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City council members face off in Watertown mayor race

Lisa Ruggiero, left and Sarah Compo Pierce
Ruggiero: Creative Imaging / Compo Pierce: Sereenah George
Lisa Ruggiero (left) and Sarah Compo Pierce (right) are running in Watertown's mayor race.

Sarah Compo Pierce and Lisa Ruggiero are both serving on the Watertown City Council, and they’re both hoping to win enough votes this fall to become the city’s first female mayor.

Compo Pierce was the first candidate to announce her intention to run. She was appointed to an opening on the council in 2019 and then elected to a full term, which started in 2020.

"Transparency, fiscal responsibility, and common sense: I think people really recognize that the council is lacking in those things now,” Compo Pierce said. “There needs to be a real effort to get us back to a place where those things are at the forefront."

Ruggiero has served on the council since 2018. She’s hoping her record will convince voters to support her bid for mayor.

"I felt now's the time if I'm going to do it,” she said. “I have been in numerous leadership roles in the community. I've been president of several local boards."

A major point of contention in the race is the council’s decision to buy the Watertown Golf Club for $3.4 million.

Compo Pierce said not only did she disagree with the decision, but she also disagreed with how the decision was made, including when members of the public showed up to speak on the day of the final vote.

"There was actually a vote amongst the majority on city council to prevent them from speaking, so that really irked me,” she said. “I think the most important thing we do as representatives is listen to the people we serve, and I just found that to be really quite unbelievable."

Ruggiero, who voted for the deal, said community members had other chances to provide comments ahead of that meeting, and she saw her “yes” vote as a way to protect the land for future generations.

"If it was me, and I didn't like a vote on something, I would accept the fact that, now we own it. Let's move on. Let's make it a success,” she said.

Ruggiero said Watertown is not a “one-issue city.” If elected mayor, she’d like to focus on building a better rapport with the county and local agencies, working with the police department to fill vacancies, and improving recreational opportunities, like the proposed reconstruction of the city’s Flynn pool.

"I think we, as a city, can do a better job marketing our programs, our events, and really have someone out there to help promote all the positive aspects of the city,” said Ruggiero.

Compo Pierce is putting infrastructure improvements at the top of her list, and she said fiscal responsibility is one of her priorities.

"We have an issue with our drinking water that needs to be resolved,” Compo Pierce said. “Let's get things like that taken care of before we move on to spending money on recreational opportunities, not that they're not important. They definitely are. We just need to be smart about the way we're spending."

Watertown’s current mayor, Jeff Smith, is not planning to seek re-election.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.