Published in Utica Observer-Dispatch May 26, 2019
Creating a robust democracy in Utica
Recently, the Planning Board granted a variance for a convenience store on Roosevelt Ave, even though only two years ago area residents worked to defeat such a variance. Meanwhile, on the other side of South Utica, homeowners on Greenwood Ct received a cursory letter from the Police Department informing them that their street would once again become two-way, even though they had not been consulted.
These two situations have a common cause: both resulted from a weakened democracy in which citizens’ voices are not loud enough to be heard by those in power. In such a weakened democracy, citizens are not empowered to contribute to the important decisions that affect the quality of their everyday lives.
Most of us want a robust democracy. This requires two things: responsive and effective representatives and engaged citizens. Engaged citizens can call upon their representatives to work hard on their behalf. And effective representatives can help to organize citizens so that they know what decisions are being made in City Hall, and engage them in that decision-making process. Both of these, engaged citizens and effective representatives, can contribute to a democracy in which everyone’s voices are heard, loud and clear.
Celeste Friend, Utica
Celeste Friend is a candidate for Common Council for the Third Ward.
Published in Utica Observer-Dispatch April 13, 2019
The evidence is in: the arts are an important driver of the American economy. According to a recent study by the NEA, the arts contribute more than $760 billion to the US economy. And as goes the nation, so goes Utica. South Utica has a growing arts hub centered around the Uptown Theater Center for the Arts. The theater has new owners, Devin and Briana Mahoney, who are restoring the classic landmark of South Utica. It now has classes and performances several days a week. Across the street is the unique Café Domenico, where all day long people gather to have great coffee and socialize. Next door is The Other Side, a non-profit community space that operates as an art gallery and venue for concerts, lectures, and classes. Nearby there is the Green Onion pub, Slice pizza, and the Dancenter. The area is vibrant and alive with arts and great food, and it isn’t hard to imagine it growing and creating economic benefit for all of us in Utica. The City of Utica should support this area by developing ample parking for the many people who visit South Utica every day. The area and the arts deserve our collective support.
Published in Utica Observer-Dispatch, February 16, 2019
Our local UFCW union recently achieved an important success. They reached an agreement with the management of the Presbyterian Home in New Hartford. These union members are now working under a fair contract agreeable to all parties. This is good for the union and its members, but it is also good for all of us, because strong unions make for strong communities.
Collective bargaining allows union members to combine their individual power and voices so that they can match the power that their employers already have. Without unions, employees are at the mercy of those for whom they work, in terms of wages, benefits, and working conditions. Moreover, all workers benefit when even only some workers belong to a union. When workers are organized, their standards of living are raised, which translates into better economic security for themselves, but also higher standards of living, better working conditions, and higher wages for all of us. The evidence is in: when Wisconsin gutted the unions in that state, the wages of all workers declined. So each of us should applaud the efforts of our local labor leaders to make our area better for all of us.
Published in Utica Observer-Dispatch, January 11, 2019
I spent November 6th as a Poll Watcher at the Parkway Recreation Center. Thousands of people came and went that day, ready to meet the most basic obligation of citizenship: to vote for their elected representatives. But far too many were not embraced by the system. Many who came had every right to vote, but voting was made into a hassle for them. The Poll Workers were undertrained, understaffed, and overworked. I would happily be a Poll Watcher again, but what we need is a system in which no one has to be trained to be a Poll Watcher, where everyone who has a right to vote gets to vote.
So, I call on Marianne Buttenschon and Joe Griffo to support fair election reforms in New York State. We need to get big money out of our elections. We need Automatic or Same Day Voter Registration, Early Voting, and Better Funded Boards of Election. We need to make sure that every citizen gets to vote, whether they have been to prison or not, whether they are disabled or not, whether their employers give them time off or not. We need to make this into a real, thriving democracy, where voting is easily accessed by every citizen.