Geneva Believer sent interview requests to all 18 Republican and Democratic candidates for City Council and Mayor. Six candidates agreed to participate in email interviews. Candidates were asked the same eleven questions, plus one question specific to the candidate, along with one follow-up question (if needed). All responses are being published in full, unedited and without any additional editorial commentary.
12 Questions With Republican Mayoral Candidate Mark Pitifer
1. The City of Geneva Comprehensive Plan took about a year and a half, cost $100,000, and involved the participation of hundreds of residents through bi-lingual forums and surveys. The result was a detailed set of recommendations for the city, none of which include any commercial or residential development in Lakefront Park. The Plan also calls Lakefront Park one of the city’s two most valued public spaces, according to residents.The Plan further recommends re-zoning Lakefront Park, which would prevent all attempts at future development.
Do you support the Comprehensive Plan’s suggestion to permanently protect Lakefront Park from development? If not,why? And if so, what will you do to help make it happen?
When I consider what the Comprehensive Plan is supposed to represent. When I think about the fine people (My wife Leigh was one of these people) who composed this document, the hours that they put into its creation, and its cost to the city, It’s clear to me that this needs to become a living document. It shouldn’t just sit on a shelf somewhere. It should be a road map for the future of Geneva. One that deserves our respect. The Plan identifies Lakefront Park as one of the city’s two most valued public spaces and I agree. I also support the plans idea for re-zoning Lakefront Park, which would prevent all attempts at future development.
I do (support the Comprehensive Plan’s suggestion to permanently protect Lakefront Park), and I will do everything in my power to see that his happens. I was engaged under the willow trees on the northern shores of Seneca Lake, right near the Welcome Center. I am a very sentimental person, and there is no way I will let this area be tarnished in any way.
2. In 2016, Councilor Ken Camera suggested relocating the Finger Lakes Railway rail yard out of the city limits, and using the property both for new housing and create easy access for Ward 6 residents to the lakefront. Negotiations have begun with Finger Lakes Railway to move the rail yard, but the project could use an additional push from Council.
Do you support Camera’s plan for the railway, and if so, what will you do to help make it happen?
I spoke to Mr. Camera about this idea, and I embrace it 100%. I always thought that this type of change would be the best way to get the most out of our lake, without taking away from its natural beauty in any way.
3. Finger Lakes Railway is one of eight corporate PILOT programs currently in effect in the city. The Railway paid $4,000 in total taxes in 2019, while the fully assessed amount they would have paid without the PILOT is over $55,000. It’s unclear how many jobs or other tax revenue the Railway provides to the city in exchange for a tax discount of over 90%. In total, eight corporations, with total revenues in the millions and billions of dollars, received a total of over $3 million in tax discounts in 2019.
Do you support a closer examination, or even an overhaul, in the way the city gives out PILOTs to million- and billion-dollar corporations while homeowners get no tax discounts?
Yes, we should look at this process a little more closely. I certainly see the need to attract new businesses to our city, and I know that we quite often have to offer tax breaks to these companies in order to do so. However, I think that in many cases we the city, and especially the tax payers are being taken advantage of. These companies have nothing to lose, they don’t have enough skin in the game. They can stick around until their deal is over, and then simply move onto another city and another deal. I think that if we give you a 10 year tax break break, that you should be obliged to stay for an equal amount of time after your deal is over.
4. The relationship between the Police and Community has been an issue in Geneva for generations. The Community Compact, which received $15,000 in taxpayer funding in 2019, has not organized any public events in 2019, and according to their meeting minutes, are having difficulties generating public support and participation. One possible reason for the flagging public support is that the Compact only addresses the relationship between the police and community, and does not the address the community’s calls for accountability for police who engage in misconduct.
Do you support an independent civilian review board, with investigative powers and the authority to discipline officers guilty of misconduct, effectively giving the community oversight of the police?
The community compact sounds like a good idea, and if they have received $15,000.00 in taxpayer funding, then we have to make sure we it is worth our investment. However, I would be hesitant about giving them any sort of authority to investigate or discipline officers. I think we have to have confidence in Chief Passalaqua (which I do) to investigate and discipline those officers in his charge who conduct themselves in a racist, or unprofessional manner.
5. Both the Geneva City Manager and City Council, by virtue of the City Charter, have the authority to conduct investigations, with subpoena power, into the conduct of all city officers, departments, boards, commissions and agencies.
