Friday, September 7, 2012

Vescera, The Common Council, and Freedom in City Hall

Councilman Frank Vescera was censured by his colleagues on the Utica Common Council. He was also removed from all his committee positions. This, in response to his refusal to remove a small video camera from the table in pre- council meeting caucus.

Wait a minute! Are you kidding? In this era of You-Tube everything, direct from life to the internet recording, the Common Council has a problem with being taped? At an open, public meeting?

Just when you thought you heard it all in the Banana Republic that has become Utica, now even more freedom is being squashed in the Gulag that has become Palmieri's City Hall.

Just exactly what are the members of the Common Council afraid of? Why should they care that a man who tape records EVERYTHING should want to include the mundane roll call of legislation and mindless bickering that has become the hallmark of Utica government. I think I know the answer. Having sat in that room for six years as a common council representative, I have witnessed firsthand the way personal freedom of expression and beliefs are routinely squashed by the dictator-like mindset Utica officials.

You see, the people who sit in that chamber all have one thought burning at the base of their brain-that someday, they too can become mayor. That, when the citizens of the city discover the legislative brilliance that they bring to the floor, when their constituents realize that they have all the answers, they will be crowned king (or queen) of this dying city. No one wants to lets a pesky, intrusive thing like a camera record the truth- that not much brilliance occurs in city hall, that no one ever has the answer.

And then there is Frank. Angry, confrontational, and at times so off base as to have you wonder-is this guy living in the same place we are? Vescera has not always been an easy man to serve with. He does, however, have the distinction of being the singular person who is so polarizing, having such a take-no-hostages approach of doing business, that he ends up being the guy that most appeals to the frustrated, angry citizens of Utica.

At the heart of Vescera is a man who truly wants to accomplish things. The motivation behind his actions are sometimes blurry, but he shows no fear. What he believes, he is willing to fight for. That strikes fear into the hearts of his colleagues on the council. He is not a "team player." He stands on his own. That can be a good thing and at times it can be detrimental to his cause. It is always a quality unappreciated by elected officials with one eye constantly fixed on higher office.

So now, because he would not tow the line, he has been stripped, censured, discredited and neutralized by his co-members on the council. Or so they think. Because a guy like Frank never tows the line. He never makes a deal. He fights for what he believes in whether we agree with his cause or not. And I expect that he will dig his heels in even further to show Utica that he cannot be told what to do.

As a property owner in the district that he represents, I appreciate that demeanor. I want a guy to fight for me and my concerns without worrying if he is offending city hall. Unfortunately, he is alone in his quest. With the exception of Dave Testa and Jim Zecca, all the other members (Jerome Mckinsey was absent) voted to shut Frank down.

That's sad. City Hall has shut down all outside communication under the iron-fisted rule of Palmieri. His minions on the council must be doing his bidding in an attempt to rid him of his number one nemesis-Vescera. But, like all misguided attempts to squash open government through intimidation and brute force, it will not succeed. This administration will fail. The common council will spend it's time arguing about non-issues like recording meetings, and the city will suffer. Again.

I have not agreed with Frank Vescera on many, many issues. At times, I was not sure if he even belonged on the Utica Common Council.

Today, I have my answer. Keep on fighting Frank! The people of Utica will thank you and your two supporters on the council for keeping the light shining on the murky mess that has become the city of Utica!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Palmieri Administration-Asleep at the Wheel

Mayor Rob Palmieri has been in office 8 months. In that time, we have been patiently waiting for the vision of the man at the top to be articulated to the populace. What economic development initiatives are in the works? What neighborhood development plans are being discussed? How will the budget deficit be addressed? What does our future hold?

Who's to know? There are no press releases. No media briefings. Communication out of city hall has ceased.

But, we have sweeps! Yes folks, the weekly ritual of taking City Hall "on the road."The trouble is, it's window dressing, lipstick on a pig. The weekly photo-ops have now begun to include higher ranking officials. It seems that everyone wants to get in on it!

But the question continues to be: get in on what? What is actually being accomplished? None of the afore mentioned questions have been answered. It makes one wonder if anything will actually happen.

Syracuse vs. Utica

I am fortunate to have found a job in Syracuse. Going to work everyday, I get to experience the day to day excitement of the initiatives that abound in downtown Syracuse. Mayor Stephanie Miner is a smart, articulate and deeply involved leader in a city that desperately needed one when she took office. The relationship that she immediately forged with SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has resulted in an exciting and game changing project-The Connective Corridor.

With funding from Senator Chuck Schumer, Empire State Development Corporation and The NYS Dormitory Authority, the connection between University Hill and downtown Syracuse is a signature strip of cutting edge, cultural development. It will encompass the University community, city museums, theaters and galleries and shopping destinations such as Armory Square.

Lighted pedestrian pathways, outdoor seating, signage and landscaping will soon be complete and provide the Corridor with a distinct look. Bicyclists will soon find designated bike lanes in a bright kelly green along some parts of the corridor.

How did Syracuse become fortunate enough to obtain the funding for this project? The answer is simple-they asked for it. It was as easy as that. In response to their request, they received 10 million dollars from the federal TIGER discretionary grant.

What did Utica receive? Nothing. Not a dime. And, if you are wondering why, the answer is simple-we didn't ask for any.

The Palmieri administration let millions of dollars slip through their fingers. And, apparently there are no plans to request any money any time soon, despite the fact that Utica has one of it's own, Angelo Roefaro, in a top position in Senator Schumer's Syracuse office.

Palmieri has said that, "We've done everything in our power to put the brakes on spending. I can't stop a train that's been on the tracks over the last six or seven years." Unfortunately, that must also mean that we are also not able to ask for money in order to stop the bleeding. Former Mayor Roefaro said he would have pursued the TIGER funding if he was still in office. That could have been applied to the yearly 2 million dollar street paving mandate that Utica must adhere to. And, I believe if he was, we would have gotten that grant.

But the Palmieri team keeps going on sweeps. Municipalities across the state are tapping into sources of funding to help turn their communities around while our leaders pick up gum wrappers and cigarette butts.

Way to go Mayor!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Propaganda-Palmieri Style

Propaganda- "A form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position."

That's the Wikepedia definition of the term that has been used for years to describe certain political activity, where the desired result is to convince the populace that a particular initiative is having a desired effect.

"Quality of Life Sweeps." That's the name of the current propaganda program that Mayor Palmieri and his followers are using to convince the citizens of Utica that all is under control, that this new administration at city hall has all the answers.

Unfortunately, the citizens who inhabit the troubled neighborhoods used as the stage to present these sweeps are beginning to question the effectiveness of the operation. When will things begin to get better, they wonder? And, the uncomfortable feeling that they are being exploited has begun to creep into their thoughts.

When Palmieri and his entourage fan out across the particular area chosen for the weekly press event, plenty of cameras are present and taking hundreds of pictures for local news outlets and Facebook. Department heads, police and fire officials, codes inspectors, administration loyalists, all assemble for a good, old fashioned, feet - on - the - street mixer.. Children on their bikes circle the mass of important  looking people that will, for a few moments, turn their neighborhood into the center of the universe. For them, it's a chance to glimpse themselves later on the local news. Sometimes, for maximum political impact, a child is interviewed for the camera. They are always prepped to say how happy they are that the mayor and his team really, really care about them!

