FULTON – As November approaches, three citizens of Fulton are preparing to run for election in the Common Council and three are aiming to keep their contested positions.
In the second ward, incumbent David Ritchie is running against Douglas Chapman. In the fourth ward, incumbent Samuel Vono will oppose John Kenyon. In the fifth ward, incumbent Dennis Merlino will go up against Audrey Avery.
First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon, Third Ward Councilor Donald Patrick, Jr., and Sixth Ward Councilor Lawrence Macner are all running unopposed.
Oswego County Today interviewed each candidate, except for Chapman and Vono who have not gotten back yet. The following Q&A is the product of those interviews.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and why you decided to run?
Kenyon: “I’ve lived here my whole life, been up and down the East coast, a little bit of the West coast, came back here, raised my family. I have two boys… I drove a tractor trailer for Federal Express. I worked right out of the airport, so I pretty much stayed local… I’ve always been interested in politics and I was just waiting for the right time, and now that I’m retired and my kids are grown up, I figured this was the right time. I’ve been to countless Common Council meetings over the years and I just want to get more involved.”
Avery: “I am a native of Fulton. I’ve lived here my whole life. My husband and I live here. This is actually my third time running, so it’s something that I’m very passionate about. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this three times as there’s a lot involved in it as you know. I am so compassionate about my city that I feel like I can do a lot more for our ward and our city that has been done. I just feel that our city and ward have been neglected for a long time, and I don’t feel we have the proper representation. So I really want to do better. I can’t wave a magic wand, of course, but I do want to do the best that I can. My target is the drugs in the city, absentee landlords – that’s a huge issue because when you have the drugs, you have the bad landlords bringing people in that shouldn’t be here. So everything goes hand in hand.”
What are some improvements you hope to help make in Fulton, specifically in your ward?
Kenyon: “To try to get this Nestles property developed. That’s obviously been in my ward; I’m really concerned about that. And these vacant houses, I don’t know if you want to call them zombie houses or whatever you want to call them. I believe having conversations with other councilmen, and I just think there’s more that we can do as a group to try to address that problem with squatters and all that.”
Avery: “In the fifth ward, there are a lot of houses that need work. There are a lot of people that obviously cannot afford to do repairs on their homes. Asking people what they need, what we can do to help them. When I’m going door to door – I’m going to start doing that – asking people what improvements they do need for their homes because there are many grants in the city that are available to help people that they really don’t know about. The CDA has a lot of programs that will help people either through loans or something for free they can do: siding, roofing, certain things that they can do. So that’s important: asking everybody what they need to be done. It’s not about me.”
What is the biggest issue you believe the council needs to work on?
Kenyon: “I think the biggest issue would be the drug problem that the city has. And of course it’s not just our city, it’s all over… I don’t know what it is that we can do; maybe we can contact some other cities or towns that are our size and find out what they’re doing. It doesn’t hurt to reach out a little bit and get some other ideas from other communities. The roads, try to keep taxes down. When you’re short on manpower, it’s a tough battle.”
Avery: “Again, the absentee landlords. Find out what’s going on, why are they not taking care of their properties? Why are they dilapidated? Why are we not fighting them as we should be? The drug epidemic, again that’s huge. I’m sure you hear that all the time, but it is huge. We see it a lot at the park over here, because I live right on Voorhees Park. Those are major issues that definitely need to be addressed, but asking people what they need, that’s my main goal, because it is all about them – the taxpayers, the people that reside here.”
Is there something good the council has done that you would like to build off of or continue?
Kenyon: “I like the fact that they’re taking these homes, these abandoned homes and taking them over and rehabbing them and putting them back on the tax roll. That should just keep on continuing… These houses have sat around. They can sit there dormant for years. If they sit too long then you gotta tear them down and you just got an empty lot. If the city can get ahold of them soon enough and rehab them, then that’s a good thing. That’s a program I like to see going. They’re working hand in hand with the county, so that works.”
Avery: “The council, they do everything they can in the city. One thing that I would like to work on is having our roads further paved. I know that they are doing some more roads, but we really need to find a lot of funding to help do more roads in the city. Any street you drive down in the city is just atrocious. Bringing more business in. I know they’re bringing quite a few businesses as it is, but we need to seek out more business. Definitely doing something with the old Nestle property. A strip mall, something like that. I know Spectrum is going in there, which is wonderful. We have new restaurants coming in so I guess just further work on bringing more business, taking care of the roads, sidewalks that need replacing. Those are important things also. I know they’re working on that, but we’re not finding the funding unfortunately. With the next administration, I think we can all work together and find a solution.”
When did you become a councilor?
Ritchie: “Four years ago.”
Merlino: “I was sworn in January 1, 2018.”
What is something you have done as a councilor that you are most proud of?
Ritchie: “One of the things we just did was that DRI, which is a great thing. $10 million for the city, help the downtown. The lake, we’ve been working on the lake, doing dredging there. The DPW has been working on that, so that’s another great accomplishment we’ve been working on. Some of these vacant properties… trying to get some of these properties taken care of, and some of them are just a mess, so we gotta do what we can to get these cleaned up. We’ve kept taxes in our control so far. We had to raise water and sewer a little bit, but other than that our taxes have been pretty steady. I hope to keep continuing that… There will be a new mayor so that’ll be something new and exciting to see how that turns out.”
Merlino: “During my campaign, I promised recovery and growth for the city of Fulton. And I’m most proud that we’re achieving recovery and growth like we haven’t seen in decades. This was a great team effort of leadership and planning that I’m proud to be a part of. We’re seeing a huge increase of business growth… We’re seeing home sales take off like we haven’t seen before with new families moving in to Fulton… Fulton is just a highly desirable city now, and I’m tremendously proud of that. We’ve turned what was a terrible reputation at a downward spiral in the very short time that I’ve been in office. We’ve turned this into an upward spiral.”
Do you have any ideas for next year?
Ritchie: “Right off hand, not at the moment. Of course Joe Fiumara in the CDA is working on a grant for West Broadway here. It’ll help try to get some of those properties taken care of, help maybe refurbish a little bit. Some of the property owners can fix things up a little bit.”
Merlino: “There is so much business that we’re taking action on that I’m really proud of… To continue those actions is one part of what has to happen next year. We have to continue our day to day business of how to improve services, how to save money, how to make Fulton run better, how to plan better, how to do everything a little bit better day to day. That’s on one hand. On the other hand, we now have this $10 million DRI that… we’re going to have to sit down with the state, with the businesses and the community and plan how can we grow Fulton responsibly.”
What is the biggest issue in Fulton and how do you plan to work on it?
Ritchie: “I think the biggest issue we got are some of these vacant properties. There’s quite a few of them throughout the city. It’s not just my ward. About every ward has some properties that are vacant and becoming a problem. The fire department’s just come out with a program that mark some of these properties that are hazardous so people know to stay away from them because they could be dangerous. We need to get these things straightened out. Some of them we have rehabbed and put back on the market, and some of them are just in such bad shape I don’t think we’ll be able to do that. I don’t know what it’s going to involve finance-wise to take care of some of these properties… I got another property on Broadway I don’t think the taxpayers should pay to take care of that building for that guy.”
Merlino: “The two biggest issues in Fulton are jobs… I’m doing everything I can to promote the reality that Fulton is a beautiful place to raise a family… Fulton is highly desireable for when you open your business or move to Fulton, and it’s a fantastic place to live. That’s one part of it, to make Fulton as attractive as possible for employers. The second part is to make sure that the neighborhoods stay as safe and clean as possible. We’re making strong, strong measures against absentee landlords… At the same time, we’re working with groups like Fulton Block Builders… the people who are making Fulton desirable in a generic sense. They’re really taking pride in Fulton.”
What is your vision for the future of Fulton?
Kenyon: “I know we’re heading in the right direction. I’ve seen some improvements over the last few years and I just want to keep that momentum going. Especially with this $10 million windfall that we got from the state, or will be getting from the state I should say. I think that can be put to some good use. I want to hopefully get some business brought back to this town. I mean that’s tough to do with New York State policies and taxes and everything, but I’d love to see some more businesses come in, especially over here where Aldi’s is. Just keep marching forward and keep pushing on; it’s all you can do.”
Ritchie: “The Nestle property is a big thing that’s gonna be developing. There’s quite a few things that are getting developed around the city. They got the new auto parts store down there, building that now… There’s Comcast, they’re going to be building. There’s a restaurant going in… There’s a lot of things going on for the whole city, not just my area… The DRI is a big thing. I’ve got to see what the future brings. A lot of the future is about money and finances and how you can get things done. We’ll have to see how it works out.”
Avery: “Definitely more business. The money that we’re getting from the governor is amazing, so that is going to do a lot for our marina, for our downtown. Hopefully we can have more festivals in the city like they do in Oswego. A larger farmer’s market would be wonderful, have craft vendors, more vendors there every Saturday and hopefully move that because it might get huge. We really need to work on the city. I was born here in 1969 and I have seen in the past 30 years, I’ve noticed a huge decline in the city. But we’ve lost so much industry that that hurts and obviously we aren’t going to bring the industry back because it’s just a bedroom community right now. Working on getting business. That’s the huge thing for our tax phase. It’ll help with paying for the high taxes the homeowners are paying.”
Merlino: “Where we and our children have choices of well-paying jobs in Fulton. Where we have roads we can drive on without jarring our teeth, where we can feel safe for our children to be outside playing, where Fulton Families proudly say, ‘Yes, I am from Fulton,’ where neighboring families say, ‘Let’s go to Fulton today,’ where Fulton is where you work, and Fulton is where you play, Fulton is where you go for Entertainment and to shop, Fulton is where you go to enjoy the river and the lake, Fulton is where you go to learn at great schools, Fulton is where you go to get healed at great medical facilities, Fulton, where technology is thriving, Fulton, where Central New Yorkers want to live and raise their Family, Fulton, the City where people everywhere say, ‘Fulton is so beautiful. Fulton is great.’”