Binghamton mayoral candidates respond to questions left out of debate
VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – Dozens of questions were submitted by the public for WSKG to pose to the candidates running to be Binghamton’s next mayor during last month’s debate. Due to time restraints, many of those questions went unasked.
WSKG followed up with both candidates, Jared Kraham (R,C) and Joseph Burns (D) with many of those questions and asked them to provide written responses.
Both candidates were sent the questions at the same time and were asked to provide written answers of no more than 1,500 characters (approximately 200 words) before Thursday evening.
Kraham did not provide responses to the questions.
The questions and Burns’ responses are below. The responses have not been edited and appear as they were submitted.
What is your plan for cleaning up trash in the streets? The blue bags aren’t working. How about trash cans on street corners? (Question from Roz Antoun)
BURNS: “The blue bags are an equitable way of paying our tipping fees at the Broome County Landfill - your fee is based only on how much trash you produce (how many bags you have to buy). We could require people to have garbage cans for the blue bags to go in, which might decrease mess all over the city. This is about listening to neighborhood associations and hearing what people want most in their community, and seeing what’s most economically feasible.
During the current administration, leadership positions through city government have experienced a notable degree of turnover. Within the last few months alone, corporation council, the city engineer, and superintendent of public works have left. How will you handle personnel in a way that preserves institutional knowledge and ensures continuity of service? (Question from Thomas Costello)
BURNS: “My managerial skills in the private sector for 25 years are second to one. I was hired repeatedly in the film and TV industry specifically to get multimillion-dollar projects in on time or on budget. This administration’s approach to everything is “my way or the highway.” They don’t bulldoze their way through conversations to do whatever they want, running city projects hundreds of millions of dollars over budget (like the joint sewage treatment plant, which led to 6% sewage rate increases city-wide) without seeking input or approval from anyone else. That’s not the leadership style that I will be following. People will want to stay in my administration because we will see our plans through, and seek out expert voices to solve the most pressing issues for our community. I also won’t blow through our American Rescue Plan money just to get my name on buildings, like the current administration is doing. My administration is going to be about serving the constituents, not myself and my friends.
Will this area ever have commuter trains again? (Question from Sandra Vest)
BURNS: “We all would love that. I plan on working with the federal government to see if we can get Amtrak to come to Binghamton. Currently there is no plan to come to Binghamton but we will do our best to sit at the table with the key players who could make that happen for our community.
How will you make Binghamton's downtown accessible and safe for seniors? (Question from Roz Antoun)
BURNS: “This is about code enforcement, making sure that all buildings are keeping up with their accessibility standards and are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s also about partnering with local businesses to ensure that their locations are accommodating to seniors and people with disabilities in ways that might not necessarily be written into code yet. We should also convene a panel of those who are most affected by these issues to listen to what they need most on this topic.”
What will you do about Spectrum's monopoly in Broome county and how its price gouging is harming hard working families? (Question from Nicholas Polhamus)
BURNS: “We need to make sure that wireless internet is available to everyone for reasonable rates. I will bring back free wifi in downtown Binghamton for public consumption. I will also make sure to partner with other internet technology companies who wish to compete in the area and see how we can make that happen. Also, the Rochester based internet company Green Light Network is investing $25 million to begin expanding its fiber optic network across the southern tier. The city is partnering with them to bring free internet to qualifying low income households in the coming year. I will see to the completion of this vital program.
Binghamton has one of the highest number of police officers per capita in all of New York State. Will you change the number of police officers employed by the City of Binghamton and why? (Question from Alexis Pleus, Executive Director of TruthPharm)
BURNS: “I will not cut or defund the police. I support the Binghamton police department; however, I don’t think that the police are the only answer to solving crime issues. We’ve seen an increase in violence over the Rich David administration even with more cops on the street. This proves that we need community policing and long term multi-faceted plans to get at the root of such problems like income inequality, housing, jobs, and more. This goes back to giving people hope. We need to make this a city where people are thrilled to live and raise their families. We must revitalize neighborhoods. I do not have to choose between supporting police and supporting police reform. When we talk about safety, we have to think about the entire city of Binghamton. People should feel like the police are protecting everyone. We need a good police force that is involved with the community in other ways well. I served on our community’s Police Collaborative, unlike my opponent. The police collaborative studied issues of policing in the community and the relationship between the area and ways to diversify the force and listen to residents and their complaints with officer conduct. We need to ensure that the police department has proper policies in place about discharging weapons, the proper training techniques, racial sensitivity courses, and, of course, diversifying the force.
Voters and good government groups are often suspicious of multi-generational political families, fearing that they can lead to nepotism and corruption. Given that both of you are the sons of recent major local officeholders, please speak to this concern. (Question from John Kuhn)
BURNS: “I won’t be hiring any family members in my administration. It’s true that my family are lifelong residents of the area, and that only makes me that much more passionate about helping our city. My family goes back 6 generations of investment in this community’s well-being. I want to create a future for young families to be able to stay in the city. I want to support small businesses and lead a transparent, inclusive and collaborative administration that we can all be proud of.”
What would you do to advance the use of renewable energy and move away from fossil fuel infrastructure? (Question from Scott Laufer)
BURNS: “We need to make sure that we’re getting as much of our city’s electricity as we can from solar farms, which is much more efficient than buying more solar panels. We need to purchase as many hybrid and electric vehicles as possible when updating our fleet of city vehicles. This is crucial for the environment, sustainability, and will save us money in the long run as well. We’re also going to ensure that any new buildings will be properly insulated and built to green sustainability standards. In addition, I will seek to update our code and infrastructure project standards to match green recommendations put out by various climate advocacy groups.”
