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News of Otsego County

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SALKA: I Know How To Help Constituents
Assemblyman John Salka

‘I Know How

To Help Constituents’

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

John Salka addresses the Monday, Oct. 6, dedication of Sgt. John Kempe Winslow Memorial Highway in Hartwick. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO,com)

COOPERSTOWN –  It’s been a long journey for John Salka from a boyhood in Utica’s Corn Hill section to the sumptuous New York State Capitol.

His tiny 5-foot mom Carmella, a single parent, supported him and his sister Carole by working in a suitcase factory in Whitesboro. “A lot of glue; a lot of grimy work,” said the son, who at one point worked there, too.

Evenings, Carmella Salka would take care of welfare families’ children, as well as the two young Salkas.

“We had kids at our kitchen table, black, white, Hispanic, whatever. They’d be there a couple of days; then they would be gone,” said Carmella’s son, now 66 and completing his first term as assemblyman from the 121st District, which includes western Otsego County.

Every other Saturday, young John would take a bus to the Utica Armory, the pickup point for government surplus food. “Actually, it was pretty good,” he remembers – the peanut butter, in particular.

His mom put her two children through Catholic school, St. Francis de Sales, and John went on to Utica Free Academy. Absent a father’s restraining hand, when he was a junior he said to himself, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” He walked out and never went back.

For the next two years, in Boston, he handled the soundboard for Celebration, a Utica band that was trying to make it big there. (In those days, the now-tidy lawmaker confesses, his braided hair grew down his back to his belt.)

Back home, “I worked a lot of dead-end jobs” through his 20s, including as an aide to the famously impetuous Ed Hanna, Utica’s mayor in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

After Hanna left office, Salka found himself working as an orderly at Utica’s Faxton Hospital, and loving the atmosphere. By then, he had gotten his GED, and, at age 28, enrolled in Mohawk Valley Community College’s respiratory therapy program, (where he became editor of the Student Voice newspaper.)

It was a big demand field. Still in school, he got a job at Community Memorial Hospital in Hamilton and, graduating, he joined the neonatal care unit at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and he and wife Erin – the couple had met at MVCC – headed for the Nation’s Capital.

“On one side, Marine One would be coming in for a landing; on the other was the Washington Monument,” he remembers. He’d copter out to pick up premature babies, then fly them back for treatment. “It was pretty exciting,” he said.

At the time, a two-bedroom condo in D.C. was going for $150,000. But the Salkas were looking to start a family, so in 1990 headed back to Upstate New York, buying “a fixer-upper on 62 acres of land” in North Brookfield, Madison County, across Unadilla Creek from Edmeston. “We’ve been there ever since.”
Rejoining Community Memorial, Salka rose to the head the respiratory therapy department. On the side, he pursued a mason’s trade, starting a chimney building and repair business.

In Brookfield, the Salkas began raising a family, daughter Emily (Emmy) and Aleksandr. “I got to know the folks; I got to know the community,” and in 2002, he agreed to serve on a Brookfield Central School committee planning a capital project.

The next year, he ran for the school board; three years in, he was elevated to board president, went through the state School Board Association’s prestigious School Board Institute, and served on Madison County BOCES.

In 2007, he ran for Brookfield town supervisor, beating an 18-year incumbent. With 122 miles of roads, he developed a plan that replaced aging highway equipment, cutting the maintenance budget in half and reducing the tax rate from 7.68 per thousand to 6.24.

On the county Board of Supervisors for those 11 years (until he was elected to the Assembly in 2018), he applied his medical background to chairing the Social Services, Mental Health and Public Health committees.

As vice president of the county Board of Health, he oversaw the privatization of the 42-nurse home-care agency, which was “hemorrhaging money because of legacy costs.”

“It took a year and a half,” he said. “We were very, very selective in choosing the company that took over.”

First year, “we saved $1 million. All but two of the nurses found work with the company that took over. Because the company was able to modernize, I think we are providing even better service.”

He called that “my ‘shining star’ in terms of achievement.”

On the Planning & Economic Development Committee, he was involved in installing a 10-acre solar project at the county landfill, saving the county an estimated $200,000 a year, he said.

Through all this, he faced challenges at home. Daughter Emmy contracted cancer, passing away on Oct. 27, 2015, at age 22, after a years-long struggle. Son Alek was placed on the Asperger’s spectrum, but, now 27, is living on his own and has been supporting himself.

In public service for more than a decade, Salka realized, “at the town level, a lot of budget pressures are because of what’s coming out of Albany.” Further, “education is wrought with rules and regulations that schools have to comply with that don’t improve the quality of education and accountability.”

So in 2014, the Republican challenged Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, the ailing Ag Committee chairman who had been in office since 1990. Salka lost, 53-47 percent. In 2016, he narrowed Magee’s lead, 52-48 percent. Finally, in 2018, the challenger won, 51-49 percent.

