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Pillot, Sherrie offer contrast for Lockport voters in Democratic mayoral primary

LOCKPORT – Democrats in the city will have their chance to select a candidate for mayor Thursday. Primary voters may choose either the familiar candidate, Michael J. Pillot, or Roger L. Sherrie, whose political career has been on hold for more than 30 years.

The winner of the primary will square off against Republican Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey on Nov. 3. McCaffrey is running for her first full four-year term after succeeding Michael W. Tucker, who resigned Feb. 21, 2014, when McCaffrey was president of the Common Council, equivalent to deputy mayor.

The mayor’s salary is $43,800 a year and has not been changed since 2007.

Pillot, 60, a retired member of the Lockport police force who served for 25 years, never has held elective office, but not for lack of trying. Twice, he was the Democratic candidate against Tucker, who defeated Pillot in 2007 and 2011.

“This isn’t just a job. This is a chance to help the city, a place where I grew up,” Pillot said. “People call (City Hall), and they get a recording. Nobody ever calls them back. Well, I will. Or I’ll be at their door.”

Sherrie, 63, made his career in the labor movement as an executive of the Civil Services Employees Association for 28 years, the last 16 as regional director before his January retirement.

Sherrie also has never held elective office. He lost a race for alderman-at-large in 1981 and served as chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee under Democratic Mayor Thomas C. Rotondo Jr. in the 1980s. Sherrie has promised to revive that long-defunct board if he is elected.

“We can get a broader base of real public input,” he said.

But Pillot said that Sherrie’s union background raises red flags.

“Unlike my opponent, if I’m elected mayor, I won’t be beholden to any special interest groups,” Pillot said. “My job will be to make decisions that will benefit all of our residents and to restore Lockport to fiscal stability.”

Sherrie deflected that criticism

“For someone to say that because of my position in the Civil Service Employees Association I’m going to be beholden to the city unions, I think they don’t really understand collective bargaining and how labor-management works in this day and age,” he said.

The city’s labor relations have been generally poor in recent years, with a long list of lawsuits and grievances. Sherrie said his experience in labor matters will hold the city in good stead.

“I would sit down with the municipal unions and bargain in good faith,” Sherrie said. “I am confident I would be able to mend some of the fences that might have broken between the city employees and the city administration.”

But he said that unlike Tucker, “I certainly wouldn’t budget savings on collective-bargaining agreements until you have something in your hand.”

“I’ve been on both sides of the fence. What’s he done? He’s worked for a union for 28 years. That’s all he keeps saying,” Pillot said. “If you’re the mayor, you have to do what’s best for everybody, not one side or the other.”

Sherrie countered that “a mayor who is willing to go to the table in good faith would be able to find compromise on the biggest cost drivers for the city.”

Taxes have become part of the campaign talk.

“Obviously, with the shape the city’s in, the taxes are going to go up,” Pillot said. “Everybody knows that. What you have to do is keep it to the bare minimum, because people can’t do this anymore. People on Social Security, people on pensions; they’re having a tough time right now.”

Sherrie agreed that taxes must be kept in check.

“Half the population lives on a household income of less than $40,000 a year,” he said. “That’s basically two minimum-wage jobs, and they’re trying to pay their bills, educate their children, care for elderly parents and keep up their property. These residents have not had a pay raise in 10 or 15 years, so to think that we’re going to increase your property taxes as a first resort to dealing with city problems, I don’t think is a responsible approach to take.”

McCaffrey made several controversial moves in response to the city’s 2013-14 fiscal crisis, persuading the Council to lay off firefighters and abolish the Fire Department’s ambulance service. The city signed a contract with Twin City Ambulance.

Asked if he would bring back the city ambulances, Pillot said, “I would do everything I could to try. You don’t mess with public safety.”

He said that response times are slower and that “three or four minutes make a big difference. … What it comes down to is money, because people don’t want their taxes going through the roof.”

Sherrie said if the city had charged what Twin City does for ambulance rides, “Any deficit might have been erased and we might even have operated at a profit.”

He said he would use the Citizens Advisory Committee or a special commission to report on whether ambulance service can be restored.

“There’s nothing assured,” he said, “but I think it needs to be reviewed by a broader panel than what we’ve seen making decisions in the past.”