Binghamton Mayor Rich David, the Republican incumbent, and Tarik Abdelazim, his Democratic challenger, faced off in their first debate Tuesday night, sparring on topics including infrastructure, crime, tax rates and affordable housing.
The event, hosted by the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, had a stated focus of business and economic development, but covered a range of issues affecting the Binghamton area.
Near the start of the debate, David, who was first elected in 2013, and Abdelazim, disagreed on the most pressing issues facing the city of Binghamton. Abdelazim, who served as director of planning, housing and community development under former Mayor Matthew Ryan, said jobs are lacking in the city, while David pointed to infrastructure improvements he said are vital.
“The lack of jobs and crippling levels of poverty,” Abdelazim said.
When the topic of job creation was brought up, David said his administration had taken numerous steps to spur local economic development.
“You don’t create jobs, you create an environment that is attractive for business owners, investors, developers and residents,” David said.
More than 100 community members, but few students, attended the debate on the 18th floor of the New York State Office Building in Downtown Binghamton. Supporters of both candidates listened intently, occasionally breaking debate rules by breaking into applause.
Affordable housing was an issue of contention, with Abdelazim saying that the city’s housing stock is on the decline and projects that prioritize diverse housing must be supported. David said the administration prior to his focused solely on student housing and is responsible for the lack of affordable housing in the city of Binghamton.
The candidates also traded barbs on the issue of public safety and crime, as state records show 2016 was the most violent year since the late 1990s.
David criticized Abdelazim’s action under the former mayor, including cutting 20 officers from the Binghamton Police Department, but Abdelazim said the department’s high turnover rate proves that increased policing is not the answer.
While the candidates were instructed to keep their discourse civil, both called each others’ statements false and launched character attacks.
David accused Abdelazim of selectively using facts to further his campaign.
“You can manipulate my record all you want, but you can’t run away from your lack of accomplishment,” David said.
In his closing remarks, Abdelazim said David’s administration is not prepared to move the city of Binghamton forward.
“Rich is a perfect candidate for the politics of today,” Abdelazim said. “But I’m running today to bring Binghamton into the politics of tomorrow.”
Bobby Black, a 24-year-old Binghamton area resident, said he expected the debated to become heated.
“They’re such different people, so it wasn’t hard to guess,” Black said. “Tarik did a phenomenal job because he actually provided solutions.”
Nick Libous, 36, who owns a business in the Binghamton area said he is concerned about the state of the city if David isn’t re-elected.
“Mayor David has great ideas for businesses and since becoming mayor, he’s lowered taxes and gotten rid of blighted properties,” Libous said.
The candidates will meet again at the University Downtown Center on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. for “An Evening with the Binghamton Mayoral Candidates,” hosted by the Center for Civic Engagement.