By Tom Tigani
SOUTHGATE — Three candidates for the mayor’s seat here said Wednesday that they are ready to lead the city through the financial tough times that appear to lie ahead in the next two years.
In a forum just ahead of Tuesday’s primary election, Dennis David, 58, cited his previous term as mayor from 2003 to 2005 as a source of experience for doing that. He also is a former city police officer.
“The time has come when we need someone with experience to come in here,” David said. “We are at such a critical time. The county, the state … no one is coming to help us.”
The state is planning to take away between a quarter-million to half-million dollars this year, he said, on top of what’s already been cut.
“We need some ideas to get this city on track and try not to take away too many services,” David said.
The others, Ernest Abercrombie, 39, and Joseph Kuspa, 52, pointed to experience in other areas and a commitment to the city as qualifications that will help them to lead. Abercrombie is a local business owner; Kuspa also is a businessman and is Downtown Development Authority chairman and a former Southgate Community School District Board of Education member.
“I care,” Abercrombie said of his reason for seeking the city’s top job, noting his attendance at City Council and other municipal and community meetings for the last six years. “I know what’s going on, and I want to make Southgate a leader. Southgate has been getting left behind.”
Kuspa talked of a “sincere passion for my hometown.”
“I have a 10-year-old daughter who I want to see raised in the community I was raised in,” he said, “a community that cares about its neighbors, a community that’s safe; that respects its senior citizens and celebrates their contributions and that instills pride through our volunteerism and community service.”
All three praised the city’s people, its recreational facilities and schools as strong points. All candidates also said they would try to maintain police and fire services as is. Abercrombie added Department of Public Services employees to that list as well.
David pointed out, however, that those three departments are really all that can be cut, and that while he favored maintaining police and fire service as is, “there is no sacred cow.”
When asked about allowing residents to make delayed or late tax payments, David said, “If we give everybody latitude, we’re not going to be able to handle our bills.”
Abercrombie said he favored allowing monthly payments, while Kuspa said he would rather have homeowners bank their money and pay their taxes on time rather than add another city program for late or delayed payments. He also would consider allowing monthly payments, however.
Regarding special police overtime programs to target drunken drivers or prevent other types of crimes, David said the special details pay for themselves and slightly more, and that he favors keeping them.
He also said it would tie in with a budget move he would try to implement as mayor that would place two officers in each patrol car from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Doubling up would save some money on gas, as well as wear and tear on the cars; it also would enhance officer safety during the nighttime hours.
Kuspa said all officers should be available for all calls and not part of special details.
Abercrombie simply said, “I’m not for it.”
To spur development, Kuspa said he would proceed with the DDA’s planned Eureka Road streetscape project and establish a business advisory council “to find out what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.”
Abercrombie criticized the authority and Kuspa, saying, “I have not seen any projects other than a bus stop or solar panels on the golf course clubhouse and paying for fireworks.”
The latter item was a reference to the city’s Founders’ Day celebration, a scaled-back version of the Heritage Days festival that was held in previous years. Abercrombie also cited the vacant Best Buy and HQ stores on Dix-Toledo as examples of the authority’s lack of accomplishments.
David also took a shot at the DDA, of which he is a member, saying it had spent “tens of thousands” of dollars on consultant and attorney fees.
“We need to spend that money on the people who put that money in, not on parties,” he said, also referring to this year’s festival and a recent ceremony to rename City Hall for outgoing Mayor Norma Wurmlinger.
Kuspa fired back, saying David has voted “time and again” in favor of those things as an authority member. He said the slow economy has affected adversely DDA revenues and has made it difficult to accumulate enough money for projects.
The golf course clubhouse solar panels were part of a pilot project to show downtown business the cost savings that could be realized from such improvements, Kuspa said.
Budgetwise, Abercrombie said, “If there’s money to be cut, I can find it and do it and make other areas like the city’s ice arenas profitable. If you want change, I’ll be your watchdog.”
Kuspa promised a top-down budget analysis and plans to be more aggressive in seeking federal, state and other grants and matching funds. Like Abercrombie, he also wants to “bring the city’s pension system in line with economic realities.”
David, who draws a $70,000 annual pension from the city that he said dates to a time when officers’ life expectancy was shorter, said he would look at changes to that system based on existing city contracts with its employees. He also wants to start an energy commission to look at ways to save money at city facilities.
The top two candidates in Tuesday’s primary will face each other in the Nov. 3 general election. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.