Councilman Andrew Liuzzo participated in the first Jamestown mayoral forum/debate Thursday evening at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. You can watch and read his speech below.
Good evening, everyone. I am city councilman at large Andrew Liuzzo. I ran for city council two years ago because I was tired of complaining about what I saw as the continued decline of our city and wanted to see if I could make a difference.
During that campaign, my appeal to voters was, “What do you want? I’m listening.” Over the last two years, I’ve done exactly that. I made myself available to everyone who contacted me, addressed the concerns that I could and brought forward those that I couldn’t on my own.
Because my only objective was to serve the residents of Jamestown and not the agendas of city government, I stood alone. I asked questions on behalf of citizens and stood for real transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. The current administration and many members of the council were not pleased that I would dare question the ways they had been running the city.
I’m running for mayor to represent the residents and neighborhoods that have been ignored or dismissed. The loss of jobs, the declining quality of life and the exodus of so many Jamestown natives have all motivated my bid for mayor.
The cornerstone of my campaign and the culture change I’m promoting involves neighbors being better neighbors to each other. Unless we look to help each other, we cannot help ourselves. Neighbors helping each other will result in better neighborhoods, better wards and a better community.
Better community will result in community development. Community development results in economic growth. Economic growth results in more employment. The city needs to depend on its own citizens to stop the decline and loss of opportunities.
We will also restore relationships with our city’s neighbors, which are our surrounding municipalities. You’ve heard it said many times throughout this administration’s lengthy tenure (with the council’s approval): “What’s good for Jamestown is good for everyone.” Again, I disagree. What’s good for Lakewood, Ellicott, Falconer and Frewsburg is also good for Jamestown. Being better neighbors and negotiating, rather than litigating, benefits everyone involved except for the lawyers.
Jamestown was built by the innovators of the time. The city’s industry and commerce were kickstarted by people who depended on themselves. Homegrown enterprises grew to gain national and international acclaim. Our economic success occurred because of the entrepreneurs that pursued their own freedom and happiness by taking a risk instead of waiting for outsiders to come in and provide jobs.
There are still vestiges of this self-sustaining spirit. Operations such as Ring Precision, Artone, Hope’s Windows and Jamestown Awning are still going strong after generations in business. I believe that we are not yet depleted of this homegrown talent.
For example, abandoned factories that have been decaying for years could be brought back to life with and offer job opportunities.
Most of us are well-aware of Jamestown’s substandard housing and deteriorating neighborhoods. There are roughly 2,700 empty lots in the city. The majority of those lots were formerly occupied by homes.
The city’s current codes effectively prohibit a structure to be replaced on an existing lot. The code calls for square footage that exceeds what was once there and calls for more frontage than the neighboring homes – meaning, prospective homeowners would need to buy multiple lots and build a larger home than if the existing lot could be used as it stands.
How many people are willing to spend $180,000 or more to build homes in neighborhoods where many of these abandoned lots exist? I’d guess close to none. What if we were to build our own prefabricated homes? We sell them, we build them, we deliver them and we install them, all while providing jobs that don’t require a college degree and giving people an opportunity to provide for their families. Furthermore, if this operation was employee-owned, we encourage productivity and quality products. For $60–$75,000, people could buy a quality, well-built, modern home. I have examples of two-bedroom, 1,200 sq. ft. and three-bedroom, 1,600–1,800 sq. ft. homes that could fit on existing lots and include a garage.
Losing nearly 3,000 homes from the tax roll mandates that everyone else’s taxes go up. We are at the highest constitutional taxing limit in the state, increasing by 2% for the last two years. For perspective, we are at 104% compared to two years ago, when we were already at our maximum.
Let’s say that we sell 100 of these manufactured homes – accounting for less than 4% of our vacant lots – at $60,000. That’s $6 million back on the tax rolls. If we sell 200, 300 or more (8 or 12% of these lots), the taxable property increases exponentially. The more homes we can place on existing lots translates to lower taxes for everyone because we are building the base and more people are sharing the burden of city expenses. Even better, the social and economic value of our neighborhoods would dramatically increase.
