The Daily Sentinel asked a series of questions for Common Council candidates in the city of Oneida. Each candidate was given 700 words to respond. The following are the answers from Ward 6 Independent candidate Mike Kaiser.
Kaiser is a lifelong resident of Oneida. He served with the New York State Police for 27 years, served as Oneida’s Public Safety Commissioner, and previously served on Oneida’s Common Council in Ward 4.
What do you feel is the most pressing matter facing the city of Oneida at the moment and what can be done?
For a city of about 10,000 residents, we have problems related to substance abuse and mental health issues that contribute to larger than expected homelessness and related public safety challenges. We rely too heavily on our police and EMS personnel to deal with these issues. As a result, we have a “revolving door” wherein the same folks are seen repeatedly in similar situations, frequently unable to get the help that is needed to break the cycle. We have programs and services provided by Madison County and our non-profit human services organizations, but improvement seems elusive. If what’s being done is not solving the problems we face, then maybe it’s time to try something new with a combined city/county/NGO approach. Unfortunately, while we continue to strive to make progress without success, our residents and businesses continue to suffer the collateral effects.
The state of Oneida’s downtown area has been a hot-button topic for years. Ideally, how would you improve downtown Oneida?
Some improvement has occurred downtown and some vacant commercial space has been occupied. While the Kallet Civic Center in the heart of downtown continues to be an asset, the elephant in the room is and continues to be the vacant former Hotel Oneida. While it is understood that the legal process to make a change in a situation like the former hotel is difficult and cumbersome, the problem has been with us for many years, and the building must be either restored or demolished.
What would you do or what would you focus on if elected/re-elected in the coming year? Is there something pressing you think needs addressed?
I think that progress in any future endeavors or initiatives in the city must begin with restoring confidence in the competence and integrity of city government. As a common councilor, that means oversight of all aspects of the function of the city. It means asking questions even when the answers might make people uncomfortable. As an independent common councilor my loyalty will be not to any party but to the residents I am elected to represent.
What can be done to keep people in New York and more specifically, Oneida?
Oneida’s population decline over the past ten years of about 1,000 residents, or 3.7%, while not insignificant, isn’t cause for concern but does point out the need for more affordable housing. Oneida is uniquely situated between Syracuse and Utica/Rome where there is significant job growth and corresponding housing development to accommodate new workers. I think more worrisome is the decline in statewide population and the subsequent loss of representation in the House of Representatives.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit everyone hard. While we’re starting down a road to recovery, what do you think can be done to help people recover, socially or economically?
The road to recovery from the Covid pandemic begins and ends with science and medicine. When we all get vaccinated and wear masks where and when it’s recommended to prevent the spread of the virus, we will be able to say we finally defeated the virus. Only then will we be able to move our community forward with our personal, social, and economic recovery. I am confident we will get there.