8/16/2012 2:44 PM ET|
Obama vs. Romney: 'All rhetoric'
A village mayor bursting with plans for her community is listening for candidates' strategies for fixing the US economy.
Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant
Writing in the local media last year, Margot Garant, the mayor of Port Jefferson Village, N.Y., population 7,700, began: "Our community is currently in the midst of a fight to maintain our quality of life."
To meet Garant, 48, is to quickly realize the line is more lifestyle mantra than political buzz.
A lawyer who dedicates as many hours, if not more, to her "part-time" mayoral duties as she does to her real-estate law practice, Garant has spent the better part of the past four years trying to revitalize business and preserve the tax base in this Long Island Sound community. ("She doesn't even have to run for re-election," one resident said. "Everybody loves her.")
With the assistance of about 140 volunteers sitting on numerous boards, she has made notable headway. Store vacancies have dropped from 60% to 10%. A new master growth plan is in the works. A farmers market and other activities are drawing people downtown. Lawyers are fighting to prevent the village's largest tax contributor, power company National Grid, from moving its operations to new facilities in another town.
But a local economy is never immune from the oscillations of the broader market, even in an affluent bubble like Port Jefferson Village, where the median household income of $98,355 is well above that of New York state ($55,603) and the United States overall ($51,914), and where nearby hospitals and research centers provide secure professional jobs.
Garant has had to cut city positions, streamline departments and raise money, sometimes 50 cents at a time, via parking meters.
"This is how far we have to drill down to find revenue," she said. "I've done basically everything I can not to raise taxes."
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A drop in home sales, alone, led to a hefty reduction in the portion of the New York mortgage tax that goes to the village.
"Our village revenue is $8.3 million. In years past, they used to get a million dollars just from the mortgage tax. This year, it's like $160,000," Garant said. "That's a significant difference. I don't think people really understand the trickle-down effect that has."
Meanwhile, Garant passed along a $30,000 grant to the Welcome Inn, which makes meals for those in need.
The program manager had said "she's feeding 120 people a night now, and it used to be 30 or 40," Garant recalled. "And some of these people are your neighbors, and they don't want to disclose who they are."
All of which is why Garant has been eagerly watching the presidential race, hoping that someone will offer ideas for relief. But for a woman bursting with plans, she can't seem to find a single one coming from the candidates.
"It's all rhetoric," she said, vague talk about global trading, saving jobs and increasing manufacturing.
"OK, great. Now show me a plan that's actually going to do it," Garant said. "And create an incentive so it can happen in my backyard, too."
In June, frustrated, she called herself "a very confused Republican."
"We just want people who can stop arguing and understand us," she said.
She voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 but earlier this year was strongly favoring Mitt Romney, attracted to his "business acumen." Garant's own education background is in finance, too. Perhaps he could understand the nitty-gritty of economic development, she reasoned.
But by August, she said, she had yet to hear details from Romney. In addition, she said, "He's coming across as a bit too elitist for me. When you're in the trenches every day, it takes everybody participating. There is no magic bullet."
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, released a television advertisement that Garant said moved her, in which Obama said the election is not a choice between two individuals but a choice about whether or not to move forward, beyond the failed policies of the past.
"I'm sticking with Obama," Garant said. Then, she joked, "Call me in a month."
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