Editor's Note: This week, The Cortland Voice will be publishing interviews with political candidates vying for office ahead of the upcoming Sept. 12 primary.
Angela Wilde is seeking the Democratic nomination in the primary election. The Cortland Voice's Sara Sampson recently spoke with Wilde about why she decided to run for office, the top issues facing the city and her favorite way to spend a weekend in Cortland.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
I have wanted to do public service for a very long time. I believe in the democratic process, and I believe that on a local level, in a community our size, we can connect our government and the community. I was inspired by the people at “Big Idea” meeting for the “Downtown Revitalization Initiative” and the great ideas they shared. I have heard from residents in our community that they want to be more involved in various city projects, and I want to ensure their voices are heard and have an impact in the future of our community.
After much contemplation over where I would serve best, I realized it is in an executive position as mayor that I would be able to put my abilities to work for the people of Cortland. As a facilitator, I can connect the community to city government, and I can support the Common Council and all those working for the city. I also determined that running for mayor would be a growth opportunity for me: expanding my circle of acquaintances, my understanding of our community, and my knowledge of how the current city government is functioning.
How have you been reaching out to voters during your campaign?
Running for mayor was not a decision I made lightly. Before deciding to run, I asked many people in our community and beyond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, so I decided to get the 177 signatures I needed to get on the ballot. Knocking on over 200 doors in 6 weeks and listening to the people of our community, I realized people currently feel that they are not heard.
Since I got on the ballot, I have continued to knock on doors to introduce myself, drop literature and listen to what voters think are the most important issues facing our city. I try to canvass a different ward most days of the week and on Saturdays. I have been calling people, and I connect directly with voters as I go about life in the city: at the grocery store, or the coffee shop, for example. I have gotten to know a lot of people. As a visible and active member of our community for the past 13 years, I’m always bumping into someone I know, and now people are recognizing me from my social media presence and approaching me to ask questions and talk, especially after I posted a video about who I am and why I’m running to be the next Mayor of Cortland.
What makes you qualified to lead the city?
I have the time to dedicate myself fully to the job of being mayor. I believe Cortland can prosper again. I am well organized and thorough. Some may say that I am not qualified for the job because I have not served in public office. However, my life experiences, undergraduate and graduate education, and business experience combined have trained me to consider various points of view and ways of doing things. I care passionately about the well-being of our community. I will facilitate--by connecting the community and the government and supporting the Common Council--those working for the city and the various organizations working for the betterment of our lives. I lead well because I get along with people, and I enjoy being part of a team. I collaborate well with others. I reach out to those who know things that I am less familiar with. I am a good listener and communicator. I am level headed and do things well and get things done. I am professional, and I will continue to hone my leadership skills. Finally, I bring a different perspective and with it, new ideas.
What are some of the biggest issues facing our city?
One issue many in our community are concerned about it is the proposed permanent Courthouse Park stage. People have told me they would like to be involved in the process and have an input as to what is decided. I would like to see a public information and input meeting in the near future so more people can weigh in on the matter. Personally, I favor a mobile stage, but it’s about what the community at large wants, and that is what I will advocate for.
People in Cortland are very concerned about their neighborhoods. They want them to look good and to be clean and safe. People are also concerned about poverty, drugs, and crime. These are important issues that the city government and its departments are working on, but I believe we can do better. I believe that we need to create a municipal drug plan policy specifically to address the drug problems in Cortland. I would like to, if elected, communicate with the Mayors of Ithaca and Syracuse in regards to the drug problems we face in all of our communities and see if we can’t find some ways to work together on this issue.
One of the biggest issues we face is economic development. I believe that we need to attract entrepreneurs and businesses to our community. Our city is a wonderful place to live and raise children. Our city's location is ideal: centrally located and a very easy exit off I-81. We have beautiful old homes, good schools, children’s sports, music programs, and we have an airport. I think the city government can work with Thoma Development Consultants and the BDC/IDA to attract entrepreneurs from around the country, and perhaps the world, by various means including creating a national advertising campaign showcasing our community. We can also more aggressively pursue national and international companies. Bringing people into our community could help our community prosper again. Currently much effort and money is going to develop Main Street and downtown, which of course is important, but, I think the assumption that if we create a nice-looking corridor down Groton Ave to Main Street, people will come off I-81 and spend money in our community isn’t enough. I believe we need to put our focus on creating jobs and income for our current residents.