The adults of the neighborhoods don't always look so happy. Residents on parole or probation nervously eye the proliferation of badges gleaming in the hot afternoon sun. Timid faces peer out from behind faded curtains and tattered blinds, wondering what will happen next. Suddenly, a bullhorn appears! The Mayor is in full control now, barking orders to the sweating, casually dressed department heads, codes inspectors and DPW workers milling about.

Paint brushes appear, and the Director of Planning paints a fire hydrant! The Fire Chief rolls in in his magnificently appointed SUV, directing the parade of fire trucks. Police car sirens flash, streets get swept, doubtful residents are assured that this is "only the beginning." Palmieri, sensing that the excitement of the event is about to peak, seizes the opportunity to reaffirm his constituents that these sweeps will continue to unfold, week after week, until the city has been restored to it's former glory.

Then, as fast as they appeared, they are gone. The codes violations are written, the debris has been swept away, the residents have been warned to "stay positive and keep your neighborhood clean!" Everyone is confident that they have given the people what they want - responsive, pro-active government. Back to the air-conditioned comfort of city hall, they quickly resume playing solataire on their desktops, checking to see if the pictures that were just snapped are posted to Facebook yet.

According to the Wikipedia definition, "Propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience." The sweeps are purely propaganda in its most basic form. The administration, bereft of ideas on how to change the direction of a city in crises, has instead chosen to pursue a weekly event designed to give the populace the sense that all is under control, the problems are being addressed and will be solved.

"Propoganda often presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented." If the TV stations show it on the news, if the local papers print it, it's got to be working! That's the sentiment behind the sweeps. Roll out a weekly press event, keep the cameras going, show that things are happening. The people will believe anything!

That's how successful propaganda works. And, Palmieri has become a master at it. You have to give the guy credit. He knows how to work the media. He gets his people on the street, and he works them into a frenzy. Desperate to keep their jobs, Masters Degree holding individuals paint hydrants, office workers pick up trash.

One thing seems to be missing-results. What are the outcomes? How does a neighborhood change after one sweep? How much does it cost to deploy the legion of officials every week to be used as extras in what has basically become a constantly running re-election event for a mayor desperately looking for positive press?

When asked, the administration is mum. The shroud of silence has descended over city hall. We won't know what the results are-at least not until re-election.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Utica-The Right Direction

What direction should Utica be headed in? The answer depends on who you are and how the current conditions that exist affect your daily life. Direction is subjective-we need to all agree on where to steer ourselves before we can arrive at where we want to be!

In a recent magazine article, San Francisco based designer Ken Faulk talked about his home in that magnificent west coast city and compared it to his second home in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. "I don't know that I can define it exactly," he began, referring to P-Town. " I love it's history and it's rich heritage as one of America's oldest arts colonies."

He went on. "in a weird way, it's like San Francisco. Both are slightly ramshackle places surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Both are rogue-like places where an odd assortment of people manage to live together harmoniously. It could all go terribly wrong, but it doesn't."

Wow. Could that description not apply to Utica?  For years, I have marveled at  the breathtaking scenery of the Mohawk Valley that envelops Utica in a lush tapestry of green. The rolling hills, meandering Mohawk River, the historic Erie Canal, all contribute to the natural beauty that we sometimes don't take the time to notice and appreciate.

And, who can deny the ramshackle quality of Utica? In a way, it's what gives us the charm and uniqueness that communities like San Fran and P-town celebrate and use to their advantage. Nobody remembers Stuccoed strip malls and one Applebee's from another. Everyone remembers what we have-charming, slightly run down but none the less wonderful architecture and places in Utica.

And, dare I say, a place that celebrates and bestows celebrity status on "Rainbow," the corner guitar playing street performer, is a place that can boast an odd assortment of people! In a way, it's our best quality. It's what enables us to accept different people, cultures and lifestyles, and not only embrace them, but make them feel at home. Everyone who comes here almost immediately feels invested in the place. It quickly becomes their home, too.

As Mr. Faulk so eloquently stated, it could all go terribly wrong here in Utica, too. But, for some reason, it doesn't.

So, how does a city like Utica use it's strengths to turn itself around? Building on it's history, heritage, natural resources and great citizenry is a start. I will examine in future articles my vision for what Utica needs to do to become successful. Using the example of communities that get it, I will be able to eventually arrive at a plan of how to jumpstart future success.

It won't be easy. Nothing worth fighting for ever is. And, it won't come politically. It has to be grass roots. Elected officials have proven time and time again in our town that they just don't get it.

Well, there a lot of folks who do get it. Hopefully, some of them will make suggestions that can be included in my examination of the journey that we need to take-together-to save our hometown.

At the Tram, the wonderful coffee house on Lincoln Ave, owners Robin and Garret have an old book on the shelf. It's called, "What Utica Needs." Written in the 1960's, it examines the city in the context of what the conditions were then and what needed to be done to correct the mistakes that had been made.

It's a great read. Unfortunately, very few, if any, of the authors suggestions were listened to or acted on. The "power elite" at the time were as disconnected from reality as today's crop of politicos are.

It's time to turn it around. And, unlike the '60's, we have the power of the internet and social media to get our message out! What Utica needs is......a new direction!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Utica-Are We Headed In The Right Direction?

There has been talk for years about where Utica is headed, what it wants to be. Are we any closer to achieving that vision today?

Rob Palmieri has been Mayor of Utica for six months. In that time, the city has been waiting for something to happen. Waiting for a direction, a message, an initiative. Something. Anything.

When the Roefaro administration imploded in 2011, it unwittingly laid the foundation for the eventual election of Palmieri. For some mysterious reason, Roefaro fired Palmieri and then dropped out of the race. Palmieri took advantage of this opportunity, ran for the seat, and was actually elected to replace the man who fired him!

The question is this: was Palmieri ready to become mayor? Did he have the chops necessary to take control of a city with the depth and complexity of issues that confront Utica?

After six months in office, I think we have our answer.

Economic Development

Utica has been in crisis since the downtown retail and business exodus that began in the 1950's. The cheap and abundant suburban land that developers took advantage of signaled the death knell of Utica's reign as the retail hub. First, came the New Hartford Shopping Center, then Riverside Mall. Finally, the Seneca wetlands were drained for Sangertown Square. Throughout those critical years, none of the Mayors of Utica or the people who worked for them were able to articulate a plan to counteract this disinvestment with a vision for downtown. So, we demolished buildings in the hope that developers would see that we too had land to develop.

It didn't work.

We were left with a battle scared landscape that made the city seem even more abandoned, even more hopeless. Architectural treasures that gave us our distinctive identity were destroyed in the hopes that someone would come in, develop the empty land and restore prosperty. Developers did not want anything to do with Utica. Oneida County Planning gave its stamp of approval to any and all sprawl development in the former farmlands and orchards that surround Utica, so there was no reason to look at the city anymore as a place to invest.

Is it all that different today? City Hall is silent about the future of downtown. The Masterplan sits on a shelf gathering dust, the street lights throughout downtown are in various states of disrepair, the vacancy rate of storefronts is silent testimony to a city that no one is willing to invest in. If there is a plan to help stimulate downtown and promote growth, no one knows what it is. Even the 5.2 million dollar parking garage money is shrouded in secrecy. How will it be spent? And where? More importantly, who will benefit? Secrecy. Lack of transparency. That seems to be the hallmark of Palmieri's city hall.

Public Safety

Rob Palmieri is dedicated to public safety. And why not? Throughout the years, Utica has built a police and fire department second to none in the state. Mayors of the city can assure its citizens that, no matter what, they will be safe. That translates well during an election campaign.  Palmieri knows this. And, his experience throughout the years working with public safety has, he claims, given him the experience necessary to handle these departments.

