Mayor Michael W. Tucker realizes that the city election Nov. 8 is shaping up as a referendum on him.
"The longer you're around, your margin gets smaller," Tucker said in an interview. "I think everybody has a shelf life. I haven't reached mine yet."
Tucker, a Republican who has served for eight years, is facing retired Police Officer Michael J. Pillot, the same Democratic candidate who opposed him in 2007, when Tucker rolled up 72 percent of the vote.
"I don't think that has any bearing on this race," Tucker said.
Of his last race, Pillot said, "I don't think I did stuff the right way. I don't think I talked to enough people. I didn't get out enough."
"I want you to ask yourself: Is the city better today than it was eight years ago?" Tucker said at a candidates' forum Monday at the Dale Association. "I think we're in a good place."
"Everybody has to realize we're living in hard times right now," he said. "We have to tighten our belts. So does the city. [Residents] aren't asking for a pot of gold. They're just saying, 'Don't kill me on these taxes.' "
Tucker said he should get credit for pushing controversial issues, even in an election year.
"I gave my opponent his whole platform," he said.
The city privatized garbage service, adding a full curbside recycling program -- and a user fee. On top of that, this year saw the first citywide property reassessment in 10 years.
The amount collected in property taxes will rise in the budget to be adopted by the Common Council on Wednesday. Increases in health insurance premiums for employees and the cost of extra pension credits for 23 employees who took an early retirement incentive in the fall of 2010 are the primary reasons.
The impact on taxpayers will depend on what happened with their individual assessments. The tax rate will fall, but your bill may not.
Tucker had a narrow escape in the GOP primary, defeating former Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green by 25 votes, thanks to absentee ballots. Pillot, meanwhile, posted a comfortable victory over Alderman Jack L. Smith Jr. in the Democratic primary.
Tucker said, "I think what happened in the primary was, the garbage thing got political. If this were next year, you wouldn't have heard half the stuff."
"The biggest issue on the garbage was poor planning," Pillot said. Residents were unable to find out for months what the cost would be, as implementation was repeatedly delayed.
"To me, it looks like there's a wall up there," Pillot said. "On one side, it's the residents, and on the other side, there's politicians. It looks like the people are trying to climb the wall to ask some questions."
Tucker said he believes that the response to recycling -- 30 tons of trash were recycled in the first two weeks -- shows public approval of the new system.
"A lot of people are worried about this garbage bill," Pillot said. Asked if he would try to backtrack on garbage, he replied, "If I get elected, I'm going to have to look at the contract."
Pillot said Tucker has made other errors.
"I don't think we should have paid an outside firm $170,000 to do an assessment," Pillot said. "They knew nothing about the city. My personal opinion is, we have somebody in the assessment office who can do that."
The Molson Canal Concert Series is a sore point with many people in the city, because the city foots the bill for stage rental and police and fire overtime. The city's cost exceeds $100,000 a year.
Pillot asked, "How do you tell somebody who's having trouble paying a mortgage or paying their taxes that they've got to pay for a concert? It should be privately funded."
Tucker said overtime costs for concerts will be trimmed next year. "Before we laid anybody off here, we'd take the concerts out," he said.
But he told the audience at the Dale Association, "We've probably had 400,000 people come here in the last four years. That can't be a bad thing."
Pillot said run-down housing is a topic that the city hasn't addressed adequately. He said absentee landlords need to be called to account.
The new city budget is expected to contain a new full-time position of housing inspector. The city also made a deal with Housing Visions, a Syracuse not-for-profit agency, which bought most of Genesee Street and has begun work on a neighborhood makeover. That was originally Smith's idea.
Tucker acknowledged criticisms of his personal style.
"I'm a decision-maker. Maybe people are used to [mayors] saying what they want to hear," he said. "I'm not afraid to disagree with people, respectfully so. Maybe some people don't like my style sometimes, but everything I do here is with the city in mind."
"People want to talk to you and tell you their problems. You have to listen to the people," Pillot said. "I'm honest. I'm sincere. I'm not doing this for the power. I'm doing it to help people."
