Newcomers challenge Pelham mayor

The Rotary Club of Fonthill held a Pelham mayoral debate Wednesday night. From left are candidate Zachary Junkin, incumbent Dave Augustyn, moderator David Siegel and candidate Mark Bay. (Dan Dakin, Tribune)

The Rotary Club of Fonthill held a Pelham mayoral debate Wednesday night. From left are candidate Zachary Junkin, incumbent Dave Augustyn, moderator David Siegel and candidate Mark Bay. (Dan Dakin, Tribune)

By Dan Dakin, Welland Tribune. Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pelham’s three mayoral candidates clashed ​Wednesday night in a debate before a standing-room-only crowd.

While challengers Mark Bay and Zachary Junkin said the town of 17,000 people needs new leadership, incumbent Dave Augustyn said his record as mayor proves he deserves to get the job again.

“I’ve shown in my eight years of service that together with council, we have improved our community,” Augustyn said during the Rotary Club of Fonthill debate, held at the legion hall on Hwy. 20.

“I don’t have the ability to say I’ve been the mayor for the last eight years, so I can’t use that,” retorted Bay. “But I can tell you, what you see is what you get.”

Bay who owns an electrical contracting business and Junkin, a 29-year-old farmer, put Augustyn on the defensive about issues that included transparency, keeping the Fenwick library open, building a new arena complex and maintaining a small-town feel.

“We need a municipal government that will treat its residents like people, not a revenue source,” Junkin said. “Only then will we have a small-town feel that contributes to a strong and vibrant community.”

All three men agreed Pelham needs a new arena, but after being criticized by his opponents for spending money on studies and architectural costs, Augustyn said it’s impossible to move forward with a plan.

“If we don’t have a design, we can’t go to the government saying we want funding,” Augustyn said.

Answering a question about what qualifies the candidates to be mayor, Junkin said it’s a job anyone should be able to do.

“I think the problem we’re seeing is people want to build up the mayor and council as if these are grand things we couldn’t possibly aspire to,” said Junkin, who served on the mayor’s youth advisory committee in his high school days. “We live in a town of 17,000. If you’re an intelligent human being, you can do this job.”

After the debate, Bay said he would have preferred a more confrontational debate.

“Did we get all the points out I was hoping to? No. I was hoping we would have a little more give and take between the candidates,” he said.

While the legion hall was packed, Bay said he was told some lower-level town employees were told not to show up.

“I have issues with that,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I’m running. There’s too much of a bully mentality.”

Augustyn, however, said it was nothing more than a rumour.

“That is definitively not true,” he said before naming numerous town employees he saw in the crowd.

“The crowd was large. I’m excited to see how interested people are. To me that speaks to people’s desire for change,” Junkin said of the packed house. “If not, it speaks to people’s greater involvement in democracy and that’s a beautiful thing, too.”