Lack of affordable and disability accessible housing results in homelessness for individuals and families who are trying to survive on very limited monthly incomes. For many who cannot find housing or find community based home health care support, the only option is institutionalization in nursing facilities, which during the pandemic resulted in higher numbers of deaths. What will you do to provide affordable and accessible housing? (Question from Susan Ruff, Advocacy Director at Southern Tier Independence Center)
BURNS: "a. Housing is one of my top priorities to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods and to partner with Senator Schumer, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and County Executive Jason Garnar. I have had meetings about this very subject and they are on board. We have a housing shortage for families to live in, we have slumlords who are not held accountable in keeping their properties up to code. We have children coming down with lead poisoning from lead paint from decades ago and landlords who don’t agree to fix their properties until a child is sick. This can't continue. I will create strategic partnerships to build affordable housing units as homes and apartment units. We will have a full comprehensive solution where we pool our resources, apply for grants, and integrate all keys partner and players into helping our community.
b. In regards to homelessness, I will seek out all city, county, state and federal resources as well as all pertinent NGOs and other partners that we can work with to mitigate this problem. We need to partner with mental health organizations, the Veterans Administration, the county Department of Social Services, local shelters, and other specific groups to make sure that we alleviate the short-term problem of people living on the streets and out of their cars. But in the long term, we need to address the root causes of poverty, income inequality, joblessness, and other deeply rooted economic and social issues that lead to house-lessness and the under-housed."
There's been a troubling trend with our local elected officials letting their personal politics and likes and dislikes of people influence which nonprofits they support. How will you keep your personal opinions and politics out of the way of supporting local nonprofits supporting our community? (Question from Alexis Pleus, Executive Director of TruthPharm)
BURNS: “I will support any nonprofit that is helping people no matter what their personnel’s personal beliefs are politically. If this organization is helping people, then we will support them.
What is your stance on making code complaints publicly available online? (Question from Tina Chronopoulos)
BURNS: “If there are recognizable violations, those could be made available online, but we would have to look into the viability of making code complaints available until they are investigated fully and potentially proven.
What will you do to ensure city government is not misogynistic? (Question from Beverly Rainforth)
BURNS: “This is about putting the right people in positions of power. Good, responsible leadership will be a quality that I value most while filling my administration. I will appoint qualified, open-minded experienced individuals and ensure there are enough women in positions of power in my administration. I will also seek out female voices within the community on how best to solve problems and ensure no one feels left out of my administration. I will also review statistics of how various issues are affecting women in Binghamton to ensure that we’re not disproportionately impacting anyone unknowingly with how we govern. Diversity is deeply important in governing for all citizens and I will work towards creating a city government that reflects the people of this community.
What is your cost effective plan to house and care for the mentally ill? (Question from Peggy Tracy)
BURNS: “We need more affordable housing. We need a full comprehensive solution where we pool our resources, apply for grants, and integrate all keys partner and players into helping our community. The current administration approved a housing project that the city contributed to that made 27 units for $8.1 million. That’s $300,000 per unit to build housing for low income tenants when we could be building properties for far less, helping more people who need it in our community. I have already developed relationships with Senator Schumer, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and County Executive Jason Garnar. We will work together to develop a comprehensive solution.
The position currently held by Mr. Kraham is technically named the executive assistant to the mayor. Through multiple administrations, the individual in that position has been referred to as deputy mayor. Do you intend on keeping that title of deputy mayor in place and do you intend on keeping the responsibilities of that position the same? (Question from Robert Rynearson)
BURNS: “That position is not technically called Deputy Mayor, it is the Executive Assistant to the Mayor. This is a misleading title. It makes it seem like this person has more power and authority than they do. It is also misleading constituents to believe this position is elected, when it is appointed. There is nothing in the charter to give this position voting power. This position signs nothing and is simply there to support the elected mayor of the city. The responsibilities of this position are up to each mayor as they begin their administration.”
What will you do to ensure city government is not hyper-partisan? (Question from Beverly Rainforth)
BURNS: “I think that my record speaks for itself. If anything in the city of Binghamton passed that was bi-partisan, it was because I voted for it and that’s the kind of mayor I’m going to be. No one will be denied access from sitting at the table and everyone’s voices will be heard. As the one bipartisan member on City Council and the only elected official in this race, I feel uniquely qualified to bring people together. I’ve reached across the aisle and within my own party to get things done in this community. This is the city I love. I believe in the future of our city. And I want to create a transparent, inclusive and collaborative administration. And that is what my, “One Binghamton” slogan is all about.
What is your plan to attract and retain young professionals in Binghamton? (Question from Jhyrel Pommells)
BURNS: “I plan to use some of the American Rescue Plan funds to finance startups and support local entrepreneurship. Also, it’s important to support local small businesses, which will ultimately encourage job creation and the ability for young professionals to stay in the area and raise their families here. We have to give people a reason to invest their time in this community. It’s also important to encourage the university students to stay after graduation through the right partnerships, programs, and job fairs.
Binghamton has not done a city-wide property tax reassessment since 1993. What effects would a reassessment have, and do you support one? (Question from John Kuhn)
BURNS: “Because of the real estate price bubble that we’re in right now, it’s not the time to do it. We would need to look at it in the following year with a study commissioned that includes experts to ensure that taxes will not be raised on homeowners or businesses. My immediate answer is no.”
What will you do to improve communication to residents about things like trash and yard waste collection as well as construction projects? (Question from Beverly Rainforth)
BURNS: “We will post new and upcoming city projects on social media as well as on the city website. If a street will have upcoming construction projects on it, we will put a notice on every door on the block.”
How will you make Binghamton more accommodating for pedestrians and cyclists? (Question from Benjamin Plowe)
How will you balance the budget for necessary infrastructure expenses and levee certification? Do you support forming a levee tax district?