Do you support an investigation into the Geneva Foundry disaster to determine why the city chose to keep the widespread contamination a secret for more than twenty years to determine what went wrong and how it could be prevented in the future?
If the city manager feels that this is time and/or money well spent, then I would be in support of it. If an investigation is conducted it will be interesting to discover what went wrong, and how we could prevent such a thing from happening in the future. After talking to various people connected to this incident, it seems to me that it was more of a series of “dropped balls”, then it was some sort of malicious cover up. The good news is that it is that the contamination is being cleaned up, and it is being paid for by the state.
6. Rental costs are sky-high in the City, another result of an extremely high tax rate. In addition, there are numerous unscrupulous and irresponsible landlords in the city, with some low-income residents living in unsafe and illegal conditions. The Geneva Human Rights Commission has been massively defunded in the last decade, making it even harder for tenants who are being treated unfairly to report their problems and find justice. There are also limited resources available for code enforcement. There are slumlords who are longtime Geneva natives, well-known in the community, who seem to avoid any scrutiny for their lack of care and concern for their tenants.
Do you think the city needs to do more to hold all slumlords accountable, and do you have any suggestions of what could be done differently?
First of all, it is important to have quality housing for everyone. However, Being a homeowner in Geneva I know firsthand how unkept rental properties can really hurt a neighborhood and the city as a whole. I Hate to see these “Zombie” properties, but I also don’t like to see these unkept, raggedy looking homes that take away from our city’s beauty. There is no need for it. My understanding is that in years past the city had a stricter code for landlords to follow. They also had regular scheduled inspections and for some reason our leaders have made it a more relaxed code. When I become Mayor I will look closely at these issues and determine what is working, what is not working, and if changes need to be made, then we will make them. If this means going back to a stricter code, so be it. I personally don’t think it’s unreasonable to have inspections every 18 to 24 months. I would like to work together with our residents and landlords to come together and develop a code that makes sense and provides quality housing and living conditions for all. I would also like to come up with a way to reward landlords who truly do take pride in their rental properties, and penalize those who do not.
7. In recent years, calls for cost-benefit analysis of our Police and Fire Departments have been made, but not heard. Cities across New York State of similar size to Geneva have a smaller number of police and firefighters on the payroll. No such study has been done in recent memory.
Do you support a cost-benefit study of our police and fire budgets to ensure taxpayers aren’t overpaying for public safety?
It’s probably always prudent to see if we are spending our money as wisely as we should be. However, let it be known that I have the outmost confidence in our police officers and firefighters. I think they do a fantastic job, and I do not foresee any cuts to either program under my watch.
8. Some City Councilors, as well as some 2019 council candidates, have supported the hiring of an Economic Development director for the city.
Do you support creating a new paid city position for an economic development director?
If YES, please explain your reasons, your vision of ‘economic development,’ and what shortcomings you see in the city’s current economic development efforts.
If NO, please explain your reasons, your vision of ‘economic development’ and why you think hiring for a new position is not a good idea.
Our city needs to find more ways to create and support more homegrown businesses, along with enticing businesses and industries from other areas to relocate here. It’s clear to me that the future of our city depends on our ability to attract businesses that have an established history of contributing to the communities that that are a part of, that are worker friendly (Like a Wegmans), that are environmentally clean, and that plan on staying here for an extended period of time.
In the Geneva Comprehensive Plan for Community Decision Making-Guide the writers express a need for such a position, and I agree. I think we stand at such a critical point in our city’s renaissance, that to call on the skills of an expert in economic development is the prudent thing to do.
*Follow-up question* Can you point me to the section of the Comprehensive Plan that suggests the need for an economic development director?
On page 36 of the plan where they talk about the need for an Economic Opportunity Task Force. I took what they said in that section, and assumed that the city council must have considered their recommendations, and that is where entertaining the idea of hiring an economic developer originated. If I am wrong in my speculations, let me rephrase my response. Based on the concerns that writers of the Comprehensive Plan pointed out, I feel that it would be a good idea to hire a Economic Developer at this point in our city’s renaissance. I like the idea of having one person who is qualified, and especially who can be held accountable if things are progressing in a timely manner.
9. Many of the above questions address the issue of high taxes. Do you support any other ideas for easing the tax burden on the working class who bear the brunt of our tax problem?
