2 seek Bellevue Dem mayoral nomination

Primary 2013

Two Bellevue government veterans will face off in the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May 21 primary.

Under Bellevue's home rule charter, the mayor's primary duties are to present a budget to council, and to oversee the police department.

Democrats will choose between current council member Jane Braunlich, and former mayor and current borough treasurer Paul Cusick. Braunlich now holds one of the first ward council seats formerly held by Cusick for two terms, before he was elected mayor for two terms. Braunlich has been a member of Bellevue Council for the past six years.

Braunlich currently serves as chair of council's public safety committee, and has been the public works committee chair and council's representative on a number of cooperative efforts such as CONNECT, the Tri-Boros joint planning committee that developed the new zoning code with Avalon and Bellevue, the Quaker Valley Council of Governments and the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce.

Cusick, a retired cable engineer, is the executive director/treasurer of the John A. Hermann Memorial Art Museum in Bellevue. He is retired as a cable engineer with Verizon, but his current community involvement includes serving as treasurer of the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce and of Bellevue U.P. Church since 1980. He also is president of Metowers, Inc., has served as commandant of the Marine Corps League, Three Rivers Leatherneck Detachment for four terms, is CCDB (Quartermaster) of the Military Order of the Cooties and has volunteered at the Pleasant Valley Shelter for Men for the past 27 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Robert Morris University.

Braunlich's community involvement has ranged from preparing meals for senior citizens to Northgate school activities and organizations when her four children were students. She has been active with the Friends of Bayne Library, and volunteered with community events including Bellevue's July 4th celebration and the North Boroughs Independence Day celebration. For the past several years she has served as the vice president of the Bellevue Dog Woods Association, actively involved in raising funds and constructing the new off-leash dog park that opened this year in Memorial Park. She is a longtime Democratic Committee member who has volunteered for numerous party candidates, and currently serves as vice chair of the Bellevue Democratic Committee, which endorses her candidacy for mayor.

While Cusick held office in the past as a Democrat, he switched his voter registration to Republican several years ago and has actively campaigned for GOP candidates. Cusick said that he did this because there were Republican candidates he wanted to support in primary elections, and switching his registration was the only way he could vote for them. When he decided to run for mayor, however, he switched back to being a Democrat "because that's where my support was." He said that voters should support the right person for office, not a particular political party.

"With my education and experience that I have gained from my work on council, as mayor and treasurer, and my involvement in the community, I can work with council to make Bellevue a better place to live. I have been trusted to handle millions of dollars in oversight, investment and construction with various organizations. My leadership has been validated by my re-election to executive positions over and over again. I want to work with council, employees, business leaders and Bellevue residents to improve our community."
If elected mayor, would Cusick do anything differently than he did in his first terms?" "No, but I'd probably do it better because of my experience," he says.
Braunlich says that she has been one of only a handful of Bellevue Council members who has taken the time each year to study and revise the borough's budgets as presented by the mayor. Those budgets have included an error of $1.7 million one year, she says, and a year in which no one took into account the fact that the borough never made a quarter-million dollar payment for garbage collection services.

Thanks to attention to budget details and cost savings measures, Braunlich says, she and the current council have saved the borough some $171,000 in the past year, while funding the borough's first street paving program in years.

Cusick said that, as mayor, he will use his education and experience to work with council to make sure that only "essential expenditures are disbursed." "Together we will explore new ways of shared services and cost-cutting measures," he says.

Both candidates expressed concern about blight and code enforcement issues.

Cusick says, "In order to maintain and improve property values, enforcement of building maintenance codes is essential. A strong residential neighborhood will strengthen our business district. He says that he proposes having two full-time code enforcement officers as Bellevue once did (the borough currently has one), and said that tax abatements to fix up properties in both the residential and business areas should be enacted.

Braunlich notes that the current council enacted tax abatement programs for both residential and commercial properties just last year, but rather than hiring more employees, she says that it's time for a new approach to problem properties.

"My first order of business will be to create an ad hoc committee that will focus directly on blighted property," she says. That committee, she says, will include representatives of the police, fire, code enforcement and public works departments to develop a "multi-jurisdictional" approach to blighted properties that is being used successfully in towns around the country.

Bellevue's police department is a key element in the approach, she says, because many blighted and problem properties are the scene of criminal activities and are visited frequently by police. She says that she also wants Bellevue's police officers to develop relationships with the law-abiding residents and business people who can help identify problem areas. To that end, she said, she will have officers on beat patrols in both the business and residential neighborhoods.

Cusick says that it is important for business people and their customers to see a police presence along Lincoln Avenue, but he notes that 93 percent of the crime in Bellevue occurs in the residential neighborhoods, so the disbursement of police officers has to be balanced to acknowledge that fact.

With regard to the police department, Cusick says that it is crucial that officer training, equipment and vehicles be kept up to date, and cooperation with surrounding communities through shared services and technology must increase. He says he wants to see more Bellevue police officers receive specialized training in crime-solving, traffic control and crime prevention.

"I will make it my priority to make our neighborhoods and schools safe for all and develop programs to that end," he says.

Braunlich points to her recent accomplishments as a member of council, which, she says, have included obtaining a no-cost intern for the police department, introduction of a police-recommended ordinance to recover stolen property and catch burglars, and bringing free night and weekend parking to the business district.

"I want to be a mayor who has all the people's best interests in mind," she says.


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