FULTON — The 2019 race for Fulton’s chief executive offers voters a choice of four first-time mayoral hopefuls to lead the city out of decades of economic tribulation — Democrat Dan Farfaglia, Republican Deana Michaels and independent candidates Ethan Parkhurst and Dave Webber.
Current Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. withdrew his incumbent candidacy for a fifth consecutive term earlier this year, citing his desire to spend more time with his family after serving more than 30 years in public office.
The race is marked by high stakes: the city has recently ratified several multi-year revitalization projects to reverse trends of population loss and economic downfall while residents demand solutions to persistent crime and drug use.
On the campaign trail, four candidates vying for Woodward’s seat can be seen knocking on doors, frequenting city council meetings and attending community events to make their campaign pitch.
With the city undergoing seismic changes, Farfaglia, Michaels, Parkhurst and Webber are hoping theirs is the vision for the future of Fulton that voters endorse on Election Day, Nov. 5.
Mayoral terms are four years and begin the first day of the year following the election cycle. Mayor Woodward’s successor will assume the office Jan. 1, 2020 and serve until the term runs out on Dec. 31, 2023.
After four terms on the Oswego County Legislature representing District 24, Democrat Dan Farfaglia announced earlier this year he wouldn’t seek re-election. His sights are instead directed at city hall’s top seat.
Farfaglia, the only candidate in the race with previous experience in elected office, said he isn’t discouraged by the city’s majority-Republican voting block. After all, he pointed out, a significant portion of Fulton voters sent him to county Legislature for eight years and elected Democratic Party city councilors Dennis Merlino and Lawrence Macner to represent the Fifth and Sixth wards, respectively.
“People of Fulton seem to be making their decisions based on the person and not the party, and I hope that will continue in November,” Farfaglia told The Palladium-Times in an interview Monday.
His interactions with Fultonians on the campaign trail have reinforced a familiar list of concerns: illegal drug use, crime and economic stagnation. To address problems that for several years have dogged the city, Farfaglia said he is turning to peer communities with similar challenges to learn from their successes.
Police in the town of Chatham, New York, one of Farfaglia’s case studies, responded to the persistent drug problem in a “very unique way,” which Farfaglia said he would consider applying to Fulton. Chatham police allow drug users to hand in the illicit substance to the law enforcement agents, who refer them to rehab facilities within a 24-hour period without threat of criminal punishment.
“What happens is, when they get [drug users] under control the crime goes down significantly,” Farfaglia said. “Many police officers may not consider it part of their job description, but it actually makes their lives easier.”
As mayor, he would work to create incentives for residents to improve their neighborhoods and stimulate the local economy, Farfaglia said.
Deana Michaels is the favorite among local Republican leadership, earning endorsement from the Oswego County Republican Committee and Fulton City Republican Committee. County GOP chairman Fred Beardsley on Monday said Michaels had his unequivocal support, deeming her “the lady for the job.”
With 23 years at Pathfinder Bank, including her current position as Fulton branch manager, Michaels promotes her private sector career as an important credential to remedying to the city’s stagnant economic growth and overcoming its struggles to create stable jobs.
“I’m not a career politician — I’m a businesswoman,” Michaels said in a Sunday interview with The Palladium-Times. “I think that’s to my advantage since I have realistic ideas and views.”
Michaels said door-to-door feedback from fellow Fulton residents has “enriched” her messaging to voters by highlighting their major concerns: residents want officials to address the problem of drug abuse and voters want greater transparency and collaboration out of their elected officials.
“Our message from the beginning has been about having a vision, new leadership and taking action,” Michaels said. “Since I’ve started going door-to-door, I met with a retired police officer about the quality of the streets in his district and the lack of recreational activities in their neighborhood.”
Michaels said she plans to hold three public listening sessions for community members to share their concerns and vision for the city’s future, scheduled for July and August, with their times and places pending an upcoming announcement from her campaign.