One issue that came out of the downtown survey done a few months ago is that the people of Cortland surveyed had an overall negative self-image of our city. We need to change this, and I think we can do this by involving our children and youth. I was asked several years ago, by our current finance director, Mack Cook, how we can create pride in Cortland, and I thought about this for years when it finally dawned on me. I wrote a project proposal pertaining to this that I would be happy to share with you, basically the idea is to create pride in Cortland by getting future generations vested in our community. This can be done through what I call the “I Like Cortland Art project” which is a city and school collaborative effort. In this city-wide art project, we ask students what they like, what they like less, and what they would like for Cortland. We encourage them to create art expressing their ideas. We showcase their work in spaces all over our city. And we find the themes that I’m assuming will emerge and engage community organizations with these themes. This process will allow students to think critically about their community, and if we listen to and implement ideas they come up with, I imagine they will become more vested and proud of their community.
Lack of communication between the city government and the community is a problem. People I talk to want to be involved and many have told me that they have tried to be heard by speaking at council meetings, contacting their alder people, and other city government officials to no avail. I would like to try to change this. One idea is to create ward advisory committees who meet regularly to discuss ward matters. The alderperson of the ward would be on the committee and be able to get a clearer idea of what the needs and concerns are. We can also encourage citizen advisory committees around various issues that are important to residents and support these committees in efforts to create change. I think we need to involve the community in how to solve problems and create prosperity.
If elected, what is your top priority for Common Council?
If elected, I would want to listen to all the Common Council members to get a deeper understanding of the issues they have been working on and how I can best support them in their endeavor to serve the public and the city. I will also talk to department heads and members of the various boards and committees to get input from as many people who are serving our community as possible. I would also like to see a survey of the community to find out what issues are most important to the residents.
Once I have a deeper understanding and perspective that I can share with the alder people, we can discuss as a team what will be the top priority for the Common Council. However, I would like to find ways for city government to connect with the community and communicate what we are working on as soon as possible. One idea I have is to get the agenda done earlier so that the press has time to go over it and the supporting documentation and condense it into a paragraph or so of language that everyone can relate to. This way the community will know what is coming up at council meetings and can schedule to be there if there is an issue that is important to them. Also, I would like to see various social media venues be utilized to communicate with the public so that the city government can reach a broad segment of our constituents: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Have any past or current events shaped your goals?
The national political goings-on allows for, I think, the opportunity to bring our focus to Cortland and locally to try to figure out solutions to issues in our community. Being a visible and active member of the community, since moving to Cortland, and the last few months of canvassing the neighborhoods has enabled me to meet and know a great many people in our community. This situates me well to try to bring community and government together and to involve more people in the process of helping Cortland succeed, grow, and prosper again.
What is the point of doing the all-time-hard-to-please-everyone job?
Inherent in the job as mayor is that I will not be able to please everyone. This does not deter me. Facilitating for others so they can succeed is what is meaningful to me and it brings me satisfaction and joy. In the executive position as the Mayor of Cortland, I will be able to facilitate, support, and connect those working for our city and those living in our city. Government, like any other relationship, relies on people listening to each other and on finding compromise. I care deeply about our community and its people. I promise to listen carefully to and to be a strong voice for the people.
What is your favorite way to spend a weekend in Cortland?
I spend most of my weekends in Cortland with my son Emerson, because there is no place I would rather be. I love my little house on Jewett, and the neighborhood which is near downtown and Suggett Park. Weekend activities, for us, are mostly seasonal. In the summer, we enjoy walking downtown from our house along Main Street and spending some time at one of the many outdoor seating areas and watching our community go by. One of our favorite things to do is listening to live music. Cortland has an abundance of talented musicians and venues that feature them all year long. In the fall, we go to Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill on the weekends. We enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way there from Cortland, and we love to sit at the picnic tables and eat warm donuts and drink the fresh, cold apple cider. In the winter, my son likes to ski, and I like to stay home in front of the wood burning stove with a good book or, if the sky is clear, I bundle up and sit on the bench outside my house and enjoy the sunshine. Spring weekends are usually set aside for yard cleanup and getting things ready for summer. It’s thrilling to see the crocuses coming up in early spring and knowing that soon there will be the wonderful CNY summers again that I think are the best in the world.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your constituency?
I chose to live in Cortland 12 years ago because I thought it would be a great place to raise my son, and it is. I wanted my son to have the sense of belonging and place that I sense in the people of Cortland. There is this saying that “it takes a village to raise a child." The Cortland community has helped me raise my child into a wonderful, kind human being and helped me feel connected and appreciated. In turn, I want to give back by being a public servant. I want to help Cortland prosper again. I want to put all my abilities as a leader, facilitator, and listener to work for all of our community. I will be a mayor for the entire city. I will work full-time. I will get things done. And, I know with the right leadership, our city has a bright future. I am ready to be that leader, to be our voice to move Cortland forward.
What are you currently reading?
I’m listening to the Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow on cd in my car. I am re-reading Cleopatra by Nancy Schiff. And, I am also giving the Roberts Rules of Order a close read before going to sleep. It’s a terrific sleeping aid.