Acker won’t seek reelection in Oneida
ONEIDA — There’s been a lot on the plate of Mayor Helen Acker since she was reelected to the city’s top post in 2019. Shortly after the ballots were counted, she was faced with a consent order from the Department of Environmental Conservation mandating a new wastewater treatment plant.
Weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shutting down wide swaths of the region’s social, economic and governmental operations.
But, despite those and other challenges, Acker said she, her staff and the city’s workforce persisted. Now, she said, in announcing she won’t seek reelection as mayor in this fall’s general election, it’s time for her to step aside and pass the mantle on to another.
Acker moved to Oneida in 1981 from New York City and attended Morrisville State College before opening Oneida Office Supply in 1984. She was sworn in as Oneida’s Ward 4 councilor in 2012 to replace Mike Kaiser following his resignation by then-Mayor Don Hudson.
As mayor, Acker said she is proud of how the city responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges, “we managed to keep all of our full-time staff,” she said. “We didn’t let anyone go and maintained the city. We did have to change our hours of operation and how we did things, but we got it done. I’m very happy about that and happy for our staff.”
“All the way around, from our workers to our department heads,” she added. “Everyone works their tails off to get things right.”
Acker said that the city getting a $10 million grant from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative is probably the thing she is most proud of as mayor. “It took a lot of time to do, and it was our second time around, with the first application being before my time as mayor,” she said. “When I got on board, [the department heads and I] talked about what steps we needed to take to get that grant — and we managed to get it.”
The funding will help spur a host of major projects, including a complete renovation of Hotel Oneida, the restoration of the Devereaux building, redevelopment of the Lerman building, new streetscape and bicycle infrastructure, and upgrades at Veteran’s Memorial Park. These projects and others, she said, could have a transformational impact on the city.
Likewise, the wastewater treatment plant project that was ordered shortly after she took office is now in progress. “It’s being built now and should be done by the fall,” she said. “And in a short amount of time, we’ll be able to take additional wastewater from outside the city and charge for it — meaning additional income for the city.”
There are others successes, Acker said, of her two terms as mayor, including: A partnership with the Oneida Improvement Committee to build a long-wanted dog park for residents; yhe establishment of a Codes Department to address blight and decay in thge city; fixing the Recreation Department’s leaking roof and warped floor; installing 10,000 feet of new sidewalk; the creation of community gardens on Sconondoa Street, and the joint effort between the Recreation, Police, and Fire Departments to establish the annual Fall Fest.
Acker said she was pleased to have initiated an investigation into the Chamberlain’s office that led to the discovery of the theft of tax, water, and sewer payments totaling more than $78,000. “We couldn’t prove anything [while I was on the council], and it was up to the mayor’s office,” she said. “We hired an independent forensic accountant who looked at everything. We then went to the State Police and State Comptroller’s Office… and there were charges brought up against the previous chamberlain. It’s in the court’s hands now.”
While she’ll miss the day to day work of the office, Acker said she will miss the people of Oneida the most.
“I’ll miss everyone,” she said. “We have a fantastic group of people that live in this city. We have some folks who look at the glass as half-full or half-empty, and I understand you can’t make everyone happy. But I’ll miss the back-and-forth conversations with people or being stopped at the supermarket or restaurant.”
“When I eat in Oneida,” she continued. “I never eat by myself. People will come up and say, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your lunch, but…’ And I welcome that. People are so generous, and there’s some much going on behind the scenes. They’ll say that they have a neighbor that needs help and doesn’t know where to get it. I like helping people, and that was one of the main reasons why I became mayor. Because I wanted to make things better.”
The demands of fulfilling her duties as mayor made travel difficult, Acker said, adding that’s a situation she and her husband are looking to rectify. “My husband and I love to travel, and we’ve had limited opportunities to do so because of my duties here to the city,” she said. “I’ll be 68 years old this year, and I’ve done my fair share.”
For the future, Acker said there might be some plans to move down south for warmer weather — but those plans are up in the air at the moment.
Maybe some sewing and needlework projects are also slated in the future, Acker said, to help her adjust from a busy work life to retirement.
“I worked my entire life. I was young when I started, and it’ll be a challenge not to get up at the crack of dawn,” she said. “But I think first, we’re going to do a bit of traveling. There are some family and friends around the country we’ll stop and say hi to.”
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