Earlier this month, my sister proposed that I should run for mayor this year in our city of Binghamton, New York. After hearing her say that, I jokingly made a Facebook comment about how I'd launch an "exploratory campaign" consisting of my playing "Sim City" this Spring. But low and behold, a considerably large swath of my friends and family actually suggested it might be a good idea, and many have told me that they believe I could win if I took the election seriously.
I honestly don't know where I am on this. A part of me feels that as a professional political satirist, the prospect of becoming the very thing I'm paid to mock day in and day out should somehow disqualify me from holding the seat. Also, I've always felt that if I did enter politics, it'd be more as a behind-the-scenes person; a policy wonk in an advisory role. But on the flip-side of that same coin, I do love this city to a fault, and posit frequently that despite the negative hype, Binghamton is a great place to live if you just give it a fair chance. If I became this city's mayor, I'm confident the city would be better for it. And there, folks, is my dilemma.
While I haven't decided whether or not I'll run, I've had years to think about what I would do if I were mayor. I never seriously considered running before, but it's hard to be as locked into politics as I've been and not have considered ways to improve the city I call home. So while I'm still up in the air about all of this, I figured I might share some of my ideas regardless. It'd be nice to chat about some of these ideas; if I run, it would help me refine them, and if I don't run, I could always push these on a different candidate. In the very least, it'd be academic. Either way, here's what I'd do if I were mayor.
Jobs. Binghamton has suffered tremendously in the field of jobs in recent years, and none of the current mayoral candidates have yet offered a comprehensive, realistic path toward bringing employment back into the Southern Tier. A decade after IBM shut down in this, the city where the company was born, we've seen very little out of our local politicians to promote job growth. Binghamton's middle class is shrinking, and its poverty is ascending. Let's create new, long-lasting jobs in an innovative way, broadening our middle class by pulling people out of the lower class.
As mayor, I would create incentives for high tech, green, twenty-first century companies to set up shop in Binghamton. We'd create a tiered, progressive property tax subsidy program; the more jobs you bring in, the less your initial property taxes would be, and those taxes would be phased yearly to grow to normal rates over the course of ten years. We'd also launch an industrial and commercial advertising campaign in trade publications, urging business leaders to visit Binghamton and see what our city has to offer their businesses. We'd put a strong emphasis on bringing commercial businesses to downtown Binghamton, with tax incentives and zoning assistance for bringing more white collar jobs into the heart of the city, which in turn would increase downtown foot traffic and bolster local downtown businesses. And we'd develop residential property tax incentives aimed at attracting local college grads to come home after school so they can work those new twenty-first century and commercial jobs we'd create.
Better Police Funding. Binghamton has a great police force, but they aren't adequately equipped for the growing crime rate in our area. Binghamton has a crime index of 5 out of 100. That means we're safer than only 5% of the cities in the United States. As mayor, I would work closely with Binghamton city police, the Sheriff's office, and state police to improve our crime index through better training our officers, focusing on troublesome neighborhoods with expanded patrols, opening new substations when possible/ where applicable, and when this is coupled with our efforts to improve our city's local economy, we'll hopefully be able to lessen the crime rate and make Binghamton a safer city to live in through a combination of all our efforts.
Infrastructure. Say what you will about Mayor Matt Ryan, but he really did care about this city's failing infrastructure. The problem, of course, is that he focused his energy on the wrong projects. This city spent millions making one traffic circle more efficient, while building a useless, wasteful one downtown. My office would instead focus public works efforts on overhauling our infrastructure in a more practical, useful way, paving city streets and reviewing our water, gas, sewage, and telecommunications lines for sensible, cost-effective improvements that are good for the people and good for businesses and economic growth alike.
"Save the Metrocenter!" When was the last time you stepped foot inside the Metrocenter? Yep... that's what I thought. It's great that Binghamton has an urban mall right in downtown Binghamton, but there simply aren't enough stores worth visiting there. I mean no disrespect to the stores currently in the Metrocenter, but the mall's appeal, and public opinions, are horribly low, and that isn't good for anyone. As a part of our efforts to renovate downtown Binghamton and attract jobs, my office would work closely with the Metrocenter to revamp the location, bringing in new retail outlets that a broad range of consumers want to visit. The Metrocenter was developed with the goal of attracting people into the downtown area, so all of these years later, wouldn't it be great to see that dream realized?
Go Green. Not everyone is concerned that climate change is affected by humans, but regardless of where you stand in the debate, one fact cannot be argued: going green saves a fortune. That's why countless major corporations are going green... by investing in green practices and going digital wherever you can, you can save a fortune, and not just in energy costs. As mayor, I would focus as much attention as possible on doing just that, investing in overhauling government buildings and city departments to go green, go digital, and save the city money for many years to come. Residential, commercial, and industrial properties would be offered tax incentives for going green, too!
The Budget. Did you know the City of Binghamton is paying for magazine subscriptions for employees? Sitting down to read the city's budget will leave your mouth gaping. As mayor, I would demand that each department needs to justify their expenses with email reports to my office, line by line, or scrap those expenses. If the city as a whole doesn't benefit from it, the city as a whole won't pay for it. We'd also review previous tax incentive programs. Would it be cheaper to end an ineffective subsidy, or keep letting it milk the city? My office would figure that out, reviewing every such program on the city's books. Binghamton is closing in on $700 million of debt. Let's turn that around by fine-tuning the budget, and that, coupled with promoting economic growth, will solve our city's debt problems over time.
Revitalize the soul of Binghamton. As conditions in Binghamton have worsened in recent years, so too has the morale of her people. Binghamton needs more fun events that encourage a sense of community and local pride, and inspire people to start being positive about our city. Back in March of 2011, I proposed that Binghamton create a new celebration called Rod Serling Day, and as mayor, that would be something I'd work toward establishing. The annual Zombie Walk is a great example of a fun event that Binghamton loves, so why not have more like it? We'd also work with the Binghamton City School District to develop a campaign that encourages our youths to take pride in our community, and learn Binghamton's history. We'd work toward making Binghamton "Hollywood-friendly" so our city is used as a shooting location in movies more frequently. And being that I'm personally a huge soccer fan, I would love to see Binghamton create our own Major League Soccer team, bringing a major sports franchise into our city and all of the pride that comes along with it.
At this point, I've decided that I'm either going to run, or I'm going to find a great candidate and work toward getting that person elected, so either way, hopefully these ideas will become more than ideas down the road. But what do you think? Does this sound like a great roadmap for Binghamton's future? Or do you see reasons why these ideas wouldn't/ couldn't work? Please chime in!