* Dear Readers – This is the first of a three part series written by Arthur Zaczkiewicz. Here, he will spotlight each of the three new Alderman candidates who took a seat on the council in January, 2010. Enjoy his insightful piece on Ward 1′s Alderman Andi Turco-Levin. Ward 9′s Hayes Clement and Ward 5′s Jennifer Fuentes will be posted shortly.
Andi Turco-Levin, freshly in office as alderman for Ward 1, is no stranger to the challenges that face Kingston. As an associate broker at a local real estate office, Turco-Levin has first-hand knowledge of the local market and how macro-economic issues are impacting it.
Turco-Levin, who also serves as 2010 president of Ulster County Board of Realtors and authors a blog on local issues, took some time to share her vision of Kingston with KingstonCitizens.org.
AZ: What do you see as the top, long-term challenges facing the City of Kingston?
AT-L: First of all we need to figure out how to overcome the financial hurdles that we face. It is a complex problem that has more than one answer. Most of all we need to build our tax base by creating a City that offers economic opportunity, a safe and clean environment for its citizens and a quality education for their children. The challenges we face are how to do it. I truly believe that part of the problem is that we have been reactive instead of being proactive in our long range plans for development. From contract bargaining with unions to designing a comprehensive plan to build both neighborhoods and business districts, without looking at the long range outcome we all suffer terribly. With that said, the City of Kingston needs to overcome its reputation of being dirty, crime ridden and a city that ‘used to be beautiful’.
AZ: Despite the challenges, Kingston is often described as a “vibrant city” that has much potential. Do you agree? What are some of the city’s most promising opportunities?
AT-L: Absolutely! Kingston has so much to offer in many ways. Using Williamsburg, Va. as an example on how history can become an attraction and destination. Another plus is the architecture here. With so many neighborhoods intact with rows of Victorian homes we can promote ourselves to historic home buffs if we can try to revamp some of these old neighborhoods again. Of course, our waterfront is the crown jewel of it all. The development of that area is also key to us becoming a tourist destination. One other asset we have is a growing group of residents who offer diversity from the arts to small business entrepreneurs who will help rebuild our economic engine. Again, we need to look into a long term plan for our future, without a road map we will be lost.
AZ: Some residents have expressed a need for Kingston to file for bankruptcy as a way to get some fiscal breathing room and allow contracts to be renegotiated. Do you support such a move? Why or why not?
AT-L: Most contracts will be up in 2012 and I have said it before and I will say it again…we need to start from scratch on the next round of contract discussions. From what I can tell, in the past Common Council members were not able to participate or comment on the negotiation process and the contracts were given to them at the end of the process to approve. I have had discussions with Chairman Landi of the Finance Committee to be sure that some Council members will indeed be included in the process next time around when the contracts are negotiated. Filing for bankruptcy would have to be the last resort for the City as we would give up so much more control in the long run on how we regain our footing…quite frankly the State is not in the best financial shape either so I’m not certain turning things over to them would be the end of our problems!
AZ: Residents have expressed publicly and privately that your election into office reflects a need for new thinking and new perspectives in city government. Do you agree with this? If yes, how do you implement some of that fresh perspective?
AT-L: I do agree that many Kingston residents are unhappy with the direction that we are going. Rising taxes are a burden to many who live here, especially for seniors who are on a fixed income and for our commercial property owners so we need to all work together to find solutions.
There are two things I wish to focus on while serving on the Common Council. The first one is to encourage residents in the community to get involved. I have already scheduled our first Ward 1 Citizens meeting to take place on February 27th and hope to have them on a regular basis every 2 to 3 months. I also hope that my fellow Aldermen will become more active in keeping their community up to date with information on things including educating their constituents to the changes that are being discussed such as garbage collection, recycling, leaf bagging and other issues.
The other thing I want to be sure to have is open lines of communication, be it between other Council Members, the Mayor’s office, and the supporting offices that make up our government. I want to be sure that our City residents know we are there working hard and watching out for them.
AZ: Could you list three of the best reasons to live and work in Kingston?
1. The natural beauty of our environment along with the proximity to New York City
2. The charm and convenience of living in a small city
3. The interesting people who choose to call this City home.