The mayoral race is just one of those that voters will consider. Three of the six seats on the Council are being contested. Alderman-at-large Joseph C. Kibler, a Republican, is unopposed for re-election, as are two GOP newcomers -- Anne E. McCaffrey in the 2nd Ward and Kathryn J. "Kitty" Fogle in the 3rd Ward.
Here is a preview of the Council races:
> 1st Ward
Council President Richelle J. Pasceri, 34, is battling Shirley A. Nicholas, a 74-year-old who became involved in politics this year by protesting her assessment and ended up beating Pasceri, 111-85, in a sparsely attended Republican primary.
Pasceri is running on the Conservative and Independence party lines. There is no Democratic candidate in the ward.
This spring, Nicholas, who lives directly across from the Flintkote hazardous waste site, had been hit with a proposed assessment increase to $59,700, from $35,000.
She produced a letter from the state Department of Environmental Conservation warning her and nearly 100 neighbors that they must inform potential buyers of their homes of their proximity to Flintkote.
After her protest, Nicholas' assessment was cut to $8,600, and many others received drastic reductions, too.
At the Dale Association event, which Nicholas skipped, Pasceri commended her for "the passion she has shown on her one issue."
"She's a one-issue person: garbage," Nicholas said of Pasceri, who put recycling on the city's agenda three years ago. She blamed it for her primary defeat.
"My face is on this program," Pasceri said. "People see the garbage still gets picked up, and now they have this extra service. I have experience. I hope voters see I work hard for people every day. I hope they think of more than just garbage."
"I'm for the people. I will call back. I'm very open," Nicholas said. "Most of the people down here don't know [Pasceri]."
"I was listening, and that's why demolition began [last week] on the Flintkote water tower," Pasceri contended.
Actually, Niagara County owns the property and awarded the demolition contract.
Nicholas cried foul a couple of weeks ago when city building inspectors charged her with property maintenance code violations on her house. She said that it was politically motivated.
Chief Building Inspector Jason C. Dool said that Tucker gave him a complaint letter about Nicholas' home with an illegible signature and that he acted on it. Pasceri said Tucker warned her to expect some "political blowback."
> 4th Ward
Democrat Patrick W. Schrader, one of Tucker's close friends, was defeated two years ago after 11 years in office.
He's trying to make a comeback against first-time GOP candidate George A. Waskosky, an ally of departing Alderman Andrew D. Chapman, who is running for the County Legislature.
"I don't think things went too well the last couple of years. They need a voice of reason," said Schrader, who serves on the city's Fire and Youth boards and the board of Greater Lockport Development Corp.
He said his program will be to "get organized and make sure everyone's on the same page, getting together instead of blustering in your newspaper and the others."
Waskosky, a retired Air National Guard colonel, was vice commander of what used to be called the 107th Air Refueling Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. He served for 26 years in uniform, including assignments to Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Panama.
"I think I can give you a fresh set of eyes," Waskosky said at the Dale debate. "I enjoy the challenge of dealing with issues."
He said he intends to defend the Police and Fire departments. "The city is a city. It's not just urban sprawl in fields. You need professional public safety personnel," Waskosky said.
> 5th Ward
Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick defeated Bret E. Pabon by a ratio of more than 2-to-1 in the Republican primary, but Pabon has another chance as the Democratic nominee, and she also has her own independent ballot line.
Genewick, who this year became director of the county Office for the Aging, is seeking his second Council term. He touted the reduction of 10 percent in the city work force as a result of the 2010 retirements and the resulting restructuring.
"It makes us more nimble, it makes us more responsive, and it makes us more cost-effective," Genewick said. "The key for a community is to focus on citywide issues as well as neighborhood issues."
Pabon, a registered Republican who formerly was a clerk at Orleans Correctional Facility, said constituents need more information about city programs.
She said that the new garbage system is "absolutely wonderful" but that the city merely reallocated the money that it spent on its own garbage service, so taxpayers saw no benefit from the privatization.
She said, "By the time we're done, nothing has been lowered. We're paying additional bills."
Genewick defended the Friday night concerts, but Pabon suggested an identification card for city residents so they could get in free while all outsiders would have to pay.