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October 26, 2020 - 12:34pm

Council at-large candidates respond to questions about city's strengths, weaknesses, future

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia City Council, Jeremy Karas, Sammy DiSalvo.

Incumbent Jeremy Karas and challenger Sammy DiSalvo are on the ballot on Nov. 3 for the unexpired term of Councilman-at-Large on the Batavia City Council.

Karas, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Adam Tabelski in 2019, is running on the Republican and Conservative lines while DiSalvo is running as a Democrat.

The Batavian reached out to the candidates for the answers to five questions pertaining to the City of Batavia and a sixth about a book that has had an impact upon them.

JEREMY KARAS

Biographical information:

A resident of Union Street, Karas and his wife, Andrea, have two children – Timothy, a student at Notre Dame High School, and Steven, a student at St. Joseph Regional School. Karas lived in Batavia through jeremy-karas-temppress-1_a.jpgthe seventh grade before moving to Elba, graduating from Elba Central School in 1998. He and his family have lived in Batavia for the past 15 years.

He said growing up on a family-owned farm (muckland) on the Genesee-Orleans county line instilled into him a strong work ethic, sense of values and resourcefulness.

Karas worked for Graham Corp. for seven years through 2016, before taking a job with Temp-Press in Rochester, managing its service department. For the past two years he has helped merge two separate service companies that Temp-Press acquired, while also adding to their existing customer base across New York State – providing service for all types of instrumentation and process control in industries ranging from food & dairy, wastewater, water filtration, and manufacturing.

He said that while on City Council, he has learned much about the city, participating in the budget process, Audit Committee and, currently, in the search for permanent city manager.

“My hope is to continue to serve the people of Batavia by using my experience and knowledge to help lead this city forward, while keeping Batavia a safe and affordable place to live,” he said.

What are your three favorite things about living in Batavia?

The people. Batavia residents have a very strong sense of pride in their community. With a population of 15,000, Batavia still feels like a small town in some ways with families staying here for multiple generations and maintaining close relationships with each other.

The future. Batavia’s future is definitely something to be excited about. With the plans that have been set in motion for the downtown revitalization, it is very exciting to see some of these projects taking shape. Having large employers like Graham, O-At-Ka (Milk Products), HP Hood, and, soon, Upstate Farms (a cooperative of more than 300 family-owned dairy farms) means that there will continue to be ample sources of employment for our residents.

The food is amazing! My family and I go out to eat every Saturday night and we love the variety of options we have that are all just a few short minutes away. There is definitely an abundance of great places to eat in Batavia. I will occasionally bring coworkers and clients to Batavia for lunch or dinner and they always leave with a full stomach and a smile.

What is the number one problem facing the City of Batavia and what is your plan to address it?

The financial shortfall caused by COVID-19 is without a doubt the largest problem that we currently face. I believe that we will be feeling the effects of this pandemic for much longer. Our acting city manager and department heads have done an amazing job adjusting their operating budgets thus far but it is yet to be seen how much of an impact the increased deficit that New York State has taken on will affect municipalities in the future.

Describe your vision for downtown Batavia in 10 years?

I would hope that in 2030, downtown Batavia would be a very lively place for people to just come and walk around for shopping, dinner, drinks and entertainment. I would like to see all of the first floor windows on Main Street be full of people inside stores and restaurants. I would also hope that events like Christmas in the City, Beertavia, Wine Walk and The Ramble continue, along with other new events for people of all ages to come down and enjoy.

Should the city build a new police headquarters and where?

Our officers deserve much better than the station that they currently work out of. I believe that all options need to be weighed as to where the new headquarters will be located. I have heard many different suggestions such as using the Genesee County Jail once the county has built a new facility, using the mall now that JC Penney has closed and, of course, the location on Alva Place that has been studied. Whichever site is chosen, a new facility for the police department has to be a priority.

What would you like to see done with the City Centre Mall?

Now that the roof has been completely repaired along with the concourse upgrades in the pipeline, I would hope that we could attract more business and foot traffic. I realize that the retail landscape is not what it was 30 years ago, and the Genesee Country Mall I knew as a kid unfortunately will never be the same. But there is opportunity for medical and service-based businesses to make the mall their new home. The plans that I have seen for the theater (Main Street 56 Theater) are very encouraging, and I hope that it serves as a catalyst for other developments in the mall.

What book first published in English since the Enlightenment has influenced your outlook on life the most?

I have to be perfectly honest, I would have to Google the Enlightenment because I have no clue what it is or when it was. I’m not what you would refer to as a scholar or academic-type person that would readily know the answer to this. Most of my time is spent reading emails, operating manuals, schematics, quotes, and spec sheets. I apologize if this is disappointing to anyone, but I would much rather be honest than submit a fabricated answer.

SAMMY DISALVO

Biographical information:

A fourth-generation Batavian, DiSalvo graduated from Batavia High School before attending Oswego State College, where he received a master's degree in Education and two undergraduate degrees in Math sammy.jpgand Writing. He worked three jobs on campus while a student and graduated cum laude.

After complete his higher education, he worked at Genesee Community College before being offered his current position at a Rochester area college, where he teaches and supervises students. He said he believes that education is our future and we, as a society, should invest more in education.

DiSalvo participates in numerous community events and used to co-own a pop-up board game night that traveled between the local library and a few small businesses around the city. As a runner, he applauds the creation of Ellicott Trail. He also looks forward to visiting his grandmother and hearing her stories about Batavia when she was growing up.

He also is an avid reader and is involved in mobilizing and bringing a voice to rural communities in my position on statewide boards.

DiSalvo said his family was involved with City Council decades ago, as well as the police department, Genesee Valley BOCES and were successful business owners in Batavia.

He said that he will bring “a fresh and dedicated voice to Council.”

