Pearl City Showdown
Mayoral Candidates Discuss Short-, Long-Term Issues
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories asking incumbent Mayor Eddie Sundquist and Republican challenger Kim Ecklund, Republican At-Large member of the City Council and chairwoman of the council’s Finance Committee, on several issues.
There is a major difference between the candidates running for Jamestown mayor as they look at the biggest short-term issues facing Jamestown.
With the election a little more than a month away, Mayor Eddie Sundquist and challenger Kim Ecklund were asked their views on the short- and long-term issues facing Jamestown and ideas to deal with those issues.
SHORT-TERM, WHAT IS THE MOST PRESSING ISSUE FACING THE NEXT MAYOR OF
JAMESTOWN, AND HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS IT?
Sundquist: Housing, in my opinion, is the biggest challenge facing Jamestown right now. It is downstream of many problems, such as lack of quality employment opportunities, old housing stock, rampant drug abuse. But it also worsens so many other problems facing Jamestown. Crime is exacerbated by vacant and rundown homes, which are a magnet for drug use, crime, and dangerous fires. These unsightly homes, in every neighborhood in the city, cause property values to drop and deter investment from existing homeowners. We must be more aggressive in fighting blight, turbo-charging demolitions. I am encouraged that we have entered into a $1 million+ partnership with the Chautauqua County Landbank to accelerate demolitions across the city.
We also are working to salvage homes on the brink, to stabilize neighborhoods, through our first-time homebuyer 19A program, which sees the City take possession of salvageable, vacant properties and turn them into vehicles for investment for middle and working class families. Instead of letting these homes deteriorate, we will be putting them into the hands of stable owners, who can act as further anchors in neighborhoods. We are also stepping up enforcement to hold irresponsible, absentee landlords and tenants accountable by more rigorously enforcing quality of life and code enforcement violations. Ou investments into a new nuisance officer, serving bench warrants for missed housing court appearances, and our new code enforcement ticketing law. All of this empowers our public safety officers to stop crime and give a sense of normalcy and peace to our neighborhoods. We will further this work with the creation and support of community block clubs, which will empower our neighbors to work hand in hand with each other and our police department to ensure our streets are safe.
Finally, we must work to eradicate lead poising in our community. With such an old housing stock, the presence of lead paint in many of our homes is, unfortunately, a reality. However, with a partnership with the County Health Department and a more aggressive approach, we can identify and remediate lead issues before children move into potentially dangerous homes. This is critical as so many long-term issues surrounding cognitive, health, and social issues like crime are exacerbated by the horrific effects of lead poising on children. If we want to have a prosperous future, we must work to protect the children of our community today.
Ecklund: The most pressing issue facing the next mayor will be the financial stability and long-term fiscal integrity of the city. While we have received ARPA funding, we still have financial concerns and circumstances to address that will impact the city for years to come. The past three city budgets have been less than desirable from an adoption standpoint, and we need to put our financial house in order. Effective financial leadership will require long-term planning and development to help place the city in a sustainable situation. Fiscal responsibility will drive all other areas that need attention, including housing, business support and expansion, public safety, infrastructure, and more. Effective leadership is the cornerstone of any successful city. Our administration will prioritize transparency, accountability, and a commitment to serving the best interests of the community.
LONG-TERM, WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR JAMESTOWN OVER THE NEXT 25 YEARS AND HOW DO YOU GET STARTED?
Sundquist: The development of new industry is critical to Jamestown’s future. Like many other Rust Belt cities, we have lost significant manufacturing, which was the backbone of the middle class in Jamestown for decades. While we are still lucky to have so many manufacturers in our region, it is clearly not at the level it was decades ago. Losing these jobs and people have hurt industries outside of the manufacturing sector, such as the service industry, causing a decades-long decline in the city. However, we are starting to see a turnaround due to new investments in our area by my administration.