Has it? Utica spends almost all of it's resources on public safety. The problem is, we cannot afford it. We have not been able to for many years. Does Palmieri really know what to do to stop the hemorrhaging and streamline public safety into a manageable entity that the city can afford?

If the first six months of this administration is any example of what we can expect for the next three years, it appears that we will be paying for the same level of staffing that we have today. Maybe more.


The Palmieri administration love it's sweeps, a weekly feel good photo-op that shows the citizens that city hall is connected, that it cares. Week after week, we are treated to sweaty department heads trudging through the mean streets of our most marginal neighborhoods, picking up gum wrappers and squinting their most concerned looks for the cameras that follow their every move. Facebook posts hundreds of these photos for all the "Friends" of the administration to follow. The only problem seems to be this: what are the outcomes? Where are the stats that justify this weekly parade of public servants cataloguing the problems that confront our city? Does anything actually get better or is this just an exercise in marketing an administration that is long on talk and short on solutions?


A city like Utica needs to be lead by someone with bold vision. Ed Hanna had vision. Unfortunately, his investments in our city were not sustainable. Tim Julian started out with vision, but lost it after his second term. Dave Roefaro had vision, but unfortunately it was not his, so he could not maintain it.

That leaves Rob Palmieri. What is his vision? Where does he see our city headed? The biggest problem with our current mayor is, no one knows. He does not share. He won't tip his hand. His vision, if he has one, is that it's good and we are gonna like it. No need to share it. We might ask questions. We may not like everything he wants to do.

We may even have our own ideas for the direction our city is headed!

Utica, our poor little beat-up hometown, has been ruled like a banana republic for years. The natives have sat back and let city hall dictate for so long, we don't remember what is was like to have a voice.
The city slides further into decline, and  we wait for salvation. Our tax dollars are spent faster than the comptroller's office can collect them,  and we hope for a solution. The city gets a little more out of control and we say, maybe this time they will fix it.

It does not appear that the current crop of "Leaders" will be doing any fixing any time soon!

Utica-Condition still critical!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Historic Old St. John's Honors Utica Monday Nite Founder Lynn Mishalanie

Even though the much loved "Utica Monday Nite" series came to a close this year, the Sacred Music Concert Series, long a Monday Nite favorite, was ressurescted by The Historic Old St. John's Choir on Monday, June 11, 2012.  Rev. John Buehler, Pastor of the downtown landmark, planned the concert as a way to pay tribute to UMN founder Lynn Mishalanie.

 The stunningly restored interior of St. John's was cooled by it's new central air conditioning unit, to the delight of the near capacity crowd seeking relief from the late spring heat that unexpectedly took hold in the city. Many familiar faces, some stalwart UMN volunteers, others dedicated attendees, filled the church in anticipation of the musical selections to be presented by the Choir of St. Johns. Lead by longtime music director and organist Angela Nassar, the concert was opened with "Joyful, Joyful ,We Adore You (Hymn of Joy)" by Ludwig Van Beethoven. One selection, "The Prayer," by Carol Bayer Sager and David Foster, was powerfully presented by soloists Jill Bush and Patrick Marthage. The appreciative audience rose to it's feet for a standing ovation at the conclusion of the song, and would not sit down before the two dynamic soloists took a bow. The Battle Hymn of The Republic concluded the concert, but not before Rev. Buehler rose to present Lynn with a huge bouquet of white roses edged with red. According to Father, Historic old St. John's had been a part of the UMN Sacred Music Series since it's inception. The choir felt that there was no better way to show their appreciation to Lynn for all that she has done to promote the arts than to use their gifts and talents to honor her.The concert was their way of saying "thank you" for all that she has done to promote arts in the Utica area and for giving sacred music a venue to be heard by all.

 Lynn graciously accepted the bouquet and, not used to or being comfortable with such a show of love and appreciation from the community, thanked everyone for the honor that they had bestowed upon her by being present for not only that night's concert, but for the entire fifteen years of UMN.

 And then it was over. As the crowd filtered out of the church, I could not help but feel the huge loss that our city has experienced with the end of UMN. Yes, the program's mission was to promote the arts and celebrate the tradition of Monday night downtown shopping that existed for decades in Utica. But, it was so much more! Utica Monday Night was an economic development tool. By putting Downtown Utica on a stage every Monday, we were able to show that the city was clean, safe, friendly, and open for business! No other local marketing program did as much to promote the city as did Lynn and UMN. Over 40,000,00 calendars were printed and distributed throughout the region every year to promote Utica and UMN. The "Cultural Corridor, " a term crafted by Lynn to give our region an identity, exposed the amazing talent and diversity of the arts in our community.

 Initially, local government "got it" and supported the program. As the years progressed, the angry, suspicious and mean spirited tenor of our politicians began to peck away at the funding. Local corporate support began to diminish as well. By 2011, Lynn, with UMN deeply in debt and the economic downturn being used as an excuse by elected officials to pull all funding, decided to close the curtain on the 2012 season.

 The enormity of the loss of UMN is not even yet known by those who benefitted from it. The city has lost it's only true marketing and promotional vehicle. The citizens have lost a reason to explore the city every Monday night. The elected officials congratulate themselves and wax on about how they are "cutting costs and keeping us safe." But, at what price?

 During WW2, with bombs dropping over London, and with the treasury nearly empty, advisors to Winston Churchill suggested cutting all funding to the arts. Close the museums, shutter the theaters, end all the concerts. Save the money for what was "truly important."

 Mr. Churchill refused. His reasoning was clear and simple. "If we do that," he stated, "then what are we fighting for?"

 Where is our Winston Churchill?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Saturday Demolition Strikes Again In Downtown Utica

The Bleecker Street block that was the subject of controversy due to the sketchy purchase/demolition arrangement crafted by former Mayor Roefaro was hastily demolished yesterday by the city. Apparently, Mayor Palmieri decided to allow his Engineering and DPW staff to assemble on a weekend to smash into obvilion yet another downtown building. It reminds me of the destruction of the Albert Hotel that was carried out in much the same way.

Back in the early 1990's, the Albert Hotel in Downtown Utica was an imposing structure. Located on the east side of Genesee St, it was attached to the north wall of the Masonic Temple. The front of the structure was a solid red brick facade trimmed with granite. It housed two basement level store fronts. One of these was the wonderous "Littlecote Hobby Shop" located in the left side shop. As a child I spent many an hour in that shop purchasing the tiny bottles of "Testers Ply" model paint and other accessories needed for my latest creation!

 Upstairs was the "Christian Science Reading Room." Two pink damask chairs flanked a mohogony table with a brass reading lamp with a green toile shade in the front window overlooking Genesee St. The mise-en-scene was so inviting, I was always tempted to go in, sit in one of those chairs, grab a book and acquaint myself with the teachings of that religion! I never did, however.

Up the remaining stairs and through the towering double walnut front doors with etched glass panels  was the Albert Hotel. Housed in a gargantuan renaissance revival mansion that had been converted in the post war (WW1) building boom, the Albert was a gracious and elegant residence that catered to travelers and long term residents. Its enormous rooms still boasted the rich details of the Victorian era in Utica. Carved marble mantelpieces with plate glass pier mirrors above, walnut pocket doors with fancifully etched panels and floor to ceiling, shuttered windows greeted guests looking for lodging.

