OSWEGO — Democrat and Port City arts advocate Matthew Fleming is vying for a spot on the Common Council, saying his campaign focuses on transparency, aiming to bring “residents into the fold.”
At the start of his campaign Fleming — who has built a career in theater arts that spans more than two decades and also works at the Oswego County Board of Elections — described Oswego’s “vibrant political life” as something that drew him to challenge Sixth Ward Republican incumbent Ronald Tesoriero for a spot on the city’s legislative body.
With months of campaigning now under his belt, Fleming called the experience of getting to know local voters a “fascinating” one, noting knocking on voters’ doors and engaging in political discussion deepened his understanding of local politics.
“I knew what kinds of things I cared about, but it wasn't until I started actually petitioning that I started really identifying the needs of the community,” Fleming told The Palladium-Times he hears frequently about the distribution of city resources and shares those concerns.
“One of the things that astonished me the more I spoke to people about the things that they felt were missing or were overlooked — was not only how accurate their observations were — but when you've looked at how the city makes a lot of its decisions, you realize how disjointed they seem to be,” Fleming said. “One of the major complaints in my ward from most of the people I spoke to is that all of the money that comes to the city appears to go to a very narrow area in downtown.”
Fleming pointed to a recent decision by city leaders to replace a group of oak, maple and honey locust trees in the West First Street downtown area in favor of Japanese lilac trees as a spending choice that may be “difficult to justify” for Sixth Ward voters.
“I'm not saying these aren't good things, but then when you walk through the Sixth Ward, I don't know how I would — as a member of the council — justify supporting those kinds of decisions when I'm looking at streets that are obviously in desperate need of paving,” Fleming said.
An “overtaxed water infrastructure,” struggles with water pressure and abandoned lots are other issues Fleming noted were addressed by constituents during his campaign.
“There just doesn't seem to be any attention being given to the Sixth Ward and it's not shocking that a lot of the people in my ward didn't even know who their councilor is,” Fleming said. “There just doesn't seem to be an advocate that is working effectively for the Sixth Ward.”
Further, Fleming added accessibility to local representatives is a priority in local politics “because it is the most direct level of government” residents have access to.
“These are rather here-and-now kinds of issues,” he said. “People need to be brought into the process. Decisions aren’t made in meetings. By the time the public has an opportunity to say what it wants to say in any given issue, the council already know how they are voting on these issues. If you want to have any input in how the place you call home is run, your representative needs to bring you into that process.”
On the issue of having ward residents battle substance use disorder, Fleming highlighted a need for better recovery programs.
“There is no solution to this problem that doesn't involve treatment and there is no way to implement treatment in a community without bringing municipal and county organizations agencies into the fold,” he said. “It's not a thing people like to spend money on — I get that — but it's also not going to be a problem that goes away. There are very limited resources here for addicts.”
Fleming noted there is a need for a hand-in-hand approach to law enforcement on drug trafficking, as well as a viable recovery program.
“The two things have to go together and the city needs to be willing to sit down with people who know what they're talking about,” he said, using the YMCA as an example of a national organization that could help support potential rehabilitation solutions.
Election Day is Nov. 5.