We should try and increase revenue by looking for any grants that we can get that may help in regards to infrastructure, equipment, etc. The last thing we need to do is to go deeper into debt. Secondly, we need to look for opportunities to grow our sources of revenue…property taxes and sales taxes. To do this we need to continue to look for ways to have economic development. This does not mean lakefront development, but we do need to look for space in which new businesses can occupy and this will help to create jobs and sales tax revenue. We need to find space in which new housing developments can locate to. Perhaps this requires some thinking out of the box. For example, I agree with my friend William Pealer who believes that we should focus on making Geneva the capital of the Finger Lakes wine region. I think we should purchase and develop a wine co-op that features wines from all of the local wineries. A place that is beautiful, comfortable, and one that opens when the normal wineries close (This will make the wineries embrace it, rather than see it as competition). I think this would attract wine lovers from all over the region. Economic development will help lower taxes, and I think in addition to hiring our own Economic Developer, we need to be using Ontario County Economic Development even more than we currently do. I think that we will eventually be able to rival the Canandaigua/Victor corridor. We need to showcase Geneva more and more to get our fair share of this development. This will create more jobs, and generate more property and sales tax revenue. I also think that we need to continue to find ways to get assistance from the organizations in our city that are tax exempt. Including working closer with the town to share services and expenses. If we prosper, they prosper.
10. One issue that is spotlighted by Geneva Believer is conflicts of interest in city government. In a city the size of Geneva, it can be difficult to separate personal or professional relationships from city business.
If elected, how would you deal with your own conflicts of interest? If cutting part of the city budget would impact your friends or your professional relationships, how would you address such an issue?
That would really bother me. As a coach in the past there have been times when I have had to cut a friends child from the basketball team. That is the worst part of coaching. Any time you have to hurt someone that you care for, even if its for the greater good, it’s a painful thing. However, I would always do what is best for the city as a whole. No matter what the circumstances; The good of the many, must always out way the good of the few, or the one. Unless of course the person in question is my mother, then all bets are off! Lol. When you think about this particular question, especially as it relates this particular election, I would imagine that the longer that one stays in the political arena, the more often they find themselves in these sorts of difficult situations. The voters need to remember that there is only one candidate who is not connected a party, and not a part of any political system or subsystem.
11. Recently, Congressman Tom Reed endorsed your campaign, a highly unusual occurrence for a small-city mayoral race. In response, you called Reed a “very, very good man.” Reed is also known nationally as one of the most enthusiastic, full-throated supporters of President Donald Trump and his administration.
Thousands of Geneva residents, especially members of our communities of color, have been personally and adversely affected by the policies, statements and actions of the Trump administration. Many Republicans support the administration, while many do not.
What is your position on the Trump administration? Do you support Trump’s policies, statements and actions? Did you vote for Trump, and would you vote for him again?
First of all let me tell you that I am absolutely honored that Congressman Reed has endorsed my campaign. I think it is wonderful for a Congressman to take an interest in our fine city, and I think that this connection will help us in many ways in the future. When my son Markie was attending Hobart College, then President Mark Gearan, (Who was mentoring my son) advised Markie to reach out to our local Congressmen and Senators to see if he could do an internship. Congressman Reed not only gave Markie and internship, he actually hired him as a field rep, and after graduating from HWS in 2018 he was hired as a Congressional Representative for Congressman Reed.
Over the past four years I have had the privileged opportunity to have many private and candid conversations with Congressman Reed. I can tell you firsthand that he is a compassionate man, who is driven by strong morals, values, and principals. I have seen him handle some of the most disrespectful, ill-mannered people with patience and compassion. He is an example for all to follow in this regard. Even when he should have been outraged, he did not bash them. He is a kind and understanding soul, who truly loves and wants to help all people. He currently co-chairs The Problem Solvers Caucas in Washington, with his good friend Josh Gottheimer (A Democrat). It is currently the only bipartisan group in Congress. They are trying to show the rest of Washington DC, and this country that sometimes you have to put your party’s needs aside to truly do what is best for the people (Which is in many ways what I am trying to do with this election). Congressman Reed is the epitome of a gentleman, and I am very thankful that he is involved in my son’s life, and now mine.