Another purpose for unused industrial space can be modeled off of a program in Cleveland – Green City Growers – in which 30 acres of urban space houses hydroponic farming under one roof. This operation is employee-owned, does not require skilled labor and provides leafy vegetables year-round to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores and even Wegmans and some area restaurants. The pesticide-free operation uses only ladybugs to combat pests and provides jobs and economic development to an otherwise neglected area.
Other ideas for repurposing our industrial space include a community laundry facility, also employee-owned, that provides service to hospitals, nursing homes and the public and cold storage for food and candy distributors in the Midwest that often transport their products up to 1,000 miles for later shipping; and addressing the food deserts in our neighborhoods by establishing grocery stores with fresh meat, dairy and vegetables so residents don’t have to rely on convenience stores to supplement their diets. We’re in the right geographic location, have the space and have the talent for investors and enterprisers who want to establish or expand their businesses. And, if we ever get rail service back to the city, the possibilities would really be endless.
Steps to further address Jamestown’s financial situation would be to identify inefficiencies and redundancies and consolidate or share these services. We will also take steps to ensure that everyone benefitting from these services is contributing to sustain them.
Our current and future manufacturers would also do well to increase their interaction with the public and private school systems in the area, introducing grades 6–8 to the opportunities that skilled work can provide for a lifetime. We would rather see our future generations turning metal than turning to illegal activities.
In terms of the illegal activities that have hurt Jamestown, closer neighborhoods can lead to neighbor watch programs; repurposed buildings can include rehabilitation facilities and jobs for past offenders; and a culture change can lead to a more energized, engaged and neighborly Jamestown.
Nothing will change unless we – residents and city government – work together by getting interested and involved. Elect representatives that listen and work for everyone. There needs to be a change every four to eight years. Term limits, starting with the mayor’s office down through city council are the way to ensure a motivated and refreshed city government for years to come.
Team Jamestown, as it’s been called, is going strong after more than 20 years. They are committed to keeping the power they’ve enjoyed. But it’s fair to ask ourselves, how has that worked for the rest of us? Which team are they playing for? The other major party is playing the same game: acquire power for the party.
For too many years, our elected officials have been complacent. If voters are serious about change, they must remove the party-blinders. We have the opportunity to elect new people who are committed to working for all instead of their party’s narrow interests.
My values have remained the same throughout my adult life. I was a registered Democrat when JFK said “ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” and a registered Republican when Ronald Regan said “I believe the best social program is a job.”
Now, as a Libertarian, I still believe in involvement in the democratic process, less government interference, real transparency, full accountability, fiscal responsibility and the pursuit of happiness and freedom to be who and what we all want to be.
Parties are just labels and don’t represent all people fully. In fact, to paraphrase George Washington in his farewell address, parties can take power and choice away from people. We can start in this election, in our small but great city, to channel the spirit of the founding fathers into the way Jamestown is run: for the people and by the people.
Samuel A. Carlson, a Republican, finished his last term in 1934, and Leon Roberts, a Democrat, took over until 1938. From 1938 to 1964, Jamestown elected six third-party mayors. Much of Jamestown’s prosperity occurred in the years during which the administration was not bound by a major party and resonated more closely with the residents of the city. Regardless of the reason, an important period of our city’s history was a time focused on independence of major parties and independence of thought.
Local government is the most important government because it’s what affects us most directly, most immediately and most profoundly. We have the opportunity to start fresh, be the change and elect leaders who are willing to work for all residents. I’m encouraging voters to stay involved, learn as much as they can and keep pointless partisan alliances aside as we approach November. As I’ve promised, I have been and will continue to be, if elected mayor, here to listen and serve the residents of the city of Jamestown.