Some question what a Republican can do in an Assembly dominated, 42 to 103, by Democrats. Salka, Thursday, Oct. 8, in this newspaper’s Cooperstown offices, said he’s been able to leverage his knowledge of the state Education Department and other agencies to the benefit of his constituents.

He knows who to call.

Salka said he had a recent success bringing in the state Canal Corp. to resolve flooding in Eaton, allowing a construction project to proceed, and in helping find state help to combat eutrophication in Oneida Lake.

That’s A Wrap!

That’s A Wrap!

Annual CSO Gift Wrapping

Returns To Southside Mall

Sarah Patterson, Oneonta, gift-wraps presents for Chrsitmas shoppers at the Southside Mall Saturday afternoon at the gift-wrapping station near Bath & Body Works.  It’s an annual tradition to help benefit the Catskill Symphony Orchestra and will continue until Christmas Eve. Hours are Sunday 12-6pm, Monday 10am-8pm and Tuesday 10am-5pm. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Rain Plays Tricks, Doesn’t Deter Treaters

Rain Plays Tricks, But

Doesn’t Deter Treaters

Erratic rain throughout the evening led to the cancellation of Oneonta’s annual Halloween parade, but all manner of ghouls and ghosts made their treat-seeking rounds at local homes and businesses this afternoon and evening. Above, Devin El, Leilani El and Ziyen Giles passed City Hall on their treat-hunting mission, with Lizzette Hopkins and Edward Giles, Maryland, in tow. Inset at right, Oneonta’s Jessica and Paul Benzaleski arrive downtown with their children Adalia and Reilly ready to take home some sweets.(Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

KellyAnn Wolner, 54, 30-Year Coach, Phys-Ed Teacher At Unatego Central

IN MEMORIAM

KellyAnn Wolner, 54, 30-Year Coach,

Phys-Ed Teacher At Unatego Central

KellyAnn Wolner

BINGHAMTON – KellyAnn Wolner, 54, an award-winning 30-year teacher and coach at Unatego Central School, died at her home in Binghamton, on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, after an 18-month battle with colon cancer.

Born on Oct. 24, 1964, in Spain at Naval Station Rota, Kelly lived in a variety of places before her family settled in Rome, N.Y.

She graduated from Westmoreland Central School in 1982 and went on to pursue her dream of becoming a physical education teacher at Mohawk Valley Community College, earning her associate degree in physical education in 1987, and SUNY Cortland, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1989 and master’s degree in health education in 1995.

Ames, Mandigo Honored As Oneonta’s 2019 Trailblazers

Ames, Mandigo Honored

As City’s 2019 Trailblazers

Oneonta’s 2019 Woman Trailblazer Award winners Kelly Ames, left, and Carol Mandigo were honored this evening with a City Hall reception before the Common Council meeting. Mayor Gary Herzig and Joyce Miller, chair of the city’s Commission on Community Relations & Human Rights, presented the annual award before a gathered crowd of friends, family and public officials. “(Kelly) embodies the phrase ‘service above self'” said Herzig, “whether it is through her work, volunteering, or her personal life, she makes life better for the under-privileged.” He went on to praise Mandigo, saying, “I can think of no one else more deserving of this award. Her combination of her talents, energy, doing coordinating large groups and doing whatever it takes has lead to events like First Night and the Hometown 4th of July Celebration, two of the City’s most successful events, and ones that are enjoyed by tens of thousands.” (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Pastors, Officials Offer Support To Local Sufis
CHRISTCHURCH MASSACRE REMEMBERED

Pastors, Officials Offer

Support To Local Sufis

A Cooperstown contingent – seated from left, Methodist Pastor Tom LeBeau, and Presbyterians Carol Beechy and Pastor Elsie Roades – attended Sunday evening’s service of solidarity at the Sufi community in Sidney.  (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By IAN AUSTIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Attendees include the Rev. Craig Schwallenberg, pastor of Oneonta’s UU Church.

SIDNEY CENTER – Spiritual leaders, mayors, law-enforcement officers, friends and neighbors gathered Sunday evening at the Sufi Muslim community of Osmanli Dergahi here to express solidarity after the mass shooting in Christ Church, New Zealand.

“You coming here shows you care.” said Junaid Khan, a leader of the community. “Facebook, twitter, they don’t matter. Thank you for taking action and coming here. It means a lot to us.”

A gunman entered Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch during Friday Prayer on March 15 and shot almost 100 worshipers, killing 50, in the worst mass shooting in that nation’s history.

