kraham wants to add two more code enforcement officer positions and a special attorney to handle violations in court.
Asked why he hadn’t already pushed for this in his current capacity as Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Kraham pointed to budgetary concerns:
“You have to be responsible with tax monies over time,” Kraham said. “I think that recently in the code department, there's been some personnel changes in terms of medical leave and other changes as well to the discovery laws with New York State."
Kraham argues the changes to New York’s discovery laws give code enforcement officers less time to prepare evidence of violations before going to court. He said he would look for grants to cover new code enforcement officer positions.
Councilman Joe Burns also supports adding personnel to the department. He also wants to add resources to the parks and recreation department so they can be dispatched to mow lawns and provide other remedies at a cost to homeowners.
“If we don't get a response or they don't cut the lawn, we then, by law, can cut the lawn and then send them a bill,” Burns said. “We put the bill on their taxes, on their property taxes, we add a bill to that. So the owner ends up paying us to cut the lawn. The problem is that the parks department is behind. You might wait all summer sometimes."
Jared Kraham (R,C)
Jared Kraham was born in Binghamton and grew up with a motivation for public service, but it wasn’t until he graduated from college that he decided to turn it into a career.
“You saw the beginnings of a downtown revitalization, but some ways things were kind of stuck in neutral,” Kraham said. “I wanted to become involved in that resurgence and the sort of future of Binghamton.”
Jared’s father Jeffrey Kraham served on the Broome County legislature and as County Executive in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. He died several years ago. Kraham said his father impacted his thinking about issues, but not necessarily his decision to get into politics.
"My father wasn't really one that was pushing me into public service,” Kraham said. “I think in reality he would've liked to see me go in another career path, one that doesn't have as many sharp elbows."
After graduating from Syracuse, Kraham worked on the 2013 campaign for now-outgoing mayor Rich David. He was then appointed to serve as executive assistant to the mayor, a position sometimes referred to as deputy mayor.
Kraham said David was a mentor to him and leans heavily on his experience in his administration. He also tied his track record to that of the David administration.
“Yes,” Kraham said. “I don't think you can really separate them, right. I've been a key member of that administration and want to continue that progress moving forward."
Kraham said there are some areas where his administration would differ from David’s. This includes Kraham’s opposition to exploring private management of the joint sewer treatment plant.
Kraham said he wants to leverage more state and federal funding for housing projects and add more personnel, including a dedicated attorney, to handle the city’s code enforcement process to manage dilapidated properties and negligent landlords.
Kraham views his youthfulness as an advantage for the city.
"I think it's good for them to see a young, kind of new person involved in politics here locally,” Kraham said.
Joseph Burns (D)
Joe Burns’ roots in Binghamton run deep, and with that comes a love of the city that he said motivates him to be its next mayor.
"My great grandparents were married at St. Pat's on October 2, 1888. So, that's where our story began," Burns said.
His great grandfather served on City Council and Burns’ father was elected mayor in the late 50’s.
Burns himself carried out a career in film, eventually working his way up to be an assistant director on films like “A Bronx Tale”, “JFK” and “Die Hard 3”.
“It was my job to keep things rolling, keep things moving, on budget and on schedule,” Burns said. “And at the same time I was doing that on the day, I was planning the next day and the next week. So, it was very much like running a small city and I believe it really prepared me for the city government."
Burns ran for city council in 2018 and has been serving since 2019. He said bipartisan cooperation has been a big tenant of his time on council and that’s something he’d like to encourage more of from the mayor’s office.
The Democrat said he wants to invest more in city government’s role in several areas like flipping foreclosed properties and utilizing the parks department to maintain dilapidated homes.
The Broome County Republican Committee released a mailer over the summer identifying documents that show Burns declared bankruptcy in 2006 and had several liens against him over the years.
Burns said he was audited by the IRS and those filings were made amid a multi-year dispute.
"That mailer makes it look as if I hadn't paid taxes for all of these years because they kept, the IRS, would add interest on what they said I originally owed,” Burns said. ”So they had year after year after year on this mailer to make it look like Joe Burns wasn't paying his taxes, and I never went a year without paying my taxes."
Burns said his love of Binghamton is at the core of his campaign.
“When I think of Binghamton, I think of– I don't think of it as just a place on the map, I think of it as people,” Burns said.