Next to the mayor, the at-large position on the Common Council is the highest elected position in the city of Dunkirk. On Nov. 8, city voters will have a choice between a 10-year council veteran and a newcomer to the city for that at-large seat.
Kevin Muldowney is in his fifth term as Second Ward councilman and is endorsed by the Republican and Conservative parties. Stephanie Kiyak is the newcomer to the city and its politics and is endorsed by the Democratic and Dunkirk First parties. Both were panelists at the recent League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates night in City Hall.
During his opening remarks Muldowney said he was proud of his record and what has been accomplished, citing relationships built over those years and the city's partnering with SUNY Fredonia.
Kevin Muldowney, left and Stephanie Kiyak are both seeking to become Dunkirk’s next At-Large Council member.
"I'm very proud of our teamwork this doesn't just happen overnight," he said and later noted the biggest problem. "If the wheels go off, I feel like it takes forever to get anything done in Dunkirk."
After stating her credentials, Kiyak said the most important thing facing the city was "having leadership that understands how to appropriate an annual budget. Insuring that the priorities benefiting all citizens comes before the wishes of elected officials and a small group of influential citizens."
She talked about the water system work needing to be done for years and the responsibility of the mayor to budget for it.
"My question is where was the Common Council questioning the line item contained within the budget?" she asked.
The return of county Social Services to the city that were displaced by the Masonic Temple fire was a concern raised.
Muldowney said the county has moved some positions back but doubted all would return.
"I do understand the business implications for small businesses in downtown Dunkirk, but I just think it's a tough, tough fiscal crisis out there. Not only for the city, but the county and the country, and I don't think we'll ever see full service back."
In response to a question about ward councilman being elected by ward residents only that was recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee, Kiyak said she disagreed because councilmen should represent all the city's residents.
"I would think that would perhaps create conflict of interest whenever issues come up, and then we're pitting one ward against another ward," she explained. "I don't think that that's necessarily a good idea. I think that all council members need to have an unbiased view, just like the mayor is looking at the entire city as a whole."
Both Kiyak and Muldowney said they were in favor of abolishing the two part-time assessors positions, a proposition on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Intermunicipal cooperation was another topic.
"I think that we live too close to Fredonia to not be collaborating with services, especially with services where we could share equipment," Kiyak stated. "... I frankly don't understand why collaboration hasn't been addressed in the past. I've been saying that since I've gotten here, so I'm totally for it."
Muldowney said there have been attempts at cooperative efforts, but cited an attempt at a consolidated police building that failed when the village of Fredonia failed to put money in for a feasibility study. He said the city is cooperating with other municipalities on sharing equipment.
"Can we do better? Probably. But ... we have to have cooperation from the other side and we have worked at it quite a while," he said. "Chadwick Bay is a very key element to bringing all the nine communities along the lake front together to work on ideas and sharing. We'd love to talk to the town of Dunkirk but honestly, there's some very complicated issues merging a town and city with each other."
Kiyak said there were things that could be done better.
"When we don't have a meeting of the minds we don't say its a done deal. ... We live in a rural area and I think it's important that we come together. We're such a small town and small city and that's my take."
A better job of telling the public what has been accomplished might have been done, according to Muldowney.
"You have to have cooperation on both sides in order to come together. We're not saying that we're giving up on that but there are some very complicated New York state laws," he explained. "It's also very complicated debt out there that other communities might have a tough time merging with us."
The salary for the mayor and rolling it back was another issue.
"I am all for rolling it back and reducing the perks. It's a civil service that we're all embarking on, the mayor is no exception," Kiyak replied. "It's not supposed to be a career."
Muldowney was of a different opinion.
"I totally disagree. The position right now is in charge of a $21-$22 million budget with 120 full-time employees, a full-time position," he stated. "The perks that we're talking about, I guess, is maybe the benefit package that every employee in this building gets if you're a full-time employee."
Muldowney said the mayor gets criticized for checking on things in the city on-site.
"I don't know if a car is a real perk. We can look at it, but I think it's a course of business. Honestly, if we're going to get good people to run for office, especially for a position like that, you've got to be somewhat competitive. People can say it's an honor, which it is, but I just feel that I voted for the pay raise. I felt it was warranted four years ago."
Kiyak had a reply.
"If the position was more like a city manager and we were requiring the candidate to have a degree in public administration and they had the credentials of someone who is being hired, then the position should pay that, but as it stands running for mayor is more of a popularity contest and we're not guaranteed whoever wins the vote really understands public administration and how to run a city with a $22 million budget," she said. "And as such they should be stepping up and giving their service like the rest of us, or giving your service for a small stipend.
"There are certain important positions that are civil service we don't expend a high salary: social workers, teachers, professors. There are a lot of smaller salaries than being as a mayor and being such a small town, I think that is a large salary that the mayor is getting and having a car is a perk, no matter what the job is."
Muldowney thought it was up to the voters.
"It's an elected position. You're running for U.S. Senate, you're running for state senate, you're running for assembly, they are not required to have degrees," he explained. "Because a person steps up and runs for the position the voters are the ones to decide if they have the credentials or not to take the job.
"If they don't do a good job the voters again have the right to ask them to leave. I don't think you make requirements of credentials and education, I think the voters decide that."
"Well then, perhaps we can be an example of putting it to the voters and asking them, every citizen, what they think the position should be beginning as a salary," Kiyak responded.
Council's role in job growth was another issue raised.
Muldowney said the city was ready and cited efforts that have resulted in five city brownfield sites being readied for new industry over the last 10 years, leaving them shovel-ready for development.
Muldowney stated the city's efforts have helped secure $2.3 million for both the Edgewood Warehouse and Marsh Valve sites in the city.
"Can we do more? Probably, but we are ready for expansion," he stated before talking about the successes Special Metals (S30 million), Nestle Purina ($90 million) and Remtronics had in beating out other corporate sites for local expansion.
Kiyak said the area's assets should be utilized to attract businesses.
"We have lots of wind, we have lots of water, we have lots of plants and perhaps even involve on a campaign of advertising to other states as well," she explained.
In closing Kiyak said being a newcomer to the city is a plus as she has no long-standing local influences.
"My insights are based on my experience of living in other cities, both small and large. You can trust me when I say my honesty and integrity are unquestionable and that my motives for getting involved in the politics of Dunkirk are purely unselfish," she stated. "I believe I have good ideas to bring forth. I'm a pragmatic person. I'm able to identify a problem and figure out approaches to solving that problem.
"I'm a frugal person. I will treat the city budget like I handle my own personal finances.
"My forthright attitude should assure everyone that my intention for joining the council is not to make friends or gain political power. It is to be the checks and balances of the mayor. I've never been accused of being too timid or demure. I want to speak up for all the citizens of Dunkirk."
Muldowney was brief, saying all the candidates had the city at heart.
"We might differ in where we are today and where we're going tomorrow," he said. "I just feel it's very important that we're on the right track. It's taken a long time to get there but we need to continue to do what we're doing today."
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