By the 1990's the hotel was not in operation and the storefronts were empty. In Utica, that seems to be all the reason you need to justify demolition. Unlike other cities that use their historic buildings to spur renewal, we demolish ours. The Masonic temple decided it needed parking. The city initially rejected their plan, saying that the building was indeed important, historic, and should be preserved.

The solution? Knock it down anyway. But, do it on a Saturday, when the media is absent and downtown is deserted.

That solution was ressurected yesterday to eliminate the Bleecker St block. Sneak it through on a Saturday, when the city is unaware and maybe no one will notice. But people do notice. And, they continue to be disgusted by the apparent lack of concern over the systematic dismantleing of our city by elected officials that come and go-but leave a wake of destruction that we may never recover from.

The Bleecker St. building was actually four buildings constructed over the years, joined together as was the custom before codes and zoning laws created the open, wind swept desolation of the modern era. The original building, located in the center, was an 1840's era grange hall. In the 1870's, the front steeple-like entrance was removed and the strorefront facade added to create an expansive mercantile block. The smaller side wings, actually stand alone structures, were added later as well.

Throughout the years many notable businesses occupied the block. "Winners" ladies apparel was an early tenant that lasted for many years. In the '80's the wonderful "Serendipity,"a novelty food and gift shop occupied the small single storefront on the east. The building also housed many antiques and collectable shops over the years, providing downtown with the kind of retail tenants that every successful small city tries to nurture and preserve.

Not in Utica. When the building was sold several years ago, the tenants were removed, the building was haphazardly boarded and left to rot. And rot it did!

The original structure was the one that failed. Because of defered maintenance, with the city apparently looking the other way, the structure fell into ruin and the grange hall roof collapsed. In Utica that can mean only one thing-imminent demolition.

The huge cost of tipping fees and labor  that it will eventually cost us, the taxpayers, for the demolition, could have been invested in another approach-selective demolition. Remove the original hall, preserve the store fronts and side wings, and create a courtyard where the original building stood. Grant money could be used to finance the project. In fact, the building was on the list of  potential projects that  the Main St. grant that was already received identified and could have helped finance.

Not in Utica. We don't follow the successful models of other cities that get it. We are still in the 1970's, when demolition was the redevelopment tool of choice. We are not even following our own Masterplan, which calls for the innovative type of projects that I have proposed here.

Utica has been at the mercy of mayoral administrations over the years that have, because of their lack of knowledge, incredible hubris, and apparent love of vacant lots, demolished much of what made our city great-it's amazing architecture.  The current administration has a vision for what downtown is going to be. Unfortunately, no one knows what that vision may be. A Saturday morning demolition hints at what that vision is. The continued demolition of our city will continue, and will happen when you least expect it.

What's next? HSBC? The New Century Club? The Cathoilc Women's Club?  The Charlotte St. block across from the courthouse appears to be the next group of buildings on the chopping block. When will we learn that a city is not made up of empty lots and surface parking strung between several banks and government offices? An exciting, vibrant city is made up of the kinds of businesses and occupants that the buildings we keep tearing down could hold.

But, not in Utica.

It seems that, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Roefaro, "Budo" Lose Their Credibility In New Hartford Town Court

Well, it has happened. Finally. The miscreant antics of former mayor Dave Roefaro have been publicly revealed. Along with his constant companion, Sabahoudin Mukic, known  as "Budo," he was spanked by New Hartford Town Justice Van Slyke for his role in the now infamous "Daylight Donuts Coffee Caper."

For those of you who are not familiar with the latest round of trashy activities of this disgusting duo, let me update you.

Several weeks ago, my sister and former Utica Corporation Counsel Linda Fatata was accosted by these two thug wannabes at the Daylight Donuts drive through in New Hartford. Making inappropriate and threatening advances, the confrontation eventually ended with the alleged Roefaro bodyguard/chauffeur Budo muttering incoherent obscenities at her and throwing two partially filled coffee cups into her face.

Linda drove off, shocked and frightened, dripping with coffee and desperate to get away from this creepy, frightening situation.

Not happy with the initial outcome of their confrontation, they decided to up the ante by calling New Hartford Police and filing a complaint. In their corrupt and twisted minds, they decided to fabricate  a new version of the event and accuse this lawyer, mother and breast cancer survivor of doing to them what they had done to her. Labeling it 2nd degree harassment, the investigator filed the charge and went home, never bothering to call Linda for her side of the story.

I will have to remember this. Apparently, all you have to do in Oneida County is fabricate a story, call the police with a complaint and thats it. No investigation needed.

When Linda found out, she was beside herself. These slippery slugs actually succeeded in turning the story around and convincing the authorities that she was the culprit. When she tried to get information from New Hartford PD, she was given a court date and told to be there. No questions. No investigation. Guilty until proven innocent-at least in this case.

Well, Linda had the sense to retain the services of Steve Lockwood, a local attorney who has a reputation of fighting for the truth and against the corruption of local government. And this case was full of questionable tactics and good old boy back-room deals.

What else could explain the handling of the case by DA Scott MacNamara's office? No offers of an ACD, no investigation-again. Just the word of a former mayor and his soul mate. "Scotty Mac," as he has been affectionately referred to many times by Roefaro, turned his boy Nolan loose and they were out for blood!

During the trial, I was half-expecting Mariska Hargaty from "SVU" to sweep in the door as a witness for the prosecution. At least that was the image Attorney Nolan was trying to portray. He was singularly focused on portraying linda as a crazed and dangerous criminal and insisting she be made to pay for her misdeeds. He alternated between mocking contempt for Linda and her witnesses and cooing sympathy for the "victims," Roefaro and Budo. It was truly nauseating.

Roefaro's testimony took all morning. When he was finished, he glided out of the courtroom like the star he truly believes himself to be. With the mid-day sun highlighting his thinning, jet-black dyed hair, he climbed into his equally shiny, black car to head back to his pious handling of yet another local corpse and it's grieving family.

In the afternoon, Budo held court. With his shiny suit stretched to the limit over his powerfully built frame, thick accent, thick neck, and hair thickly held back with tons of product, he attempted to portray himself as the terrified victim of this 5 foot powerhouse of a woman. He claimed that, from her front seat, belted in, she managed to accost him with pile-driver like punches to his gut. The ferocity of her attack, he claimed, was so great that it covered him with scalding coffee and turned him into a whimpering, defenseless man begging for his life.

Linda testified that she never used her arm to punch him. She has limited use of that arm, she said, due to lymphadema from her bout with breast cancer. Her arm is virtually useless.

In the end, the case did not add up. All of his TV inspired antics could not help Nolan make this case hold water. Roefaro and Budo could not get their story straight. Even Nolan's dramatic summation, worthy of a murder trial, did not make sense. Someone forgot to mention that Nancy Grace was not covering the trial and Court TV cameras were not waiting for  comment.

And apparently Judge Van Slyke agreed because it took him exactly 5 seconds to pronounce the "not guilty" verdict. And just like that, it was over. The color drained out of Nolan's face. Budo ran out of the court room, perhaps to break the news to "My Mayor," as he has been known to refer to Roefaro, that their latest plot had been foiled. Again.

And, justice prevailed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Utica On The Defense-Again!

The City of Utica is on the defense-again!

Once again, Utica has been attacked by a wandering journalist looking for a story. What a perfect place to  feature-Utica, NY.

It has all the qualities that a photo journalist could ever wish for. An erie, post-apocalyptic feel to the streets, weed choked parks with abandoned, crumbling buildings everywhere. A population that at times is known to wander zombie-like through the destitute, wind and debris-swept streets of downtown.

