OSWEGO – If there is a hallmark of Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow’s first term, a peg to hang an administration’s hat on, that peg would be the peg of planned, intentional change.
For the most part, the Barlow years have been the much-needed oil for an old machine. Indeed, the wheels of city government almost seem to turn a new machine altogether. It is one that works and works and works. It is one that does not seem to stop or even rest. It just keeps going, smoothly and with well-designed efficiency.
And so, it is no surprise that Billy Barlow’s second term inauguration and swearing-in ceremony of the Common Council, including two new members, Second Ward Councilor Shawn Burridge and Fourth Ward Councilor Shawn Walker, ran like clockwork in a new venue, the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center, breaking years of City Hall inaugural tradition, and did so with that same hallmark of planned, intentional change and well-thought-out design that has been seen over and over again in the last four years of a remarkable city renaissance.
Such planned perfection can seem somewhat stiff at times and can somewhat dampen the celebratory spontaneity that was witnessed earlier that same New Year’s Day in Fulton as an over-flowing crowd joyously inaugurated newly-elected Mayor Deana Michaels. But this was not a new mayor’s inauguration. This was a second-term inauguration, and it played out with a different sense of serious intention and reflection, as was befitting, and as what seemed more in the character of a State of the Union proceeding than a victory lap celebration.
In keeping with that aura of serious, workman-like, determination and dedication to public service, Barlow rolled out a jam-packed litany of progress and change in his inaugural address touting waterfront development, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, aggressive code enforcement, “holding landlords accountable, empowering tenants, protecting women and children, restoring our historic neighborhoods, eliminating blight and raising property values all throughout the community.”
“We are guided,” he said, “by one simple mission: that’s to leave this place better than we found it.”
Being New Year’s Day, it was, of course, natural to look both forward and backward.
“I can think of no better way to kick off a new year, a new decade, a new term,” said Barlow, “than by celebrating with some of our closest friends and family to reflect on the last four years and the progress we’ve made and while preparing for the next four years and what lies ahead. Those who know me, especially the Common Council and my team at City Hall, know that I’m not particularly good at taking a moment to look back and reflect because there’s always much more work to be done. But today being New Year’s Day and kicking off a new term, I believe it’s really about perspective, and it’s amazing to look back four years ago and think of how different things were. I believe that years from now when our children and the next generation of community leaders look back at the work we’ve done, they’ll say this was the most productive four years in the history of Oswego city government.”
And though the accomplishments may be attributed to Barlow’s administration, the credit was shared.
“We can all agree,” he said, “it’s been a very difficult few decades for our city, but despite everything we’ve been through, look at the tremendous progress we’ve made in such a short amount of time. And that is a testament to each and every one here.”
That progress, Barlow feels, has not only changed the physical and economic realities of Oswego, it has changed the mental outlook of this city’s residents. “We understand we work for you,” he said, “and together we made city government function while thinking big picture. The taxpayers in the city of Oswego now believe that we’re working for them, for them, on behalf of them, not against them, not to target them, not penalizing them, not hurting them, but working to keep money in their wallet, working to make their small business profitable, working to bring more opportunity to their family members, working to make their community safer, acting on decisions that make our residents confident in the government, supportive of the direction we’re heading, and proud to be not from Oswego, but to be in Oswego.”
The city’s gloried past of 60 or 70 years is undoubtedly tinged with a nostalgic golden glow and many undeniable pleasant realities that many hold near and dear. Barlow realizes that but believes too that Oswegonians are beginning to recognize the renaissance here as its happening.
“Lifelong Oswego residents often refer to Oswego as it relates to the 1950s, the ‘60s, the ‘70s, and talk enthusiastically and proudly about what Oswego was and what Oswego used to be,” Barlow noted. “The reflection, however, was usually in retrospect. But now, if you listen closely, you can actually hear city residents without provocation, speaking generally about all that is happening in Oswego and talking about what Oswego is. The best compliment, and the best encouragement this community can receive, is Oswego talking positively and proudly about ourselves. And we can talk about what Oswego was, and let’s continue to talk about what Oswego is, but moving forward, let’s talk about what Oswego is becoming. Because the fact is, we’re only one term, four years in. We’re just getting started. There’s more to do, and there’s more to come.”
At this point, Barlow’s address turned away from him, away from his administration and its many accomplishments, and turned to the people of Oswego, to their responsibility and to the point of it all.
“It’s all of our duty,” he said, “to ensure that this fundamental change in direction is permanent and not just a temporary spike on a timeline of a prolonged, steady decline.”
Much has been done, and though much remains to do, “I am confident,” said Barlow, “that much of our heaviest lifting is behind us, and some of our best days are still ahead of us.”
That does not mean he intends to slow down. But it does seem to indicate a maturity and deeper concern afforded him by the success he’s achieved and a growing personal interest in the more altruistic aspects of governance that success allows for.
“I stood before you ahead of my first term four years ago and pledged that one thing I would not do is nothing,” he said.
“We will work for the greater good. We will confront our challenges head on with decisive action. We’ll help our neighbors who need it most, and we will do whatever we have to do to continue moving this community forward to guarantee that when our children, the next generation of Oswegonians, look back at our time on this earth, they know without question, we were thinking of them, we were positioning this community to be successful for them, we were more concerned with making this city, this county, this state, this country, this world a better place for them rather than simply serving ourselves in the present.”
And he then urged the people he has been twice elected to lead.
“We all need to be leaders, and we all need to be public servants.
“Please realize,” he said, “that you don’t need to be an elected office, or work for the government, to serve the public. You can serve the public, and make a difference, and improve this community each and every day, and I need you to do it. You just need to ask yourself, what did you do, who did you serve, not yesterday, not last year, but today, how did you improve this community, who did you help? These questions, and the answers, have defined the last four years and will define the next four years of this administration and our path forward. It is our obligation, and I truly believe this with every bone in my body, it is our obligation and our most basic responsibility to do all we can, with the short time we have on this earth, to make a positive impact, not for ourselves, but for others.”
Barlow ended his address in the spirit of that moral obligation and with the confidence his administration has exuded from day one.
“I believe we can,” he said. “I believe we can, I believe we will, because I believe in this community.
“The momentum, the energy is with us now. All we have to do is keep it going, just keep working together to keep it going. This city has limitless potential, and we are unlocking more of it each and every day. And this city, the current residents of this city, and the future residents who will call this city home deserve the very best, and the very best they will get.”