What are your three favorite things about living in Batavia?

With the exception of the five years when I went to college for my undergrad and graduate degrees, Batavia has been my home. With that comes the relationships -- both familial and friendly -- that I've developed with high school friends (shout out to my local trivia team), friends I've made in the city through political and personal ventures, and friendships I've made with local business owners. This camaraderie is my favorite part of Batavia.

Secondly, as a runner and someone who loves outdoor activities, I love the new Ellicott Trail, the ability to kayak with my sister in the creek, and having a safe city to go on walks through.

Finally, the diversity that has started to grow in Batavia over recent years has made me feel more comfortable in Batavia and made me proud of my hometown. This includes things such as our first Pride Parade in 2019, the formation of Just Kings in 2020, and the success of nontraditional American restaurants.

What is the number one problem facing the City of Batavia and what is your plan to address it?

While meeting people as I walk the city leading up to Election Day, the No. 1 concern that almost everyone agrees upon is the issue of the mall. Most people want it gone and want to stop having their tax dollars pay for it. I fully agree with these sentiments. My grandparents owned a store in the mall for decades and grandma says that from the day the mall was built, nobody in the city liked it or wanted it. This is what happens when the government stops listening to people.

Tearing down the mall would unfortunately cost the city too much money. You can “put lipstick on a pig” but you need a plan for the next step, which neither Council nor the interim manager has talked about. First, we should get all parcels privatized. Government should not be in the business of playing landlord. A private entity should be spending money on the mall, not taxpayers. We should be working with organizations around the city and county whose job it is to help businesses (such as the Genesee County Economic Development Center) and see what can be done to attract businesses to buy mall parcels.

We need to grow humble as a Council and learn to start listening to experts. One such example of this is three or four years ago the developer who led the revitalization of Canalside in Buffalo came to Batavia and told the city what it needs to do to revitalize, and all of his suggestions were ignored, which included things from how parking is arranged on Main Street to how to utilize the parking lots more effectively. We should start listening to experts who have proven success and maybe our community would see the revitalization it should be seeing.

Describe your vision for downtown Batavia in 10 years?

With the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) projects starting to occur after three years of having the $10 million, I hope that the money will be invested wisely in projects that will sustain long-term results that will become downtown mainstays for decades to come. Some things that need to happen for downtown and the city to prosper: fill the (C.L.) Carr's building after too many years of it being vacant and a growing eyesore (also we need to fill the old bank on the corner of Jackson and Main, too, and the old Continental School of Beauty building), privatize all individual parcels of the mall like the mall used to be when it was built and a somewhat positive thing for Batavia, fill the other vacant storefronts with businesses people can walk into anytime rather than businesses like lawyer offices, doctors, or dentists, and finally create more grassy areas downtown for people to eat lunch or sit in during summer (downtown has too much concrete and blacktop).

I think of East Aurora and the thriving downtown and tourist area they have with Vidler’s 5 & 10, the restaurants, and the many locally owned businesses from an art store to a book store to clothing shops. What did they do right that Batavia's leadership has let deteriorate over the last 20 to 30 years? I hope to see more community investment, such as the mural behind GO ART! which is reminiscent of the beautiful murals that (Vincenzo) Del Plato painted back in the day on the Southside.

Should the city build a new police headquarters and where?

If the city is being mandated to build a new police headquarters rather than update the existing building, then we have no choice. If we have no choice, then we should appeal the mandate to the state and not stop until the state listens to us. We need to look at why we need a new one and move forward only if it's completely necessary. If we do move forward, we also have to make sure the current station's building will be utilized and not abandoned; we have enough empty buildings around downtown.

If we do build a new police station, there are two places I advocate for: the open lot on Swan Street next to the old Wiard (Plow) Company building (a few years ago, the city asked a group of citizens for recommendations and this was the citizens’ top recommendation), yet Council insists on filling the Alva Place parking lot currently used for the Farmers’ Market rather than using a location that is currently rubble, and the second location is to make use of the mall parcels the city owns (and perhaps acquire the parcel that JC Penney sadly vacated this week) and renovate it rather than spend the projected multimillion dollar price tag that has been talked about for that project.

What would you like to see done with the mall?

I've talked about the mall quite a lot already (it is Batavia’s No. 1 concern) but I'm happy to talk more about it. I do not understand why the city and City Council insist on doubling-down on it when most Batavians want it gone.

The first option would be to privatize all the parcels with individual business owners, returning the mall to the way it was intended to be – privately-owned and thriving with Mom and Pop shops. The City also gets out of the business of being responsible for any part of the mall other than where City Hall is.

A nice touch would be for the entire central roof to be taken off to make it an open plan and then utilize the central stage for the events and performances, similar to how Jackson Square is utilized. I remember spending hours in the mall watching these performances at holidays. A space with so much potential is being drowned by a decade-plus disagreement between parcel owners and the city and a lack of a clear plan forward to bring in businesses to revitalize the mall.

The second option is to use the parcels the city owns and acquire the JC Penney parcel to be refurbished into a police station, if we are forced to build a new station.

What book first published in English since the Enlightenment has influenced your outlook on life the most?

Brene Brown wrote a book titled, "Daring Greatly," that talks about the idea of needing to jump into the arena and advocating for what you believe in. This inspired me to get involved a few years ago when I first watched her TED Talk and then read her book. I recommend this book to anyone who needs inspiration to get be an advocate and jump into the arena of life. She's inspired me to become involved in so much from politics to personal ventures to living life in a more fulfilling way.

The books I first read that influenced me were the Harry Potter series. As a child, it was a series about magic, self-advocacy, anti-hate and the power of young people to make a difference. The series has influenced my perceptions on life and how I form relationships with other people. I still preach the quote, "Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic."

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