Yes, let's capture that image and transmit it across the globe for all to see. The relief that some, who view this, will feel at the fact that they do not live in such a sad, awful place. The references to  "rust belt, former industrial powerhouse, a city in decline," will accompany the images.

And there it will be. Another kick in the (missing) teeth to a place that many years ago learned how to handle such abuse. But, have we? Have the constant attacks and negative headlines really taught us anything?

The response is always the same.  "We have so many good things to be proud of," they will write. "The Stanley, Zoo, Munson. What about the Boilermaker? Affordable real estate, wonderful people. A ski slope right in town! Why, we always collect the most money for the Heart Run, don't we?"

Yes, we will defend ourselves by stating the obvious-that we have many great things to be proud of. Most communities in decline do. And yes, we are in decline. We have been for many, many years. It is obvious to strangers who visit. Photojournalists scouting around for communities to be featured in  "Architectural Digest" don't come to Utica.

Publications looking for a place to capture the destruction of the American dream do.

So we will keep on defending, they will keep on showing the seedy underbelly of our city. When will we stop being so defensive and ask this one question:

Could there be a problem here?

If a total stranger to our city could so easily find such negative and truly awful images to capture, could there possibly be some truth to these pictures? As challenging as it may be, the time has come for a good, hard, realistic look at the city we have become. The result may scare us.

For years, our region has happily developed the suburbs while the city has declined. Decayed. Died from within.

When Griffiss Air Base closed in 1995, we all banded together to create what is now an economic powerhouse of jobs-Griffiss Industrial Park. When downtown Utica began hemorrhaging jobs and business, no one took a second look. Why, even The Utica Chamber of Commerce decided to drop "Utica" for a fresher and more generic sounding "Mohawk Valley."

We as a collective region turned our backs on Utica. We left it for the disadvantaged, the social services  recipients, the disenfranchised. We developed spanking new suburban shopping opportunities, pristine homogeneous suburban neighborhoods, and even installed an "International Sculpture Garden" at Griffiss! Now, you don't even need to go downtown for culture anymore.

So when a stranger who doesn't know about all the wonders that surround Utica wanders into town, they see the results of our handiwork-a city in decline. When the stranger reports through words or photos their impression of our city, we react with the outrage and indignation that any loyal citizen would.

How about if this time, we react with action? What if, for a change, we took a good, hard look and admit that we have problems and that if we are to succeed as a region, we have to fix the one thing that will continue to hold us back-Utica.

It will not be easy. We may have to ask the money-rich suburbs to throw something into the pot. Local redevelopment agencies like EDGE may have to refocus their energies on Utica. And, development of suburban farms and orchards will have to stop. Sprawl without population growth has been a major contributor to the destruction of Utica. County planning has turned the other way and allowed this uneven playing field to be created for the benefit of a few wealthy and influential developers.

We have to create a fair and balanced development strategy if we are to succeed. All the hopes of a burgeoning nano tech industry in Utica will fall flat if a company comes to town and sees what our friend the photo journalist just did.

We need to emulate cities like Schenectady, NY  The county actually gives the city a portion of it's sales tax revenue to stimulate downtown development. The Metroplex, their county agency, operates opposite to what we do here. They focus all their efforts downtown. They understand that, as a region, they are only as good as their lead city.

Or, we could do nothing. Let it remain as it has. And when the next negative story is featured, we can cry foul, talk about all the wonders of our region, and fool ourselves into thinking all is well in Utica, NY.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bleecker Street Block purchased by the city-Roefaro doesn't remember

Hello Friends!
I have not written a blog in recent weeks because, quite frankly the news around the city was so negative, the budget process so bungled by everyone in city hall, that I just did not have the energy to address it.
Well, nothing gets my blood boiling, and my pulse racing more than a statement from former Mayor Roefaro. Usually, it's his "colorful" use of the english language that he is so well known for that piques my attention. This time , it was something much, much more unbelievable. He actually told the O.D. reporter that he "couldn't remember the details" of the purchase of the Bleecker Street block from Charles Gaetano!

Funny, Dave seems to have so many lapses of memory. Let me help jog his brain for him.

When I got to city hall in 2008, the parking garage /transfer station was a mess, bungled by the Julian Administration. The site behind Grace Church, their preferred location, was a tangle of various property owners, difficult grading, and potentially damaging to the historic 1850, Upjohn designed church. At a meeting to discuss projects around the city, I made a suggestion.

Let's move the garage across the street, I suggested, behind Harza. That way, it can serve Harza, the Adrorandack Bank Building, and free up spaces that could help the perceived downtown parking "problem." Roefaro agreed to this proposal and we set about to change the plan.

Local architect Dave Bonacci stepped in and was asked to design a  garage and transfer station. These designs were very preliminary and were only a suggestion of what could be realized at the site.

Let me remind the former Mayor:  He did not hire a single local architect, designer, or engineer to do this project. That was the beginning of the trouble. The firms, all located out of town, did not seem to care what we wanted. And, when I voiced my concerns, Roefaro pulled me off the project and made the point person Brian Thomas, Brian reported only to the Mayor. At this point, they were the only two people in city hall who knew anything about the project.

As head of the Urban Renewal Agency, I was supposed to begin negotiations for the purchase of the properties. Once again, Roefaro said NO! He would handle it him self. He was, as he put it, a "dealmaker" and he and only he could handle these "delicate" negotiations.

He often told us of his close friendship with Tom Clark, and he insisted that no one be allowed to deal with Mr. Gaetano. With a wink and a nod, Roefaro said more than once,"let me handle Charlie."

Now you must remember, the building in question was not even needed for the project. As such, I thought that it would be a great candidate for the same type of project that we had accomplished across Bleecker St. I asked the Mayor if we could pursue a grant application to stabilize the structure. He initially agreed, and then pulled back his support. He told me that the building was needed to "sweeten the deal for Charlie." "I need this property for my garage," he bellowed at a meeting one day.  "I am going to have to make a deal with Charlie and this building is going to be part of it, Bobby. And, I don't want to hear any historic preservation bull." In my mind, this pullback signaled the end of the line for the building. I was upset and asked if we could possibly save the building and also buy the land for the garage. He just nodded and winked again. "Let me worry about that," he said. "I make the deals around here."

I was dejected, because I knew the roof was unstable and needed support. Once it collapsed, that would give demo-crazy city hall the reason to smash the building into the ground. Once again we would lose an opportunity to redevelop a block of buildings and bring new life and revenue to downtown.

I had one last chance. I appealed to Mr. Gaetano himself. I explained to him and his daughter that the building could be eligible for grant money. I told him that it was one of the last remaining commercial structures downtown and, perhaps we could bring it back to life as we did the block across the street.

They tentatively agreed but had one problem: since they owned a large chunk of the property (the pasta shopp)that the garage was slated to be built on, how could they be sure that the city would be fair to them on the purchase? They had emptied the building of tenants and had no revenue. There were taxes owed. No one had made any firm commitments to them. They were also concerned about the loss of some of the parking for the Paul Building.

I wish I could have been of more help. I was, as they say, "persona non grata" when it came to the garage project. Brian Thomas repeated the same line over and over-FTA would not let us negotiate for the purchase of any of the property. The Mayor stood by this and let valuable time tick away.

