Hartwick Hosts Common Council Candidates
By WRILEY NELSON
Eight candidates for the City of Oneonta Common Council attended a forum hosted by the Hartwick College Institute of Public Service on the evening of Wednesday, November 1.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Zachary McKenney led a question and answer period with students and community members, which was followed by an informal reception. HIPS aims to educate a new generation of public service and promote full engagement with local government among Oneonta residents and students. The candidates were first asked to introduce themselves and explain their positions with a brief, three-minute opening statement.
Daniel Rorick, Republican candidate for the Third Ward, said he is running on behalf of a group of concerned citizens. He highlighted problems with city infrastructure, reservations about a potential tax hike coming next year and the rising homeless population.
Len Carson, running for reelection to the Fifth Ward on the Republican and Better Government party lines, mentioned his extensive experience in public service, including a long career as fire captain and his service as a county representative to learn about the ways city and county government interact. He also briefly described the early challenges of his Common Council tenure, which began shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, and expressed his hopes for further efforts to involve the colleges in city life.
Donald Garrison, the Libertarian candidate for the Fifth Ward, said he was tired of excessive government regulation in Oneonta. He is concerned about disconnects between the city’s year-round residents and the seasonal university and baseball populations. Garrison’s main aim is to improve the city’s financial standings by bringing economic prosperity to the area through deregulation, including by making it easier to build affordable housing.
Kaytee Lipari Shue, running for reelection in the Fourth Ward as a Democrat, noted the changes she has seen in her 37 years in Oneonta. She aims to increase neighborhood vitality on a local level, leading to emotional and economic investment in the area and incentivizing students to make Oneonta their permanent home.
“The Sixth Ward is a loud ward,” Republican incumbent Scott Harrington began. “Anyone who says that the Common Council doesn’t make noise when it needs to hasn’t been to enough meetings.” He described the challenges the city has faced during his tenure.
Bryce Wooden, running for the Seventh Ward as a Democrat, said he has never run for office before but became directly involved with local politics in 2020. He spoke about his family’s experiences on behalf of the regional NAACP chapter and was asked by former Mayor Gary Herzig and County Board Chairman David Bliss to help with a community-police relations board. Wooden is an Oneonta native and works with first-generation students and the Black Student Union at SUNY Oneonta.
Sean Dwight, Wooden’s Republican opponent for the Seventh Ward, spoke about inconsistencies in the city’s application of housing regulations. He noted that about 46 percent of homeowners in Oneonta bear the entire tax burden and expressed concern about the significant amount of unused or underused land. Dwight also said the rising homeless population has made him worry for the safety of his two foster children.
Emily Falco, the Oneonta Upward candidate for the Eighth Ward, spoke briefly about her concern that all classes of taxpayers have adequate representation.
Cecelia Walsh-Russo, Oneonta Families candidate for the Second Ward, was unable to attend due to illness but sent a written statement. She noted the three major challenges for Oneonta in the coming years will be housing, economic development and diversification, and climate preparedness, and also pointed out that the small city of Northhampton, Massachusetts has implemented a promising new approach to assisting the unhoused population.
After the introductions, a student submitted a question about the candidates’ plans to attract students, especially students of color, to remain in the city after graduating. Carson noted a few ongoing initiatives to increase student engagement in the Fifth Ward and solicited additional feedback from campus organizations. Lipari Shue said that community-campus relations have ebbed and flowed a great deal during her life and that interaction between the populations has been tense since the initial COVID outbreaks in 2020. Dwight spoke at length about the students he and his family have interacted with in recent years and said that the primary problem is a lack of job opportunities and housing for recent graduates, who tend to leave the area.
Another student question asked about the role of city programming in fostering a sense of community, especially for minority students. Wooden noted the success the two colleges have had in creating social spaces for both general community engagement and for allowing interaction between cultures.
“The main challenge,” he said, “is bringing that kind of model from the schools to Main Street.”
“The city generally does not directly sponsor events,” Falco added, “but I have not seen an application turned down in my time on the council.” She expressed her strong desire for more event programming in the downtown area and drew the students’ attention to a number of grant programs that support projects and events with community value.
The final question of the evening, submitted by a 9-year-old resident, concerned political and community engagement by minors. Harrington and Garrison each noted that Oneonta does not offer enough to its youth, and that more interaction between the Common Council and local schools could help develop policies that would keep more young people in the area. Lipari Shue and Carson concurred, encouraging the student and her friends to engage with the city as much as they can.
“You are, fundamentally, the reason we’re here,” Rorick concluded. “I think everyone at this table is ultimately here to make the city better for its children and youth.”
Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.