ADK P-TECH students posed questions to North Country political candidates in a town hall-style forum on Oct. 12 at Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh. Pictured above: State Assembly candidate Kevin Mulverhill fields a question as his opponent Billy Jones (left) and Matt Funiciello, a candidate for New York’s 21st Congressional District, look on.
Photo by Elizabeth Izzo
PLATTSBURGH — Students got a crash course in political civility last week as candidates from three local races converged at a town hall-type meeting sponsored by ADK P-TECH.
In their first joint appearance, state Assembly candidates Billy Jones and Kevin Mulverhill outlined their respective policies using questions posed by the students, who are enrolled in a six-year vocational program that runs concurrent with a degree from Clinton Community College.
Jones said college affordability is key to addressing workforce development issues.
“We need to help colleges become affordable for our people,” Jones said in response to a question on how employers can aid workers between the ages of 25 and 40 to achieve the higher education that is becoming increasing necessary for their positions.
Jones also called for mandate relief to relieve financial pressures on state-funded colleges and for day care programs for returning students.
Mulverhill cited the importance of vocational training, including welding programs. Employers need to build relationships with colleges and vocational programs, he said.
“I think we need to do what we’ve been doing,” Mulverhill said. “Those companies can tell us what they need, and we can respond to that. That’s what this P-TECH program is all about.”
Jones said the government shouldn’t be the sole engine in promoting events that will draw visitors to the region.
Nonprofits should team with clubs to facilitate events, he said. The state can provide a framework and help with grant funding, he said, citing ongoing North Country Regional Economic Development Council efforts.
“I think it starts from the ground level, the local communities and towns,” Jones said.
Mulverhill underscored the importance of planning and building on existing events. But community participation is also key, he said.
“Any grant process has to start with a plan, so we’d throw it back to you,” Mulverhill said. “The grants are out there. What we need to do as a community is to devise a plan.”
Both candidates said body cameras for police departments had the potential to be useful when interacting with the public, but expressed caveats.
“I think body cameras have proven to help in these incidences,” Mulverhill said, referring to encounters with mentally ill inmates at correctional facilities.
But not everything is captured on video, he said. And it’s important that authorities have all footage when piecing together elements of a disputed situation.
“It’s not an absolute,” he said.
Jones said cameras can be an “effective tool,” but agreed with his opponent.
“You gotta be careful, and we have to capture everything in regards to that,” Jones said.
Mulverhill serves as Franklin County Sheriff. Jones, the Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman, also works as a correctional officer.
SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS
Each candidate took a wait-and-see approach when asked if public schools should be mandated to use produce from local farms in their menus.
Mulverhill said using local ingredients is a “fantastic idea,” but cited concerns over access, including getting items to districts during the winter.
It’s also important that healthy eating habits follow children home, he said.
Jones said a law would be another unfunded mandate.
“I believe this is a great program, and we should encourage it,” Jones said. “As far as implementing a law, I don’t think I would vote for that right now.”
Jones outlined his efforts as Franklin County Chairman to help promote a pro-business environment. The county recently hired an economic developer to aid in getting through red tape, he said.
“I think we’re making great gains in Franklin County to get a specialized person in there,” Jones said.
Vacant lots and unsafe buildings continue to pose an issue, he said. But federal and state regulations regarding teardowns remain troublesome, he said.
“We need to do something about that.”
Mulverhill said it is difficult for municipalities to track vacant buildings, especially when ownership passes through opaque networks of LLCs that are difficult to trace. Decay continues unimpeded once properties become locked in litigation, he said.
“It sits in the middle of our community like a decayed tooth,” Mulverhill said.
More local control is needed, he said.
Mulverhill said he is a proponent of the Broken windows theory, which posits maintaining a well-kept environment reduces more serious crimes from happening.
That can be applicable by simply keeping abandoned and vacant properties well-kept and clean, he said.
“It makes the whole place look better,” Mulverhill said.
The candidates were also asked to discuss their positions on pesticide regulation, opiate addiction, teenage pregnancy and mental health issues.
The forum was moderated by PBS Mountain Lake’s Thom Hallock, with questions submitted by ADK P-TECH students Malcolm Hyde and Hannah Wright.
Mulverhill and Jones are running for the open seat to replace state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru), who is retiring.
The two candidates seeking to unseat Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro), Matt Funiciello and Mike Derrick, also briefly shared the stage, as did Colin Read, who is challenging Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon in next month’s general election.
School officials noted the historic contentiousness of the presidential race prior to the debate.
But following the discussion, students were surprised at the civil tenor of the forum.
“I felt their opinions were sincere,” said Benjamin Smallarz, who is 15. “There was definitely a difference between what they were.”
Chase Sawyer, 16, called the discussion “civil.”
“There were less arguments, and they were respectful while talking,” Sawyer said.
Kiara Anderson, 14, said: “I thought all were very well spoken and knew about the topics. And I felt like they elaborated on their questions rather than just sticking to it.”
Jonathan Djomnang, 15, said he was pleased with the results.
“They actually answered the questions we asked,” Djomnang said.