UU Dinner Helps Support African School

UU Dinner Supports

Youchaou School In Africa

It was a packed house at the Unitarian Universalist Church this evening as people gathered to enjoy Kenyan cuisine to support their The Mali Education Project, which has been supporting children in Youchaou’s Private School outside of Mali since 2006. Above, Anna Hankins, Maurince Odago, Duncan Omune, Charles Hudson and Tracy Vurma fill their plates with mbata, ugali, kachumbari, githeri and more, all made by members of the church. Through their involvement with the UUSO, the school has been able to build a second and third floor and expand their programming through high school. Anyone interested in providing support for the project can contact the UU Church at (607) 433-1272. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Stewart’s Shops Donates To First Night Oneonta

Stewart’s Shops Donates

$1,000 To First Night

Andrew Zeh, manager of the Oneonta’s Stewart’s Shops, presents Carol Mandigo,  First Night Oneonta chair, with a $1,000 check in support of annual Hometown Fourth of July celebration and New Year’s Eve events. “They have been one of our signature supporters for these events.” said Mandigo, “God bless them.” Zeh, who has been manager for the last three years, said they have been giving ever since he took the position. “As a company, we give as much as we get.” said Zeh, “It keeps us local and keeps our areas running. We have to take care of our communities, kids and adults.” (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Oneonta Pastor Vowing To Perform Gay Nuptials

NEW ‘TRADITIONAL PLAN’ DISCUSSED

TODAY AMONG OTSEGO METHODISTS

Oneonta Pastor Vowing

To Continue Gay Nuptials

The Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell, pastor Oneonta’s First United Methodist Church, this morning told her congregation she will continue to perform gay marriages, despite a church conference’s decision in February adopting a “Traditional Plan” that affirmed a ban against gay marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.  Pastors, locally and throughout the Syracuse-based Upper New York Conference, were asked to brief their congregations this morning on the special conference decision.  Swords-Horrell, who was assigned to Oneonta in July, called the decision “sad and disturbing,” since the local church has been a “reconciling congregation” for 30 years. “We feel it is restrictive, oppressive and makes our gay and LBGTQ members feel unwelcome,” she said.  “We will continue with who we are, and accept all people.”  Syracuse-based Bishop Mark Webb is planning a livestream Q&A session 4-6 p.m. next Sunday.  “There’s still a chance it could be overturned,” Swords-Horrell said.  (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Fox Debuts Fantasy-Romance Novel At Green Toad

Fox Debuts Fantasy-Romance

 Novel At Green Toad

Amanda Fox, right, reads a passage from her new fantasy-romance novel “Rogue Fate” to friend Jess Brown, mother Donna Conrad, dad Gary and brother Scott, seen above, at the Green Toad on Saturday afternoon where she was signing copies. The book, the first book in The Rogue series, was released in January and is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kabo as an ebook, and an audiobook. Fox is currently working on the sequel “Dragon’s Scars”. More info on Fox and her books can be found at amandatfox.com. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Near Record Crowds At Empty Bowl Event

Near Record Crowds

At Empty Bowl Event

Bowls and soup were going fast as over 180 people in the first half hour streamed through the doors of the Christ Church in Cooperstown for the annual Empty Bowls event which benefits the local food pantry. Hungry crowds came to try the many different soups offered by 10 area restaurants and  seven individuals who in all created over 40 gallons of soup. Above, Amy Zoltick serves a bowl of curried butternut squash soup with wild rice edamame to Stephanie Adams. At right, event organizer Kathy Chase enlists helps from Diane Detrinis, to refill a crockpot with her Thai chicken and rice soup. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Oneonta Yellowjackets Fall To Seton Saints

Oneonta Yellowjackets

Fall To Seton Saints

Oneonta’s Matt Shultz, right, dribbles past Tyler Rumpel of the Seton Saints(19-3) during their game at the Seton campus in Binghamton this evening. Despite a strong first quarter by both teams, by halftime the Saints had a 13 point lead from which Oneonta could not recover, eventually losing 58-79. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Bombers On The Horizon!

Bombers On The Horizon!

Sam McKissik, an employee with AJ Sign Co., Burnt Hills, finishes attaching the sign for the forthcoming Bombers Burrito Bar on the outside of 219 Main St. in Oneonta earlier this afternoon. Two large cranes were needed for the installation but did not cause any traffic delays. Construction on the interior is still ongoing. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Fathers, Daughters Enjoy Night Out

Fathers, Daughters

Enjoy Night Out

Daughters got the royal treatment this evening as they and their fathers enjoyed the festivities at the annual YMCA Father Daughter Dance at the Hunt Union Ballroom at SUNY Oneonta. Above, Brad Amadon, right, Davenport, swings his daughter Natalie on the dance floor before the dinner rush. At right, Tim Gargash enjoys a slow dance with his daughter Skylar, who is wearing a dress he hand-made for her especially for the occasion. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

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