OLEAN – Mayor Linda Witte came under attack for how the city is being run and its infrastructure maintained during a debate with challenger William Aiello this week at Olean High School.
Aiello, a Republican, said the administration has missed out on opportunities to bring more vitality to the city. He also said the disrepair of the city, although not completely Witte’s administration’s fault, must be fixed, all in an effort to return the city to the “shining star” it once was.
“Just over the border, in Pennsylvania, they are seeing an increase of people because of the natural gas boom,” Aiello said. “Surrounding towns have had places rented, or bought, as offices for the companies doing the work. The administration has completely missed the chance to market the city to these companies.”
The infrastructure situation called to mind the problems that have persisted at the city’s water plant. A wall at the facility has leaked since the plant has been open. Aiello said the leaks equate to about 337 million gallons of water a year, in a city where the water and sewer bills continue to rise.
Witte, who is a Democrat, said the wall is being repaired and the leaks are being mitigated. She also said that since coming to office, she has overseen the repair or rebuilding of more than 100 streets throughout the city, with more to come in the spring.
In a final topic, the candidates shared views on what can be done in the city to prevent the brain drain that is endemic to the region.
Aiello said the key is to remember where the city came from.
“Olean was built on oil,” he said. “It is, and will always be, a blue-collar city. What we need is to offer more jobs – jobs that will keep the tradition of the rough, tough city alive.”
Aiello said Jamestown Community College plans to purchase the Knights of Columbus Lodge, directly adjacent to the Olean campus, and convert it into an advanced manufacturing education facility, where students will learn trades like welding, engineering, even supervisory skills. Those skills will translate to high-demand jobs in the manufacturing sector, especially companies like Dresser-Rand, a major employer in the city.
Witte said she sees the employment situation differently. She said that while she is happy to see the new facility, she knows there are jobs in the city that people won’t take now. As for keeping that demographic of 25- to 35-year-olds in the city, she said “Kids have to want to stay in the city.”
She said the North Union Street upgrade would be a tool to make the area more attractive to lure more jobs and keep young people in the area.
“One of the things that we hear a lot is that the main street looks like a runway,” she said. “It is not inviting. To attract those kinds of people to the area, we have to have a city that is attractive.”
City residents will choose between Witte and Aiello and vote for aldermen for Wards 2, 6, and 7 on Nov. 5.