Tick Tick Tick. The time continued to go by and no forward momentum was seen. Brian constantly blamed it on FTA. The mayor blamed it on Brian, and then yelled at me. One day, in his office, he screamed "you have ruined my garage!" when I reminded him that it was  he who took me off the project in the early stage and gave complete control to Brian, he just waved me off and told me to leave.

Well, the inevitable happened. The roof collapsed. I knew that it was now only a matter of time before the wrecking crews were called in. At about the same time, the garage project fell apart as well. The Gaetano property, the former pasta shop, was still needed for the Centro transfer station. So, negotiations apparently began in ernest with Gaetano.

I was not there. I had been replaced by Randy Soggs, the New Hartford developer who likes a lot of surface parking. And, apparently the deal was this: Gaetano would sell the pasta shop property to the city, include the Bleecker St property for $1, and the city would do the demo. A demo that could have been prevented. A demo that, it seems, was the plan all along.

That was the deal. Roefaro made it in his mind long before Soggs. How could he not remember? It was his "brainchild" as he liked to put it.

My memory is sharp. Crystal clear. Next time the former Mayor "doesn't remember," he should give me a call. I can bring him up to speed on a lot of things that happened when he was Mayor of Utica!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What Utica can learn from Colorado Springs

I enjoy listening to the varied news and special interest programming on the weekend NPR (91.9 FM). On "This American Life" recently, the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado was highlighted. Talk about financial meltdown! The city was so financially drained it actually had to shut off half of it's street lights!

Located in Colorado Springs is a 5 star diamond rated resort hotel, The Broadmoor. Owned by Steve Bartolin, the hotel was once billed as "The Grand Dame of the Rockies." Concerned that the city surrounding his establishment was in severe crisis, he decided to get involved.

Mr. Bartolin got ahold of a city budget and what he discovered shocked him. The city was spending nearly 80% of its resources on manpower to run the various departments. In his resort, 35% for staffing was the level. "If I ran my business like they run the city,"he was quoted as saying, "I would be closed in a year."

Indeed, the staff of the Broadmoor was actually larger than that of the city! So, Steve got to work. He analyzed the budget and came up with ideas to save money based on his business acumen. He met with other concerned citizens and demanded that the city clean up its act. When the mayor refused, he and his group backed a new candidate who eventually won.

Things did not turn around over night. There was a lot of wrangling over what needed to change. Privatization of city services and union concessions were needed to stabilize finances. When he started, Mr. Bartolin had noticed that the city parks were brown and wilted due to the lack of attention from the city. "The parks are green again', said Bartolin. " We have our city back."

Utica, N.Y. A city in similar crisis.

When are we going to figure it out? The same narrative over and over with the same results. Across the nation, municipalities are on the brink of financial ruin. Some get it. Many others do not.

But we live here. In Utica. And at this point, I am afraid we just do not get it. No real systemic changes are ever discussed. It's always a snip here, a cut there. Get to the bottom line, raise taxes just enough to cover expenses but not enough to cause complete anarchy. Breathe a sigh of relief that we got through it-this time. Go back to business as usual and do it all again next year.

Where is our Steve Bartolin? The public needs leadership-from the PRIVATE sector. Once someone gets elected, it's all over. They become entrenched almost immediately. Eyes glaze over, they join the "Walking Dead" of city government. They borrow our way out of disaster, maintain cozy relationships with the unions and promote a no growth policy.

The public will react. Utica will wake up.

The question is, will it be too late?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Utica-"Condition Critical."

The City of Utica is on life support.  The patient is slipping away. Our leaders scramble to triage a method of treatment but it's not working. Can flatlining be inevitable?
None of the ideas that I shared in my last post were considered. No efficiency studies, no elimination of unnecessary departments (Civil Service being the most needless of all.) Instead, we have a proposed 18% property tax increase and a smattering of cuts designed to bring about temporary relief. No long term systemic solutions. Quick, temporary fixes. Isn't that what got us to where we are in the first place?
Now, we hear that if we cut police and fire, people will DIE. If we cut DPW, services will evaporate. Once again, the narrative begins. And the elected officials entrusted to protect our finances look for ways to keep the unions happy. It never changes.
In spite of it, we, the citizens of Utica, continue to love our city. We hope and pray for the best. It just never seems to happen.
Campaign promises are made. Campaign promises are broken. All of our resources, once a trickle, are now gushing out of the patient, our beloved Utica.
We need a second opinion.
We need expert advice. We cannot entrust our future to the people in city hall any more. There is clearly not the will, desire or expertise to handle the management of our resources.
We need to demand the total re-structuring of all city departments. In a city that spends 66 million dollars a year, there needs to be accountability.
The same goes for the school district.
There is great hope for our future. Check out the Oneida County Visitors Bureau new "Getaway Catalogue." It features Utica, Rome, Verona and Sylvan beach. It clearly demonstrates the unbelievable resources and attractions that make this region special.
And, in spite of that, we have a city on the ropes. Broke. Destitute. Status quo being maintained at all cost.
We need, as a city, as a community, to unite as never before. To demand real change. We need to use social media to promote our cause. To take back city hall. To finally, irrevocably, require our leaders, our EMPLOYEES, to manage our resources wisely, thoughtfully, expertly. And, stop making "deals."
Otherwise, the patient will quietly slip into a coma. And, then pass away.
We don't have a mortician as mayor anymore, thank god. But, who will be there to bury the body?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Utica Budget-What I would do if I were in charge.

Hello Friends!
My last post discussed the sorry state of both the Utica City and The Utica School District budgets. Since that time, the Utica City deficit has risen from 5 to 7 million dollars!
Really? Former Mayor's Roefaro and Julian should be taken to task for the mess that they created. A total disaster.
When I ran for mayor in 2007, my campaign slogan was "Condition Critical." How much worse it is today!
So, If I were Mayor (God Forbid!) here is what I would do:

1. Efficiency Study-  In 2010, I found a consultant to undertake an efficiency study of the City of Utica Public Safety -both Police and Fire. After a presentation to Mayor Roefaro and then Public Safety Commissioner Labella, it was agreed that we needed to retain the services of this company to finally determine if our resources were being spent as efficiently as possible on public safety.

Guess what? Not one hour after the presentation, Roefaro called our committee and changed his mind. He did not want any study done. He did not care.

Today, we are paying the price for his decision. Never mind that we had a grant that was willing to pay for more than half the 100,000 cost for the study. So what that the company we had found had a track record across the country with numerous studies accomplished, saving cash strapped communities millions of dollars.
Not in Utica. Not under Roefaro and Labella.

2. Eliminate Civil service.
Why do we continue to maintain a separate Civil Service office when Oneida County could easily take over this function? Remember the department of Weights and Measures? We consolodated that as well many years ago. The same should happen to Civil Service.

3.Sales Tax
When was the last time the local sales tax formula was looked at? The '80's? The current split is unfair and does not reflect the ratio of what is collected versus what the city receives. We need to DEMAND that the city get a bigger split.

4. Economic Development:
Enough GLDC/ Griffiss/EDGE development already! Put the resources into the city where they belong! HSBC, Harza, M& T Bank, Security Building, Adorondack Bank Building-all in need of tenants. Downtown needs a REGIONAL redevelopment initiative-we need to DEMAND IT NOW!
Downtown could be a high-tech corridor-if only we could get the EDGE big-wigs to realize it!
Put the resources downtown!
Well friends, that's it for now. Let's see of any of my ideas are ever enacted or even discussed!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Utica Government and School District Under Water.

