Who’s got the coolest small town? Berlin, Md., and Cazenovia mayors make a friendly wager

David J. Valesky

February 20, 2014

By Jason Emerson February 17, 2014 10:34 a.m.

Cazenovia — With barely one week left to go in the Budget Travel “Coolest Small Town in America” contest, the mayors of the top two vote-getting towns — Berlin, Md., and Cazenovia — have made a friendly wager on who will win.

The prize for the victor: craft beer from their hometown brewery.

“They have a local craft brewery there in Berlin that’s very popular, so the winner will receive a growler of beer — for them it’s Burly Oak Brewery, for us it’s Empire Brewing Company,” said Cazenovia Mayor Kurt Wheeler. “We thought this would be simple and inexpensive, but symbolic of both towns’ economies and hospitality industries.”

Wheeler and Berlin Mayor Gee Williams were trading emails last week and finally were able to speak on the telephone on Sunday.

“I think it’s really cool to make the wager. I think we both genuinely wish each town the best,” Williams told the Cazenovia Republican. “I think we each want to win, but this a situation where you can’t lose. It’s already inspired a lot of local pride. This bit of recognition will keep us on course for increased prosperity and quality of life for a good time to come.”

The Budget Travel contest, which has had voting for the winner from the 15 finalist towns ongoing since January, has turned into an exciting and positive experience for both towns, with local residents, politicians and regional tourism officials all getting involved, getting out the word and encouraging everyone to vote once a day for their town.

Cazenovia, which started the finalist voting in fifth place and is now in second place behind Berlin, has received a good amount of regional publicity about the contest, with coverage in both Syracuse- and Utica-area newspapers, television and radio. State Senator David Valesky also supported the contest on his government website and urged people to vote. The editors of budgettravel.com also blogged about Cazenovia’s huge voting turnout and its rise in the contest standings.

Within the past few weeks some local residents have placed signs in their yards and the village board unanimously agreed to allow a sign to be placed on the Lakeland Park fence at the end of Albany Street and waive the usual 10-day time limit. The sign will be up until the contest voting ends Feb. 25.

“We’re still fighting hard and going to give run for their money,” Wheeler said as the contest enters its final week of voting. “It’s a tremendous honor for the community to be so close and in the running to be named the ‘Coolest Small Town in America.’”

Cazenovia has gotten within two percentage points of Berlin’s lead, but, as of press time, Berlin had extended their lead to 4 percentage points.

And just as in Cazenovia, Berlin residents are fired up and working diligently to maintain their voting edge.

“They really, really want to win this thing,” Phil Jacobs, editor of the Bayside Gazette, Berlin’s weekly newspaper, told the Cazenovia Republican. “The town has a little inferiority complex, always in the shadow of Ocean City, and now here we are, we might be voted the ‘coolest small town’ … the mayor can’t get the smile off his face; he thinks it’s so great.”

Jacobs said everyone in and around Berlin has been excited and talking about Budget Travel contest, urging people to vote and putting up signs around the town. “There’s been a ton of participation,” he said.

The Bayside Gazette published an article on Feb. 13 titled, “Berlin going all out to tally votes needed to be the ‘coolest,’” which related how Berlin — and residents of the state, including the governor — are rallying around the town to complete its victory.

Mayor Williams told the Gazette after last week’s town council meeting that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made mention of Berlin’s “cool status” at a recent Maryland Mayors Conference, and all the mayors of other towns in the state congratulated him and said they would all urge their residents to vote for Berlin as well.

Berlin residents are very cognizant of the competition they have in Cazenovia, the Gazette article stated, “But Cazenovia, though with about half as many residents, is a college town located not far from Syracuse. Based on recent numbers, it appears as if the town is going after this with the same commitment shown by Berlin.”

Berlin, which has a population of 4,563 — or nearly double that of Cazenovia — is listed on the Budget Travel website as being close to Maryland’s Ocean City and Assateague Island, as having a downtown area that is a National Register Historic District and was a location for more than one Hollywood feature film.

“Berlin's downtown plays host to fun events all year long, from the regular farmers market to one-of-a-kind bashes like the Berlin Fiddlers Convention, New Year's fireworks, Victorian Christmas (complete with horse-drawn carriages) and, yes, even bathtub races,” according to Budgettravel.com. “The town draws beach lovers, hikers, kayakers and bird watchers-and history aficionados will want to stop by Merry Sherwood Plantation, Taylor House Museum, and the historic downtown.”

One thing both Cazenovia and Berlin mayors agreed on was how similar the two towns appear to be, with small, close-knit populations, proximity to water, and a community flush with history and culture. And both agree that no matter who wins the contest, neither community will lose.

“Berlin looks like a beautiful community; and what a great honor for both of us to be considered for the ‘coolest small town in America.’ We’re honored just to be talked about in these terms, on a national basis,” Wheeler said.

Williams agreed. “We’re honored to be where we are and be in the company of such a great little town like Cazenovia. We look forward to the contest and hopefully to developing a longstanding relationship and friendship with Cazenovia,” he said.

The two mayors have invited each other to visit their respective towns whenever the opportunity arises, Wheeler and Williams said.

Wheeler said he may even “swing through” Berlin on his way down to his Marine Corps reserve training in Quantico, Va., and either hand-deliver or hand-accept the prize for the mayoral wager.

“Win, lose or draw, this has been a positive thing for Caz and it will help to put us on the map and help people not familiar with Cazenovia to realize what a wonderful place it is,” Wheeler said.

Voting for the Coolest Small Town in America contest runs until 12 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25. People may vote once a day every day (monitored per IP address) at Budgettravel.com.