As far as President Trump is concerned First and foremost, I am not someone who is going to take part in bashing the President of the United States (No matter what decade we are in). My mother and father always taught me to look for the best in all people (especially people in leadership roles), and that is how I have always lived my life. Some of the positives I see with President Trump are as follows: We are seeing the lowest unemployment numbers for minorities in history! We have a strong economy, a strong military, and our borders are be strengthened. He also seems to be very concerned with our veterans getting their due respect. He is not afraid to speak about God (Which is very important to me), and I also like the way he puts America first on the world stage. However, I have found many times that the president has made statements and acted in ways (Childish) that are divisive in nature, that are poor mannered, and that I strongly disagree with. He has also taken stances on the environment in which he attempts to downplay our global issues, which is the exact opposite to my views on these matters. With respect to who I voted for and whom I will vote for in 2020, that is my personal private business. However, I will give you a peek at my voting record since November 1980 (The first election I could vote in). I voted for 4 democrats and 4 republicans respectfully. If I could have voted in 1976 I would have voted for Jimmy Carter (I still think he was one of the most honest and morally sound presidents that we ever had); so if you’re looking for I tie breaker that’s it (Democrats 5 – Republicans 4). Trust me my friends, when it comes to picking a president, or voting on issues, political party, race, creed, and color are meaningless to me. I am now, and always have been a free thinker and a man of faith. No one controls me. I listen to what people say and I watch what they do. In the upcoming year I will watch as much of the political debates as I can stomach, and then I will make up my mind sometime in late October of 2020
12. Would you like to provide a final statement about any issues specific to your ward and/or your campaign?
I have heard some people say that because I am not attacking Steve Valentino, that I must not really care if I win or lose this election. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you are thinking that my kindness, my good manners, and my respect for my friend, is in any way a sign of weakness, I can assure you that you are making a serious miss calculation. Anyone who knows me (Especially my childhood rival JJ Smaldone) knows that I am a fierce competitor, and if it’s a game that can be played, not only do I believe I can win, but I will do everything in my power to do so. EXCEPT, bash my opponent, sling mud at him, or behave in an unsavory manner. If that is what it takes to win, I want no part of it! If I accomplish nothing else in this election, it will be that this city, this county, this state, and maybe even this country will learn how to conduct an election with class, respect, and dignity.
I have walked the Path of Jesus for my entire life. My daily life is my religion, and I have always tried to the best of my ability to treat the people, the creatures, and the planet that I have encountered during the course of my lifetime in the exact same way that I would want to be treated.
I have been an extremely successful counselor and a coach for the past 37 years. I am the author of two self-help books (Return To Forever, and Raiseism), I am the founder of Project Help Our Pupils Engage (A dropout prevention program for at-risk students), My school won the President Obama National School of Character award in 2008 (Which recognized our school, including our counseling programs as some of the best in the entire United States), I am also a song writer and musician and me and my family have released several inspirational music CD”s. I am married and have been with the love of my life (Leigh Ann Principio Pitifer) for the past 39 years (Imagine how good a negotiator I must be.), and we are the parents of three beautiful and talented children Nina HWS 2013, Noah UNLV 2015, and Markie HWS 2018.
I consider myself (And so do many of the local Courts and Justices in Seneca and Ontario counties) an expert childhood and adolescent development. I am a master group counseling therapist, and I am the absolute very best you will find at brining out the best in all people.
Lastly, I sincerely feel that this election is not all about the issues. In fact, I am certain that on the topics of what matters most, there will not be much to debate. Protecting and preserving our beautiful lake front. Working with the county supervisors to close the landfills asap! Finding creative ways to reduce our taxes, without hurting our citizens. Providing housing for all levels of people. Taking care of our elderly and finding ways to help our children have childhoods that are fun filled, educational, and free from drugs, alcohol, sex, and violence. When this election is over, we could very easily have nine new members on this city council, and the very best person to handle this transition, to help these strangers form a cohesive, goal driven, and loving group, is Mark Salvatore Pitifer! As your Mayor I will treat all of our citizens in the same manner that I treat all of my Project H.O.P.E children. I will be ACCESSIBILE, ACCOUNTABILE, TRANSPARENT, EMATHEIC, GENEROUS, and always 100% DRUG AND ALCOHOL FREE!
Please help me fulfil my destiny, and don’t forget to register to vote! May God Bless you always with Peace and Hope.
God’s Peace and Best of Life PS-COMMITT TO PITT!
Mark Salvatore Pitifer MS, CAS
Waterloo Middle School Counselor MS, CAS
PROJECT HOPE DIRECTOR (Grades 7-12)
The Former Waterloo Boy’s Varsity Basketball Coach
Geneva High School Boy’s and Girls Varisity Track Coach
65 CENTER STREET, WATERLOO NY, 14456
Cell: 315-759-1293, Work: 315-539-1542, 315-539-1194
“Judge each day not by the harvest, but by the seeds that you plant.” -Mac Spellecy