My administration has worked to bring new, high-tech manufacturing to our area, which, along with recent bipartisan federal legislation is starting to bring back jobs. This includes investment into green technologies from existing companies in our region and bringing in new manufacturers. So much of Jamestown’s appeal to companies is the Jamestown BPU, which offers some of the best power rates in the state, which gives Jamestown a competitive advantage over the rest of the state. The city has invested in many of our small, local manufacturers to invest in critical equipment needs to start new product lines, allowing for the hiring of more workers. We have also invested $1 million into workforce development initiatives to give our residents and students pathways to good jobs that don’t need a college degree. This is critical to fill the high-skill manufacturing jobs we are bringing to Jamestown, to keep those jobs here and ensure we are competitive in a truly global marketplace. Having the anchor of new industries will also allow our service sector to flourish and bring more people into the city, raise property values, and reduce poverty and crime.
Ecklund: The long-term vision would certainly include the goal of reversing the contraction that Jamestown has seen in its population in recent years as well as wise financial stewardship. This revolves around making financially responsible and sound investments and decisions. This approach will chart the course for Jamestown’s future and what we can collectively achieve. Our focus should be on pursuing and maintaining sustainable growth and job development, both by investing in our current businesses and creating opportunities for additional growth. Collaboration with our local, state, and federal officials is crucial to stem the exodus of people from Jamestown and New York State. We need to establish a vision and work towards not only retaining our current population but also fostering growth. Engaging the local community is essential to boost self-esteem in Jamestown, as improvement must come from within.
Addressing blight in neighborhoods and areas should be a priority, and we must tackle these concerns proactively, well before they reach a critical stage. This may involve working closely with judges, state officials, and others to make meaningful decisions and enact legislation that will enhance our town. Educating the public about incentives and opportunities to improve their homes or build new ones within the city, such as tax incentives and constructing smaller homes on appropriately sized lots in neighborhoods, is vital. Additionally, we should collaborate with local healthcare agencies to address community concerns such as mental health and homelessness. Even if progress is gradual, having a solid financial foundation will empower us to make these changes a reality. As the saying goes, “It takes a village,” and by working together and starting from a position of fiscal strength, we can make these positive developments happen.
WHAT IS YOUR ONE-MINUTE ELEVATOR PITCH TO AN UNDECIDED VOTER?
Sundquist: When I became Mayor in 2020, the City’s financial outlook was in dire straits. We were on the verge of a control board, our residents were overtaxed, and our legacy costs were mounting. Since then, I have gotten our financial house in order, with the largest fund balance in decades, have kept taxes flat with conservative budgeting, despite massive inflation, all while offering more services and public protection, at no cost to the local taxpayer. We have made smart investments, such as partnering with JCC on a grant writer, which has brought in more than $16 million in new state and federal into the city. We have hired more police and firefighters than Jamestown has had in decades to combat crime and provide greater EMS and fire protection, all through grants, and partnered with our County Sheriff’s office and federal agencies to take on serious drug crime.
In the previous 20 years before becoming Mayor, we let too many relationships falter within our community. Jamestown is only as strong as all of us together, working towards a common goal. Since I took office, we have collaborated with our many great non-profits, philanthropic organizations, faith-based institutions, and local governments to come together to bring results for our residents. We have put politics and ideology aside to bring forth common-sense solutions that put people over political considerations. I am proud to say that due to our investments in small businesses, we have created over 400 new, high-paying jobs in Jamestown. Unemployment in the City of Jamestown is at a decade low of 3.6%, and dozens of new businesses have been opened in the years since COVID.
There are still many challenges and much work to do ahead to achieve these goals, but I am confident that I have helped set Jamestown on the course for a sustainable, prosperous, and safe future. I humbly ask for the voters to return me to office to continue the hard work.
Ecklund: In Jamestown, my vision is of a city where the needs and aspirations of its people take precedence. My campaign, “People over Politics,” is dedicated to creating a vibrant, safe, and prosperous community for everyone. As a full-time mayor, I will prioritize addressing and advocating for the residents, without pursuing other jobs. I am committed to ensuring the long-term financial stability of our city and will adopt a conservative approach to rebuild and protect our current and future resources.
I will work diligently to pursue real, attainable, and sustainable development and growth for our community. Additionally, I will continue addressing the requirements of public safety and exploring potential ways to strengthen our community in the future. I hold a deep love for this city and have dedicated myself to making it a better place to live, work, and do business. I firmly believe that by addressing critical issues and making responsible, strategic choices, we can restore Jamestown’s greatness and pave the way for a brighter future.