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Coverage from WRVO Public Media on the 2015 election including: races in Syracuse and other parts of central New York, the Southern Tier, Watertown and the North Country, and more.Listen to WRVO online, or catch up on regional political news and more by following the WRVO news department on Twitter.

Two challengers face off against Watertown mayor in primary election

Julia Botero
Councilmen Stephen Jennings and Joseph Butler are vying for the seat of long-standing Mayor Jeff Graham.

In Watertown, two candidates are challenging incumbent Jeff Graham to be the city’s next mayor. Thursday’s primary will narrow the race down to two candidates who’ll go on to compete in the November election.

What Councilman Stephen Jennings lacks in political experience, he says he makes up in vision. Jennings has served on the city council for two years. He went to school in Albany but has lived in Watertown for 20 years working with the city’s public health department.

He says as Watertown’s mayor he’d focus on bringing business downtown and improving the poorest areas of the city.

“Public safety is a concern of mine. It’s growing particularly in the heroin front, and where is that occurring, in these declining neighborhoods primarily,” Jennings says.

Jennings and his opponents Councilman Joseph Butler and Graham say as city leaders they support investing in resources that fight addiction, rather than increasing arrests.

Butler has worked as a financial consultant at Community Bank for 18 years. He’s served on the city council for eight. He says he’s already helped the city improve its credit rating and reduce its debt since he’s been in office. Butler says in the next four years, revitalizing downtown will be key.

“There’s a tremendous amount of development in the downtown corridor. You’re talking almost $100 million. You’re going to need experienced leadership on that front to make sure it’s done correctly,” Butler says.

Watertown officials are searching for ways to curb city spending. Both Graham and Jennings support restructuring the fire department. Butler says he’s open to other alternatives. Graham says sorting out this heated debate is best left to an experienced leader.


Credit City of Watertown
Mayor Jeff Graham has led the city for 20 years.

  He's served as mayor of Watertown for 20 years. Graham owns the Pearl St. Pub in town, known also as “The Mayor’s Bar.” He opted to not retire this year, instead trying his hand at a sixth term as mayor. He says his experience and good relationships in Albany are invaluable.

“In New York state there are 62 cities. We are fighting against all of them for attention from Albany so we have to keep ourselves in the limelight,” Graham says.

All registered voters are eligible to vote in Watertown's non-partisan primary for mayor and two city council seats. Six candidates are running for Watertown city council. The top four will go on to run in the November general election for two council seats.