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Watertown council candidates get last word before election day

Watertown's City Council hopefuls got one final chance before tomorrow's election to make their case at a meet-the-candidates event last week. The four opponents advocate different roles for city government. 

The race pits two incumbents who see a limited role for city government against a pair of political newcomers with broader visions for what the council can do to improve residents' lives. 

Stephen Jennings, a county health service planner, wants the city to lead an effort to combat neighborhood decline. He says it's an issue that touches a nerve with poor neighborhoods' older, more stable, residents - and he saw that during his door-to-door campaigning. "I had one woman in tears say to me, 'You should have seen how it used to be,'" he said. "And I've had other people have that sentiment, too. We need to keep those people in those communities if they want to stay there, and we need to do everything we can to try to improve them."

Jennings says in order to fix troubled neighborhoods, different agencies need to collaborate.

Cody Horbacz, a manager for an auto service center, says he wants to see citywide quality-of-life improvements, like better playgrounds, wintertime ice rinks, and dog parks. Horbacz says these seemingly trivial projects can change neighborhoods dramatically – even reduce crime. "When you are proud of your surroundings, you think, 'Okay, the city, they must care about us because we have this nice playground,' you know – now you have respect for your neighborhood, you have respect for yourself, and I think you have respect for your neighbors. So I think playgrounds are a really big deal, and it's a deep issue," he said.

Incumbents Teresa Macaluso and Jeff Smith say one big way to better residents' lives is to keep their taxes low. Both emphasize the importance of prudent financial management. They say Watertown's on the right track, and their steady hands are part of the reason why. Jeff Smith touts the city's progress in cutting its budget and improving its financial position. Macaluso highlights her careful decision-making, collaborative mindset and responsiveness to constituents.

The four candidates are vying for two seats with four-year terms.