Headlines scream at us all the time about the fiscal instability of the world today. Spain, Greece, Italy, all under water.
It has just edged closer to home with the revelation that the city of Utica could have a 5 million dollar  deficit in the 2012 operating budget. The Utica school district has announced that there may be a 10 million dollar shortfall in their budget.
What is going on here? Could it really be that bad? A 15 million dollar hole is not something that the citizens of this city can just absorb. What do our leaders intend to do about this? How are they going to possibly come up with that amount of money to fill what apparently is a reflection of years of fiscal mismanagement, generous employee contracts that we cannot afford and a vast inability of our elected officials to address these issues and balance a budget.
This disaster did not happen overnight. It started many years ago and was effectively "swept under the rug" by city officials. The simple fact is this: no one in city hall had the resolve to actually figure out what the systemic issues were that created the budget defecit that has blown up in our faces.

What are the issues that have been ignored for so many years?

First, public safety.

Everyone in Utica knows we have a fine police and fire department. Top rated, excellent service, the best of the best. The question is, and always has been, can we afford it? Are these departments operating at top efficiency? Many years ago, during the Hanna Administration, the city faced a similar situation. Utica had a huge budget shortfall in the late 1990's and needed to cut from somewhere in order to avoid a huge tax increase that was politically unpopular and would devistate city home and business owners.

We were on the verge of bankruptcy. Talk of a Fiscal Control Board taking over was a real possibility. Even N.Y. Comptroller at the time, Carl McCall, warned the city to make deep and unpopular cuts or it would be insolvent.

After months of debate, cuts were eventually made to the fire department. These cuts enabled the city to survive that budget year. They were not, however, cuts that made real change. They were a temporary fix. New recruits and men with the least seniority lost their jobs. No real investigation went into this fix. It was unfair and poorly thought out.

But it bought the city time. And, instead of using that time to figure out how to make real change, our leaders made a decision that has created the situation we now face.

Second, the budget process.

The status quo was maintained by taking our water trust fund and using it to balance the budget. Year after year, mayors, common council members, budget directors, department heads, all maintained the same levels of spending by filling the hole with that trust fund. It was as if everyone thought that the money would last forever.

And now, it is gone. Kaput. Drained like a swimming pool in September.

 Our new mayor has to now figure out the mess.

I have ideas, ways that I think we could begin to extract ourselves from this situation. I will reserve those suggestions for a future post. I want to see what the administration comes up with. I know our mayor has some ideas of his own.

As far as the school district is concerned, it's the same story. The new superintendent, a local man with tons of experience, will hopefully be able to mop up the flood of fiscal mismanagement he has inherited.

To that end, both men, Mayor Robert Palmieri, and Superintendent Bruce Karam just announced a series of initiatives that will, for the first time, unite the city and the school district together to explore ways to cut costs by sharing services.

It's a great idea. One that should have happened 20 years ago. Hopefully, it's not too late.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Turning Downtown Around-Will it Finally happen?

Last week, D.U.D.A. (Downtown Utica Development Association) Conducted it's annual meeting at Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant. Elected as President for 2012 was Regina Bonacci. Also voted in were Anthony Trevisani as V.P. , Barry Sinnot as Treasurer and, yours truly, as Recording Secretary.

Regina Bonacci, or "Madame President" as I like to refer to her, is the perfect choice to lead the agency into it's next phase. For those of you who do not know her, Regina and her architect-husband Dave, purchased the old Food Bank/T.R's After Hours on Bleecker St. several years ago. A wreck of a building, it had been slated for demolition and was basically stripped down to its bones. When I was appointed as UED Commissioner in 2008, I, along with Pam Jardieu, who was a grant writer for the city at the time, were committed to saving the entire block.

Enter Dave and Regina. Dave was looking for new headquarters for his firm, Bonacci Associates, and Regina had always wanted a downtown loft space to call home. It was a perfect fit. They purchased the building from the Urban Renewal Agency and, after substantial investment and lots of hard work, today the building is an example of the kind of mixed use project that we have hoped could happen downtown.

So, what makes Regina the ideal President  for DUDA is simply this-she believes in Utica and downtown. There was never a moment when she or Dave doubted their decision. They did not listen to the negative naysayers that say downtown is dirty, unsafe, not a place to invest. They believed in their heart that this was the right move. Along with the others who also saved the block, that decision has proven to be the right one.

The same spirit that propelled Dave and Regina to invest in downtown and make it their home is what we need to harness to turn all of downtown around. And by turn it around, this is what I mean:

We need to stop depending on local government and elected officials to make the changes. We have to rely on ourselves. The downturn of downtown was exacerbated by bad politics and self-serving officials throughout the entire region. The end result-suburban sprawl with no population growth, infrastructure we cannot afford to maintain, and a highway/strip mall culture that will never contribute to the attraction of new business and residents to our region.

And while the people we picked to represent us were delighted in the tax revenue they collected from the sprawl, the city started to feed on itself. Abandoned buildings began being demolished at record speed, sometimes out of need, most times out of greed. Infrastructure crumbling around us, with the exodous of business and people happening so quickly that at times it seemed that there was no one left at all.

The saying, " Will the last one to leave Utica turn out the lights" was beginning to feel like a prophecy and not just the hater's mantra. But, as the pendulum swings, so has the fate of downtown. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, things began to happen. Now, there seems to be life again. Halting, tentative steps are being made. It is now up to us to nurture this new growth.

Enter DUDA. No city can be successful without a determined, activist-oriented, promotional organization making sure that what is best for the community is being done. We who live, work, invest in and love downtown, and our city, are the ones that have to make sure that we are in control of our future and in the future of downtown.

DUDA will no doubtedly be at the forefront of that initiative. The new board of directors is made up of new faces and a few old ones. People like Barry Sinnot, the Bank of Utica executive, an always up-beat city promotor, Chris Talgo, a dynamic young restaurateur,who is set to open The Tailor & The Cook, his second location, on Baggs' Sq. West.

There is Emmett Martin, who has leased the front office at the Bonacci Building for his Lefkowitz/M artinInsurance Agency, Jason Nole, who has run the hip bistro "Ancora" for several years, and Brett Truet, an entrepreneur and inventor who owns several signature buildings downtown and who has a passion for Utica and a vision for it's future.

Venerable citizens like Lynn Mishalanie of Utica Monday Nite fame, and antiques empresario Jerry Dischavio of Oneida Sq. and Pam Jardieu, the brilliant grantwriter and all around brain, are some long time downtown contributors who will help round out the board and bring their guidance and experience to the table.

There are so many more contributors, new board and committee members, all excited downtowners who want to get involved with the turnaround. DUDA will become the mechanism that helps us accomplish what has seemed to elude us for so long.

Downtown Utica-a place we can be proud of again!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A new kind of story-Jim and Pauline Harvey

I have been posting for some time now and it seems as if a lot of the subject matter is political in nature. Today, I thought I would tell a story about growing up in Utica. On this, the national holiday to honor Dr. King, I thought this particular story would be appropriate.

When I was a child of about 6 or 7, our neighborhood was a robust mix of nationalities and people of such diverse backgrounds that it was a bit like the United Nations! We had Polish, Ukranian, and Hungarian refugees that were displaced after WW2. There was Tony the Barber, who was Italian, and also some German folks, Irish and even a woman from Argentina!

The one nationality we did not have on our street was African-American. And, if some of our neighbors had it their way, we never would.

Now, the house next door to us was owned by a Hungarian lady. She wore spikey high heels and lots of red lipstick. She also hated us, and reserved her special disdain for my grandfather.