Her efforts to solicit feedback from the Fulton community would not cease if elected in November, Michaels said, and as mayor she would “make sure the community has a voice in the process” of governing.
“I’ll be committed to transparency in city government so citizens learn about where their tax dollars are going and how they can be part of the process and implement changes that will allow the community been involved,” she said.
Ethan Parkhurst, the youngest candidate in the race at 29 years, cultivates much of his voter outreach through attending city council meetings and his robust social media presence. His personal and campaign Facebook profiles serve as his bully pulpit, promising voters “true democracy” and a voice for constituents he claims other candidates ignore.
“I thought I would be taken as a joke but the support I’ve gotten has been astronomical,” Parkhurst said in an interview Sunday.
After Michaels challenged Parkhurst’s signatures to appear on Republican and Conservative ballot lines, the Oswego County Board of Elections deemed his eligibility invalid, tossing out signatures collected from individuals not registered to vote.
Parkhurst now plans to run on the independent “People’s Voice” ballot line and has vowed against raising taxes while promising to pave the city’s roads as his first mayoral decree.
“I don’t let people talk on my behalf — I think it sends a bad message,” he said. “I like having a personal relationship between candidate and people.”
According to Parkhurst, the Fulton community is “segregated,” divided across political and economic strata, and his opponents and city government addressing the concerns of their target class while paying less attention to the other side.
“There’s a lot of segregation in our city in general — party lines, wealthy and the poor,” said Parkhurst, who commented that everyone who contributes tax dollars to keep the city functioning should reap its returns. “What I have devised is a team where we forget the segregation and listen to these people as they are. We have been able to hear the needs and the wants of every citizen rather than directing it at one particular group.”
Parkhurst said he has made a point of attending every city council meeting and every event “the government does to conversate with its people.”
“I think we should have an open government policy,” he said. “If we can channel a way for the government to communicate with people, then we can come to solutions."
If elected mayor, Red Cross volunteer and Vice President of the Fulton Little Leagues Dave Webber said he would wield experience from a nearly four-decade career in financial management to engage business leaders in dialogue about the city’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We can go out and talk to business owners and ask, ‘why did you come to Fulton?’ and find out what’s working and why some businesses aren’t coming in and use that information,” he said. “There are things you can do by reaching out to business communities and seeing if they’re interested in putting things into motion.”
Webber contrasted himself against fellow candidate Michaels by saying he would devote a full-time job’s worth of time and effort as mayor, even though the position of mayor is technically a part-time job.
“I don’t think the mayor of Fulton should be a part-time job,” Webber said. “I know it’s only part-time pay, but I’m not doing it for money; I’m doing it because this is my city. It’s a full-time job to me.”
Michaels responded Monday, pledging to practice “due diligence in all decision making and adhere to the city’s policies and procedures.” Michaels pointed to the fact that many mayors across New York hold multiple jobs as a sign of “generational change” of the nature of the position.
“[Pathfinder Bank] has given me the time I’ve needed to raise my family and volunteer and serve in the community and now they’re willing to give me the time to raise up my community as mayor,” Michaels said. “Make no mistake, I’ll be just as full-time a mayor as those in our neighboring communities, such as [Oswego] Mayor [Billy] Barlow.”
In gathering signatures to appear on the independent “Dave Webber for Mayor” ballot line, Webber said he found the top concern among his prospective constituents to be illegal drug use. His commitment to address the issue has led him to consult with law enforcement officials and local rehab and drug treatment clinics to devise a plan of action, he said.
“We need to get the people who are using into rehab and stop the addiction part of it and round up the people who are selling this stuff and prosecute them,” he said.
Residents have frequently reported to Webber about needles in local parks and sidewalks, he said, noting that such neighborhood features contribute to the city’s overall wounded pride and garners unfavorable views from businesses and citizens who might otherwise consider moving to the city.
“My message is that Fulton needs to get back its pride,” he said. “Fulton is seen as a down economic area because of business moving out and the population shift...but we’re starting to come back now.”
Election Day is Nov. 5.