Monday, 15 February 2016 15:40

Memoirs of a Small Town Mayor: Skipping Stones

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One of the greatest things about Lake Ontario is that not all of its beaches are sandy. Many are made up of small water eroded beach rocks.

They are the kind of rocks that make up the walls of St. Mary's Church. They were brought there by parishioners with wheelbarrows and then cemented into the gothic walls of the cathedral like structure that became St. Mary's of the Assumption church on West Seventh Street in Oswego. It is today Oswego's most magnificent religiously architectural adornment.

It stands today as a monument to those hardworking denizens of the first and third ward who worked to build their church with their very own hands.

Living along the shoreline of Lake Ontario and growing up negotiating its rocky shoreline builds character. I have a pet theory about the influence of the lakeshore on the persona of its shoreline citizens.

Lake Ontario is dominant and ever present. You can walk along its shore, or walk away from it. You can stick your toes in the water, or you can swim in it. You can sail on its rolling waves, or stay on shore and skip stones on its surface. It's waves and winter winds can be fierce and unyielding, and it's gentle breezes and glowing sunsets can calm the spirit and soothe the soul. It shapes you. It challenges you and it's vastness reminds you of how infinitesimal we all really are.

People love being by the water, be it an ocean, river, stream, or lake, big or small. Perhaps it is because we trace our biological heritage to the sea. Perhaps it is because we ourselves are 95% water. Or perhaps it is because we are created and spend the first nine months of our existence in the embryonic fluid that encircles us. Whatever the reason, waterside, waterfront and water view sells. Ask any real estate agent.

And so, in marketing Oswego, when running for office and in shaping the policies we tried to implement during my mayoral term, water was always the dominant theme. I am proud to be the originator of the slogan, "Oswego, where the water never ends".

We created an ad campaign to promote the city based on that theme, and produced a sixty second commercial with vocals by Nancy Kelly, juxtaposed with scenes of the harbor, and ran the ad on Syracuse TV stations to encourage people to come to Oswego and spend the day. It worked. ( video link: )

We used the slogan " Set sail with Sullivan" as a campaign theme, and even our blue lawn signs were in the shape of a sail. Local entertainer Clyde Barrow ( Frank Kielb) even wrote a song for the campaign with words that began “ Set sail with Sullivan. Straight ahead full steam. focus our vision and harness our dreams...” Our 4th of July parade float was a sailboat on top of a tractor trailer bed, with all of the family dressed in nautical motifs. Our biggest campaign fundraiser was on a tour boat we brought to town through the canal and out past the lighthouse for a sunset cruise . We wanted to have people see Oswego from the reverse direction, from the lake looking inland. And it is a wonderful sight. It has been the marvel of many mariners for several hundred years. Even the Iroquois word "Oswego" means "the pouring out place"...where the river meets the sea. And, The campaign worked. I got elected.

So we continued that theme with a gala black tie inaugural ball at the State Armory, with a stage flanked by two sailboats , and the full Nick Sterio band, and 700 people showed up on New Year's for the event. I would call that a success.

tankOne of my proudest accomplishments that is still visible today is the large blue billboard type sign that we had painted one one of the large oil tanks at the mouth of the harbor. That is a welcome sign to all who come here by sea.

We continued the nautical theme by creating "Harborfest" that summer, and that became an even greater success than we had ever envisioned.

In my next column on this website, I will tell the tale of how Harborfest came to be, and how despite the curmudgeons and the naysayers, it continues to flourish nearly thirty years later. The secret of success is simply to focus on your dreams, harness them, and never give up on them, no matter what. It is that spirit that will continue to make Oswego a better place to be. To be continued...

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