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Knocked Off Ballot,


Still Love Oneonta

Before you dump a Big Gulp in a downtown flower box, watch out for brothers Nate, left, and Eric Roberts: They take it personally.

Oneonta’s Roberts brothers have a point. Actually, they have a lot of points.

Walking down Oneonta’s Main Street sidewalk after an interview the other day, it was either Nate or Eric who pointed at the sidewalk and said, “That’s what we mean.”

He was pointing at a trail of dog droppings.

Four days before, someone had vomited in front of a nearby establishment. The vomit was still there.

And cigarette butts – count ‘em. No, there are too many to count.

“The ordinances aren’t being kept up with,” Nate said.

The Roberts brothers had been planning to run for Common Council, Nate in Ward 4 (north of Walnut Street) and Eric in Ward 8 (both sides of Lettis Highway and the downtown.)

But Democrats – Kathy Meeker in the Fourth and outgoing Council member Joe Ficano in the Eighth – challenged them on the party’s behalf, and the county Board of Elections last week removed the Robertses from the ballot.

Too bad, because the main impetus for their campaigns was the deterioration they see around them.

For instance, Nate, 36, an entrepreneur – he operates Serenity Hobbies in the former Alpine Ski Hut – reports two men, either drunk or drugged up or both, in broad daylight, “yelling at cars and pedestrians in front of my store.”

He called the OPD. Fifteen minutes later, an officer still hadn’t arrived. By then, the men were taking off their shoes and throwing them at passing cars. Nate called again.

Another 15 minutes. By the time an officer arrived, the two troublemakers had “dispersed on their own.”

Eric, 34, obtained his master gardener certificate from Oregon State, returned home a couple of years ago and is a landscape management technician for City Hall.

When he sees a Big Gulp overturned in a downtown flower bed, he takes it personally.

City Hall will tell you, “You can use our public spaces,” said Eric, adding, “I haven’t seen a single professional having lunch in Muller Plaza since I got back.”

Moms with baby carriages cross the street to avoid the homeless, panhandlers and guys bumming
cigarettes, he said.

Smoking, drinking and littering are supposed to be prohibited in the city’s lovely parks – Neahwa, Wilber and the rest, but it’s routine, said Eric, who spends his working days there.

A single officer walking the Main Street beat from 9 to 5 would resolve much of this, said Nate. “What happened to the bike cops?” added Eric.

The Robertses have interesting personal stories. Both graduated from Edmeston Central, but their dad was food manager at RSS’ Oneonta Bagel Company for 17 years, so they frequented the city since boyhood. (Nate has been doing the job part-time for the past several months.)

The brothers were drawn to the City of the Hills by its music scene – bands aplenty from SUNY’s Music Industry Department, and venues aplenty.

“We want to create that opportunity again,” said Nate.

In college, Eric got a call from a pal in a band that needed a bass guitar, and spent 10 years on the road, with the combo winning gold and even platinum disks. Nate spent time in New York City, and ran a booking service for a while when he got back to town.

As it happens, Nate was inspired to run for Common Council when the two attended a meeting alerting the city fathers they plan to open The Pale Horse Public House in what was formerly The Alley on Water Street

Yes, there will be live music.

This could go on. For instance, the two are bruised by the challenges from the Democratic Party – Eric had double the required signatures; Nate triple – and have a lot to say about the process. For instance, if a double signature is stricken, it should be stricken from the Democratic or Republican petitions too.

Common Council has come through a pretty sleepy time. When was the last time a Council member proposed an exciting initiative from the floor? Committee meetings are routinely
cancelled for lack of a quorum or agenda items. What’s going on?

After the Nov. 5 elections (a primary  is June 25), the Robertses won’t be there to add pizzaz, but five of the incumbents are leaving and there are plenty of candidates vying to replace them. So maybe we’ll see some Roberts-style freshmen.

Sure, the DRI – the state’s Downtown Redevelopment Inititiative – has sucked up a lot of the oxygen. Little’s been done, and next month it will be three years since state Economic Development czar Howard Zemsky – he resigned a couple of weeks ago – announced the $10 million grant.

While we wait, must great be the enemy of good? Listening to the brothers, routine enforcement needs beefing up, a little broken-window policing, maybe.

Most entrancing about the Robertses was, despite their specific complaints, they love Oneonta. Now home again, they don’t intend to leave. There’s a lot of that, and that’s an asset.

As Eric put it, “The city isn’t the way I remember it. It’s gone.” But he added, “I don’t want to say anything bad. It needs help.”



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