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.