OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego English professor and Democrat Diane Zeller says she has “always been driven by social justice” and is running for the Oswego Common Council to solidify economic opportunities for Fourth Ward residents.
Zeller has called the Port City home for more than three decades and announced her run for office in February after incumbent Councilor Robert Wilmott, R-4th Ward, said he would not seek re-election.
At the beginning of her campaign, Zeller said her involvement in “social justice” causes and direct ties to community development organizations like Oswego County Opportunities motivated her to run.
“I've always been social justice driven and community driven,” Zeller said. “When you're building a community that's good for your family, you're building a community that's good for everybody, so (running for office) just seems to be a natural outgrowth of that for me.”
After walking the streets of the Fourth Ward as part of her campaign, Zeller reflected on her experience getting acquainted with residents and issues in the area.
“I've come away with a sense that the city does a lot structurally, but there are a lot of things that people need on a more personal level and those are things we are not doing,” Zeller told The Palladium-Times in a recent interview.
Greater local options and opportunities for senior citizens was one of the most common areas of improvement pointed out during the campaign trail, Zeller said.
“I had a bunch of older gentlemen talk about the fact that they wish that we had a rec center,” Zeller said. “We don't have that kind of thing for people, people who are older. It just becomes much more difficult to meet their social needs.”
Senior residents also spoke out about the need for a senior nutrition center, according to Zeller.
“Everybody else has (a senior nutrition center),” she said. “Why doesn’t Oswego? Why aren't we paying attention to those kinds of needs in the people in our community?”
On Election Day, Zeller will appear on the ballot under the Democratic and Working Families party lines and the self-described Blue Dog Democrat — a moniker adopted by Democrats who identify as fiscally conservative — noted she appreciates the support of New York’s 24th Congressional District candidates and fellow Democrats Dana Balter and Roger Misso.
Democrats will face off in a Primary Election for the right to challenge U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, next year have contributed to local Democrats’ canvassing efforts in Fulton and Oswego in the past month.
“I'm really focused on the one-on-one connection with constituents in my neighborhood,” Zeller said, noting she held a block party in the fourth ward at the beginning of the month as a way to reach more voters. “We talked about some of the issues in the community and we shared some food and music, and we just took the time to get to know each other. I think communities are stronger and they look out for each other better when they know each other.”
On election day, Zeller will face off against common council vereran and Republican Shawn Walker.
“When I was looking at my opponent’s literature he talked about the fact that he had been on the council for 10 years, but he didn’t really list anything he accomplished,” Zeller said of Walker. “I’m working on a number of things and I would hope my experience and relationship with the community demonstrates that I’m capable of getting things accomplished.”
With only a week left on the campaign trail, Zeller said she will continue building a core tenet of her campaign in the form of introduction videos uploaded to her candidate Facebook page.
“I'll be walking more right up until the very end,” she said. “And I appreciate the time that people have taken to get to know me. I appreciate the kindness and the fact that they were willing to spend time addressing issues with me.”
Election day in New York state is Nov. 5