Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, appeared last evening (Oct. 19) at the first Community Foundation Speaker Series at the Stanley Theater. Known for his inspirational speeches and, being one of the most influential politicians in our country, Mayor Booker did not disappoint the nearly capacity first floor audience.
What struck me the most was the fact that, here was one man who managed to change the entire narrative in Newark. Once known as a gritty, crime riddled and seedy city, Newark has just emerged from its first month in over 40 years without a single homicide!
This kind of transformation cannot happen without leadership. As Mayor Booker put it, "Consistent, persistent and determined." The kind of leadership we have not seen in Utica in many, many years.
When Mayor Booker was first elected to the Common Council of Newark, he became frustrated. The status quo was in full flowering and he could not get anything done! The Mayor at the time was less than helpful and his fellow council members would consistently vote against any initiative that he put forth.
Frustrated, he almost quit politics. But, he persevered and with the help of average citizens and with their support, he eventually began to change the mindset of government officials in Newark.
Is that really all that different from Utica? We are basically in the same place Newark was when Cory Booker took the helm and began to run the city. We have had zero leadership from the mayor's office.
Utica has been a rudderless ship without a captain for so many years we would not recognize a true leader if we fell over him.
Spend an hour listening to Cory Booker. There's a leader! I kept thinking, how lucky for Newark. To have such a person, of knowledge, vision and compassion with real leadership ability. What could we do here in Utica if we were fortunate to have such a person as our Mayor?
As I looked around the theater I saw several members of the Common Council, including Jerry Kraus, Jim Zecca and Frank Vescera. Mayoral candidate Rob Palmieri and his wife Sue were also in attendance. As current and potential leaders of our city, I hope they paid close attention to the words of the Mayor.
If they did, the surely heard when he stated that "The arts fuels economic development."In a time when government is ready to slash funding from arts organizations, cultural venues and libraries, is was comforting to hear a political leader defend these programs as being important to the overall development and economy of any community.
I hope they paid attention when he told how Newark gave abandoned and derelict buildings to artists to be transformed into lofts, galleries and studios. Utica is an arts town. We need to embrace the same kind of vision that Newark did to attract and grow our arts community.
Utica has deep, vast and systemic problems. The question is, are these problems insurmountable? As Mayor Booker so eloquently stated, "Do you want to be a thermometer or a thermostat?"We have been a thermometer in Utica for so many years the mercury is about dried up. Its time we stop letting external forces shape the community we are. It's time to take those forces and use them to create the community we want to be.
It's all about attitude and vision. Listening to Cory Booker last evening, I began to realize that we are the only thing holding us back.
Let's change that!