For more than 48 years, James W. Wright has been serving the needs of New Yorkers. Last week, he announced he was retiring.
He began his career in the public sector in 1971 as a caseworker for the Oswego County Department of Social Services. In 1973, he became the staff development coordinator for this division and took over as administrator of the Oswego County Civil Service Commission a year later. He became director of the Oswego County Personnel Department in 1975 and then was named director of personnel services for Onondaga Community College in 1978.
Mr. Wright served as administrator of Oswego County from 1979 to 1987. He then took over this same position in Jefferson County from 1987 to 1992.
In 1992, he was elected to succeed John M. McHugh to represent the 48th District in the state Senate. He left in January 2008 to take a position with Fleishmann-Hillard Government Relations, a national lobbying and consulting firm.
In his 15 years in the Senate he had tremendous influence. He served as chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.
As a senator, Mr. Wright became well known by cellular telephone companies. Their executives cringed when he aggressively pursued a goal to ensure that his Senate district had adequate service from providers who were far more interested in only serving New York’s metropolitan regions.
“Mr. Wright was part of New York’s push to deregulate utility rates and helped create Power for Jobs, an incentive-based program that trades low-cost power for job retention and growth among private businesses,” according to a story published Dec. 12, 2007, in the Watertown Daily Times. “As energy chairman, Mr. Wright sponsored legislation for agricultural wind and commercial solar net metering and tax credits for developing biofuels. Locally, he helped secure $4 million for construction of a corn-ethanol facility in Fulton, $7.5 million for a regional fiber-optic network by the Development Authority of the North Country and $15 million in incentives for Stream to build a technical support call center in Watertown that employs more than 700.”
While deciding to leave the Senate, Mr. Wright grasped how his efforts have benefited the state.
“The areas we were interested in were energy and economic development, so we were part of two signature programs there: Power for Jobs and the economic development zones,” he said in 2007. “Ultimately, both of those programs will be changed as this administration moves forward. But they were effective, very viable programs that have easily stood a decade.”
As he left active political life, Mr. Wright had developed an enviable record. His voter support on election days was overwhelming, reflecting his ability to synthesize multiple political views, understanding the economic needs of the community to deliver from the political morass of Albany solutions tailored to Northern New York. He was succeeded in the state Senate by Darrel J. Aubertine, a Democrat from Cape Vincent.
In 2009, Mr. Wright was unanimously selected by the Development Authority of the North Country’s board to become the agency’s executive director.
“I feel a satisfaction that I’ve now had the opportunity to serve at the county level, at the state level and now at the regional level,” he told the Times on Friday. “Each occasion has been a challenge, but each has provided opportunities which I have enjoyed immensely.”
Mr. Wright has led DANC with a steady hand for the past 11 years. During his tenure at DANC, he confronted the housing challenge the community faced with the recent expansions of Fort Drum. The community was burdened by an inadequate and deteriorating supply of housing, which drove rents for long-term county residents higher and higher.
Under Mr. Wright’s thoughtful leadership, DANC created an environment of private investment and state support to encourage enough growth to bring the housing market in to balance. Rents stabilized, and landlords used to merely cashing rent checks realized that investment in their properties was a necessity for survival.
“His accomplishments with DANC have included its efforts to greatly expand telecommunication capabilities throughout the north country and an expansion of the authority’s landfill in Rodman that will increase the landfill’s use by 45 years,” the Times reported last week.
The fiber optic capacity Mr. Wright initiated while Senator were expanded to create a network which encompasses the North Country by providing redundant service, thus protecting users from random system outages. The growth of the network enhanced connections for students at the major colleges in the region with the broad world of research and provided a platform to allow local hospitals and doctors the ability to utilize telemedicine. Rural school districts were able to use distance learning to provide broader opportunity for students.
“Mr. Wright, however, said that his over-arching accomplishment has been changing municipalities’ perceptions of DANC, with more the municipalities now viewing the agency as a partner, with more than 120 municipalities signing contracts with the authority for services.”
Mr. Wright should be proud of a noteworthy public career in Northern New York; he retires to a community with better public services and an economy transformed by his foresight and ability to bring broad based support to ideas. We hope he enjoys spending more time with his family. The north country wishes him well in this new stage of life and will miss his leadership.