Grandpa was a reserved guy who went to work everyday and came home to my grandmother. They did not have exciting lives, lived for the occasional picnic, and reveled in the fact that they had three grandchildren living upstairs in their little house.

That quiet life was to come to a screeching halt one day in 1967 when the "lady next door" announced she was selling her house. And the buyers were not just anybody. The were a middle aged couple, they had no children.

And they were black.

I had attended Egbert Bagg School on Mandeville St., so I knew plenty of black kids. The thing is, the streets of Utica were still segregated in the '60's. I did not understand it at the time, but there were certain blocks the were quietly "off limits" to black families. And Cottage Place was one of them.

Immediately, the neighborhood was up in arms. The phone calls began. "What do you plan to do about this?" they would ask. One lady down the street confronted my mother, who was president of the Bagg School PTA, at a meeting. "This is terrible, she said, "our lives will be ruined if we let THEM move in! We need to circulate a PETITION demanding that they not be allowed to buy that house!"

The "THEM" she refered to were Jim and Pauline Harvey. Mr. and Mrs. Harvey had lived all their lives in the traditionally accepted black neighborhood near the Aud. Jim was a foundry worker, Pauline had spent her career at G.E. on Broad St. They were a hard working, god-fearing couple. And they dreamt of a better life.

That life was to be found in a little house on Cottage Place. Right next door to us.

My family was in a tough spot. There was not anything that we could legally do to stop the sale. And, my parents and grandparents were not the kind of people who would try to stop them even if they could. They were realistic about the situation and accepted it as a part of the changing times sweeping our society. My mother told the lady at the PTA meeting that she would have no part of any petition. The neighbors who expected us to start the brigade against the Harvey's were outraged.  So, we waited. And wondered. And hoped that things would not turn ugly.

My grandfather had lived in our house since he was born there in 1905. In fact, his family had bought the place in 1890, when the neighborhood was solidly white, mostly protestant, and very upper-middle class. The depression had taken it's toll on that world and so in the 1930's, the big old rambling Victorian era dwellings were divided up into 2 and 3 family apartments.

Then came the war, and the influx of refugees in the 1950's. The Hungarian lady with the lipstick moved in and began to take an immediate dislike to my grandparents. And, her revenge was to sell her house to a black couple named Harvey.

Moving day came. She moved out, the Harvey's moved in. The neighbors peeped from behind their curtains to watch the progress. They wanted to see this new couple, check out their furniture and possessions. We were kids running around, not really grasping the importance of what was happening right there on our street. The walls of segregation were being broken down right before our eyes. And, this was not happening in some strange city in the south, televised grainy images in black and white. This was real, it was here.

And it was exciting!

We got our first look at the Harvey's. He was a solidly built man who resembled Louis Armstrong. She was a pleasant looking woman who you could just tell would be nice. While the adults hid and whispered, the children of the street welcomed the new couple. We said hi, they said hi back. Suddenly, it did not seem so strange. The drama was forgotten, and we went about the business of childhood.

My grandparents and my mom and dad seemed relieved that this event went off without any problems. My grandfather said he didn't care who moved in, as long as miss high-heels was gone. My grandmother commented that she had lovely curtains. And, all was quiet on the street.

Now, the question arose-who is going to talk to the new neighbors? My family was expected to show them that they were not welcome. We were to ignore them at all cost, or risk being shunned by the neighborhood. For the first few weeks we did just that.

Then an event occured that was to forever change the dynamic of the street and pit neighbor against neighbor.

The Harvey's water shutoff burst one day. Located at the edge of our driveway, Mr. Harvey needed to dig a hole large enough to get into and repair the gusher. He asked for permission, and it was granted. Then a strange thing happened. My grandfather returned home from his job at Partlow, my dad from GE. They stood by the hole that Mr. Harvey was digging and, after a few minutes, with no words spoken, got two shovels and helped him dig the hole.

Then, my grandmother and my mom came out and, after a few minutes, began to talk to Mrs. Harvey.
All of a sudden, just like that, we were friends! This mysterious, exotic couple were just two normal, nice, friendly neighbors.They became close friends with my family. And, they would remain that way for almost 40 years.

Eventually, the entire neighborhood accepted Jim and Pauline. It took about 10 years, They became regulars at weddings, funerals, graduations and holiday parties. And, when they eventually passed away, my mom bought their house. We just could not risk just anyone buying the house that the Harvey's loved and lived in for so long!

The house that, in it's own small, quiet way helped to destroy the segregation that had divided our city.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Anniversary Mayor-former and current!

Today is the 1 year anniversary of me, my sister, and our new mayor being escorted out of city hall by the former mayor. Yes that's right, one whole year has passed since that eventful day. And so much has changed!

The day began like so many others. Little did he know that, by proceeding with this foolhardy plan, the ex-mayor would set in motion the beginning of his own political demise. I believe what he did by firing us was to galvanize our current mayor's resolve to mount a campaign for the office.

Already, Mayor Palmieri has accomplished two important tasks. First, he has addressed the blight on the Parkway by pursuing legal action to clean up the ruins of the Manny's Cheesecake fire. Second, he obtained a search warrant to personally investigate the HSBC Building in order to file a notice and order for the owner to make the necessary repairs to prevent further damage to a downtown landmark.

Bravo! If the former mayor had not been asleep at the wheel for so long, these tasks could have easily been accomplished long ago. And they should have. But, that's why he is not mayor today and Rob Palmieri is.

We still have a long way to go, a lot of work to do. I don't think Rob will doze off. If he shows signs of it, it's our job as citizens to nudge him awake.

And nudging is what I do best! Happy Anniversary Mayor!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"On Bobby and Linda"- Dan Minor loves to talk about us!

Dan Minor posted a blog on the website with the above title. In it he reveals that we applied for our "old jobs" at city hall.

That's not entirely correct. I sent a resume and correspondence to then Mayor-Elect Palmieri several weeks ago, well before he was sworn in. In it, I detailed my relevant experience, vision for the city and offered my services if they were needed. I never, EVER asked for a specific job, especially the Urban & Economic Development Commissioner position!

Why not, you may ask? I must admit, I did enjoy the job-for a while. Trouble is, it's a no-win position. There is really very little money to undertake any meaningful economic development. That means the Commissioner gets blamed for every company that closes, goes bankrupt or leaves the city. Not a great way to make a living, I would say.

Now Linda is another matter. Why would anyone take a person with the years of institutional knowledge and expertise that she had and do to her what the previous mayor did is a mystery. And, possibly one of the most foolish things that ever happened in a very foolhardy administration such as our previous one was. So, my advice to the current leader would be-grab her if you can! No one in town has the ability to handle the Corporation Counsel Office as well as Linda Fatata can.

So, there it is folks. Not very exciting. Now, lets stop talking about the past, and work on the here and now. We have so many huge problems that everyone who is willing to work for the betterment of our city should be included.

Yes, even Linda and Bobby!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

January 1st, 2012


And let's hope that 2012 is better than the year we just buried!

Time for change, time to make things right, in our personal lives, our professional affiliations and in our hometown. What better way to start than by swearing in a new Mayor and Common Council?

That is only a part of the puzzle. Elected officials cannot cure all of our problems. We need to unite as a community and figure out how to cure our maladies. The Mayor and other officials need us. We have all sat by in silence for years while the dysfunctional city officials did their best to wreck our city.

No more! Let's all resolve to stay involved and make our voices heard!

Now, let's enjoy the first day of 2012.