Lynne Dixon attacked Mark Poloncarz’s leadership in a televised debate Thursday night, even calling the Erie County Executive a “bully,” while Poloncarz defended his record and promised to continue the area’s economic growth if re-elected.
“You are a bully,” Dixon told Poloncarz, “and I don’t know if it’s because I’m a strong woman or because you have a problem with people that challenge you, but you need to be challenged.”
Poloncarz countered he’s not bullying Dixon and even likes her personally.
“But I do disagree on policy. I support strong, Democratic values,” he said.
The at-times tense Erie County executive debate at the WNED|WBFO studios was just the latest between Poloncarz, a Democrat, and Dixon, an Independence Party member endorsed by Republicans, ahead of the Nov. 5 election.
The candidates discussed a wide range of issues, like whether property taxes are increasing or decreasing, President Trump’s impeachment inquiry, and who deserves credit for keeping the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo.
Dixon, a county legislator for Hamburg, Lackawanna and parts of South Buffalo, was mostly on the offensive. She painted Poloncarz as an ineffective county executive who doesn’t accept input from county employees, business leaders and residents.
“This is not the world according to Mark Poloncarz. It’s the world according to Erie County residents who right now do not have a seat at the table,” she said. “My pledge to you is you will have a seat at the table and your voices will be heard again.”
Poloncarz, a former county comptroller seeking his third term as county executive, focused mostly on his own accomplishments, which he said includes pulling the county out of its red and green budget crisis and spurring economic development.
“A lot of elected officials when they run for office want to hide from their record,” he said. “We’ve worked hard on your behalf, and if you like what you’ve seen in the past, that’s more of what you’ll see in another Poloncarz administration.”
The candidates continued their argument over whether taxes are increasing or decreasing. Dixon, a proponent of tax cuts, criticized Poloncarz for raising the county’s property tax levy—the total amount of taxes collected—by more than $50 million, or about 24%, since he took office in 2012.
“Your taxes have gone up,” Dixon said. “If the budget that (Poloncarz) has now proposed is approved as is, your taxes will have gone up almost 29% since Mark Poloncarz took office.”
However, Poloncarz noted the county’s tax rate has actually decreased—from $5.03 per $10,000 of assessed value to $4.72—since he took office.
So why has the tax levy has increased? Property values have increased, Poloncarz said.
“I’m not ashamed to say we’re growing our economy,” he said.
He added Dixon herself has gloated about tax cuts. During the debate, his campaign posted on Twitter a Dixon letter from 2017 that states Dixon has “delivered three consecutive tax cuts.”
“Now she’s running for county executive and all the sudden the taxes have raised?” Poloncarz said.
Asked why she has voted for Poloncarz budgets that called for an increased tax levy, Dixon replied, “I voted in favor, but only after I tried to propose my own cuts.”
The state of the counties’ roads were once again a hot-button issue.
Dixon accused Poloncarz of withholding funding for road repairs, saying the county has borrowed $92 million from the state since he took office but has still not spent $26 million of it.
“There is money left on the table every single year,” she said.
Noting some road improvements made this year, Dixon said, “When it comes to road work, you should wish for an election every year, folks, because then your roads would get done.”
Poloncarz argued his administration has invested $58.4 million a year on roads, more than his predecessors Chris Collins and Joel Giambra. He said any delays in road repair are due to the harsh Western New York weather.
“There’s always going to be work that needs to be done when we live in a climate like this,” he said.
Poloncarz called helping keep the Bills in Buffalo one of his “proudest moments,” saying the $400 million relocation penalty he negotiated into the team’s lease dissuaded out-of-town suitors from even bidding on the team.
“And why does that matter? Because the San Diego Chargers are now the Los Angeles Charges, the St. Louis Rams are now the Los Angeles Rams, and the Oakland Raiders are about to become the Las Vegas Raiders,” Poloncarz said.
Dixon countered with “thank goodness for the Pegulas,” saying she gives Terry and Kim Pegula, who bought the team for $1.4 billion in 2014, more credit for keeping the team in Buffalo than Poloncarz.
She added that Poloncarz breached the Pegulas’ trust by publishing his “tell-all book,” “Beyond the X’s and O’s: Keeping the Bills in Buffalo.”
Both candidates agreed the Bills’ long-term future is secure in Western New York, but are unsure whether it will be with a new downtown stadium or not.
“The assumption there’s going to be a brand-new stadium built is not a valid assumption. it’s just one possibility,” Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz touted his economic development record throughout the debate, including redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel property. The county recently sold a 28-acre portion of the land to cleaning products manufacturer TMP Technologies for $1.1 million.
“People said it could never get done to turn the Bethlehem Steel site into productive use,” Poloncarz said.
However, Dixon criticized Poloncarz’ economic development policies. She said the Erie County Industrial Development Agency is too quick to take back tax breaks from local businesses that don’t meet job creation quotas.
“You want to publicly call them out and shame them. Yet Elon Musk, who has not performed yet with his promises in the Buffalo Billion, you don’t call them out,” said Dixon, referencing Musk’s Tesla plant that received $750 million in state funding for promising to create 5,000 jobs.
Poloncarz defended the policy of eliminating tax breaks when job creation quotas aren’t met.
“If the jobs aren’t created, we should get our money back,” he said.
President Donald Trump was also a topic. When asked if she supports the president, Dixon said she voted for Trump in 2016, but that “2020 is a long way off.” As for the ongoing impeachment inquiry against Trump, Dixon said she hopes it does not prevent Congress from getting work done.
Poloncarz, meanwhile, said he supports the impeachment inquiry, calling Trump’s alleged withholding of aid to Ukraine for information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “shameful.”
Dixon argued a county executive's focus should be on their community, seemingly criticizing Poloncarz’s tweets about Trump by adding, “I’ve never gone on social media…writing about national and international issues.”
Poloncarz countered that “there’s nothing wrong with focusing on big issues.”
“And right now when it comes to our country, I don’t think there’s any more important issue than the Trump administration asking Ukraine to help them get dirt on another presidential candidate,” he said.
The debate was presented by WNED|WBFO, The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV.