Contributed by Maria Pericozzi
OSWEGO, NY – When he attended Arizona State University, Oswego native William Barlow Jr. never thought he would run for office or be involved in politics. Now, Barlow, the youngest Oswego mayor, said it is a fulfilling feeling helping and serving the people in the Port City.
“I never thought I would really run for office or be involved in politics at all,” Barlow said. “But once I got involved being a city councilor, I really enjoyed doing it. I felt like I was making a difference.”
Following graduation from Arizona State University, Barlow moved back to Oswego to help run his family’s business.
The city councilor in his ward announced his retirement at the end of the year. Barlow said he always had an interest in government and decided he wanted to get involved in the community.
After a year and a half as a city councilor, he decided to run for mayor.
“I just noticed that a lot of the issues and progress was being stifled at the top,” Barlow said. “[The mayor] wasn’t making the right decisions or decisions at all. I thought I could do a better job. I had the vision and the energy to do the job and take the city in the right direction.”
Being 26 years young is a benefit because being mayor is a physical job, according to Barlow.
He said he has the energy to not get tired and to stay focused and a younger perspective, helps him be a better mayor.
“I think older people, when they have the historical context behind some situations, maybe that scares them or makes them hesitate before they do something. Whereas, I may not have the historical context,” Barlow said. “The sense of fear or hesitation isn’t there for me because I think we can accomplish anything if we need to accomplish it. If it’s the right thing to do, it needs to be done without hesitation and without excuses.”
When people say, “This is the way we’ve always done it in the city of Oswego,” Barlow said it means nothing to him because he wasn’t here and doesn’t know how things were always done.
He said change is a good thing and looking at things from a different perspective is good.
His favorite part about being mayor is being able to help people directly.
“It can be anything from picking up leaves in a person’s yard that have been sitting there for a while or trying to find a grant opportunity for a small business owner,” Barlow said. “It varies but it is that fulfilling feeling of being able to help someone directly, it never gets old.”
Being the mayor, Barlow said he has the ability to help people almost immediately and make a difference, trying to help that person directly.
“If I run into somebody and they have a problem with the city, I have the power to address that problem and make the situation better for that person,” Barlow said.
When growing up in Oswego, Barlow said there was a strong sense of community. Now, there is a noticeable difference in the sense of community compared to when he was growing up, he added.
“You had more families living in the neighborhoods,” Barlow said. “Everybody seemed to know each other. You hung out at night with the neighborhood kids. There just seemed to be that stronger sense of community and I noticed that that was starting to decline.”
In addition to the sense of community declining, downtown stores were closing and owner-occupied homes were being turned into rental properties, he said.
The mayor said in the last two years, the trends are turning around.
“We’re seeing more families move in [and] we’re seeing more activity downtown,” Barlow said. “I think we hit the bottom, maybe one or two years ago, now we’re starting to come back up and reverse some of the trends.”
Barlow also spends his days meeting with different department heads, including police, fire, code enforcement and community development.
“I view my job as laying out the overall vision for the city and creating that vision and working toward that vision over the long term,” he explained.
Barlow spends time searching for grants to apply for, opportunities for Oswego and what projects need to be done in the community, all while figuring out how to better position Oswego financially.
He said it is important to notice small things throughout the community to make improvements.
Barlow said he is involved in the code enforcement department every day, monitoring the landlords, looking at homes in violation.
He said he makes sure to keep the pressure on landlords and tries to continue making progress every day.
“It’s kind of a mix between running the day to day operations and taking care of the bigger picture, setting that vision to give us all something to work toward,” Barlow said.
Barlow said the changes that have been made in code enforcement, including holding landlords accountable, will better serve the city in the long-run.
“As the years go by, our code office will continue to make progress and continue to get bigger and stronger,” Barlow said. “We just need to keep the pressure on landlords to make sure they no longer take advantage of the city, students or tenants like some have in the past.”
Barlow said he thinks the most impactful thing he has done has been winning the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
Last July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Oswego won a $10 million state grant to revitalize downtown. Since then, Barlow has held a few public meetings to discuss how the money should be spent.
The Downtown Revitalization Initiative plan is a comprehensive plan to transform local neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next generation of New Yorkers would want to live and work. The grant given to Oswego is part of a $100 million effort to improve the urban vitality of city centers across the state.
“I think we’ve accomplished so much in the first year that it is my responsibility now to make sure that all the things we’ve accomplished, a vision I outlined or grant money that we won, is fulfilled and allocated responsibly and the way it is intended,” Barlow said. “We just need to direct pieces to fall into place from all our accomplishments in the first year. I think that will carry us and keep the community moving forward.”
Barlow said the focus now is to face some of the bigger problems, including decades of referred maintenance to city roads, city infrastructure and financially focus the city.
He wants to focus on not only the 2018 budget, but the future budgets as well.
“I want to leave the city financially stronger than I found it,” the mayor said.
The most frustrating part of his job is knowing everything that has to be done and not being able to do it all right away.
“The city needs help in a lot of different areas,” Barlow said. “But we need to pace ourselves and do things responsibly in ways that financially make sense so that we don’t spend too much money and have fiscal problems in the near future.”
Although this is frustrating, Barlow said it makes him think responsibly and strategically.
Barlow is currently in his second year of his first term and plans to run for another term.
“I think in order to carry out the real vision that I think we all have for the city of Oswego, it takes a two-term mayor,” Barlow said. “It is literally going to take eight years to see all the positive differences that we’re trying to make.”
“I think it’s fulfilling and as long as I feel like I am being productive here and making a difference day to day. I intend to run again and be the mayor for eight years,” Barlow said. “I really enjoy coming down to city hall every single day.”
Barlow said he would tell his 18-year-old self to keep an open mind and not be set on any one thing.
“When I was 18 in Arizona, I never thought I would end up being the mayor in the city of Oswego in less than 10 years,” Barlow said. “I think it’s important to let yourself consider all options and be more open minded and capitalize every opportunity that presents itself.”