OSWEGO — City leaders shared their reactions to Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow's 2021 State of the City Address with The Palladium-Times on Wednesday, largely applauding the speech which outlined a series of initiatives and called on residents and lawmakers to work to make the Port City a better place.
The mayor's roughly 30-minute speech outlined the pressing need to recover from the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing the ongoing renovations of the Port City waterfront, lowering costs for residents and attracting and retaining residents. Barlow's speech also touched on national topics and denounced the riots in Washington, D.C. last week, which he said shook his soul and should serve as wake up call.
Barlow said his agenda was aggressive and optimistic amid the ongoing global pandemic, and conceded it would be a challenge to realize. The Port City, however, has "limitless potential," the mayor said, and city government would not let up after making considerable progress in recent years.
“We need to make the most of the opportunity we have in front of us,” Barlow said. “Anything else would be an injustice... All we have to do is work together, be positive, be confident, believe in ourselves, lift each other up and work hard to improve our city each and every day.”
Common Council President Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, noted Barlow's speech covered "a lot of territiory," and said the mayor touched on several important points for the community, including the continued cost-cutting for city water and sewer users and waterfront developments. Corradino commended Barlow for laying out ambitious goals, adding "the city needs and responsibilities of the mayor have to continue regardless of the pandemic."
"It's important for us to continue providing the services to our city and to keep moving forward on the momentum that we've built over the past five years," Corradino said. "I was glad to see he's still planning an aggressive program."
Corradino called the reduced costs for water and sewer users "huge," adding city "residents and water users have been burdered by the cost of the sewer separation project for many years."
Waterfront developments, including the Wright's Landing Marina and International Pier renovations, would pay dividends for future generations, Corradino said, adding Barlow's announcement to name the completed pier after the late former mayor Bill Cahill was "a wonderful idea."
"The mayor did an excellent job of explaining how Mayor Cahill was the first mayor to show some attention to our waterfront, and the work that we're doing in this decade only continues that fine work," Corradino said.
Corradino also applauded Barlow's proposal to work with Pathfinder Bank to cover the closing costs for first responders, nurses and others seeking to purchase homes within Oswego. City officials in 2018 made an effort to attract employees at Oswego Health, Novelis and Exelon to live in the city, and Corradino said the latest proposal, dubbed the Heroes as Neighbors program, would build on those efforts.
Council Vice President Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, said with the backdrop of a global pandemic, and distressing news filling both the local and national airwaves at a constant level, Barlow provided "a message of collective accomplishment, resiliency and hope for the future of our community."
Barlow said public service should be about improving the lives of residents and helping communities and neighbors, not dividing people. Barlow said that’s what Oswego has done in recent years, with people on both sides of the divides — the mayor and council, Republicans and Democrats, public and private entities, east and west of the Oswego River, old and young — all coming together to make the city a better place.
“While the federal government seeks to find its way in the coming weeks, let Oswego serve as an example of the good that comes when the main objective is to improve your community and better the lives of those around you,” the mayor said.
Hill said Barlow's speech was grounded not by rhetoric but tangible and measurable objectives, and said he looks forward to working with the mayor as the city moves to implement the priorities set forth for the coming year.
"Most importantly, Mayor Barlow articulately and eloquently captured the essence of what it means to be an Oswegonian and particularly, what it means to be a public servant," Hill said. "When you can help someone, you help them. That’s the purpose of government and that’s what we all should strive to do both in our public and private lives."
Oswego City Democratic Committee Chair Jonathan Ashline applauded the mayor for denouncing the attack on the nation's Capitol.
"I think that's an important statement for our democracy and I send my thanks to the mayor for stating it definitively," Ashline said Wednesday.
Prior to closing his address, Barlow touched on the events in Washington, D.C. last week, and said the images of rioters storming the Capitol Building shook his soul and “should serve as a wake up call to elected officials at all levels” and the public.
“I hope to never see anything like that again in my life,” Barlow said. “No person who considers themselves an American can support what took place on Jan. 6.”
Ashline, however, did take issue with Barlow's language on police reform. Barlow's speech noted the city is developing a state-mandated, "multi-faceted police re-imaging plan," which the mayor said would be designed to bring law enforcement closer to the community. The mayor also said the city would defend the police "while some thoughtlessly chant to defund the police," and the city would invest in officers and police modernization.
"I still find it unfortunate that the mayor stubbornly refuses to appreciate the causes behind the Black Lives Matter protests this summer," Ashline said, calling portions of the mayor's viewpoint and plan the wrong direction for community-police relations.
The plan isn't totally wrongheaded though, Ashline said, expressing support for the mayor's propsal to utilize mental health professionals on certain emergency calls, which he said is a reform Democrats at the state and national levels have advocated.
Barlow and city Republicans have very much been in lockstep in recent years, with the council rarely pushing back on the mayor's proposals. Republicans have repeatedly said the cohesiveness has benefited the city and helped propell positive change in the city, but Ashline lamented the lack of discussion on the issues.
"It’s a shame that there is never enough discussion on these issues as the current council seems resigned to rubberstamp the mayor’s every mandate," Ashline said. "We still strongly believe that a city’s common council should be far more skeptical of a mayor's agenda."
Barlow, who is starting his sixth year in office, outlined a long list of objectives for the coming year but punctuated his address by saying the global pandemic is the “biggest challenge yet” and a threat to all that the city has accomplished in recent years.