May 08, 2009 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Former television reporter runs at-Large
If you take stimulus money and go out and knock a building down, Jean Kessner says, a few people are employed for a few days. But if you use that money to train people in deconstruction or in retrofitting houses, like installing solar panels, you’ve created new companies. That’s the kind of big picture she sees as the future. In part, the vision comes from 15 years as an investigative reporter for WIXT-Channel 9, where she focused on the environment and won awards from the Sierra Club, the Clean Water Group and the Injured Workers Group. She also snagged an Edward R. Morrow Award.
“News was my business for so long that I can’t help but pay close attention to daily newspaper and television accounts about what’s going on in our city,” she wrote to City Democratic Party Committee Members last February. “My reaction is a mix of despair, defiance and determination to do something about it.”
She was asking for support in seeking the party’s nomination for Syracuse Common Councilor at-Large. An unsuccessful candidate for city school board in 2008, Kessner knows the political ropes from inside, as a former staffer at party headquarters, a veteran door knocker in local and national campaigns, phone banking and hosting coffees for senior citizens.
She is currently public relations director for AIDS Community Resources.
What motivated you to seek this nomination?
I don’t like people who criticize and then don’t do something themselves.
Were you finding yourself becoming one of those people who criticize when you were in the media?
Yes. I don’t think you can help, when you’re immersed in the function of the city and the dysfunction of the city, to not say perhaps there’s a better way, about anything you encounter. If someone gets killed. If someone drops out of school. If someone’s house burns down. If you’re paying attention, everything you might run into as a reporter is something that you have a feeling about. The stuff I found out about, the stuff I really still stay up on, because that’s sort of in my blood. I have some ideas. I’d like to share them.
Was there a specific idea that got you involved in the campaign?
A couple of things. It was a house that was being torn down, a beautiful old Victorian on the southside. Now for the past 20 years around the country there have been successful efforts in deconstruction. There are buildings that need to come down, although not as many as we tear down. If they need to come down, can they be deconstructed? That means take them apart, and sell or make available the parts: beautiful woodworking, marble, brick. Jobs are created. Reusing things instead of landfilling them.
Another thing that gripes me a lot. I’m from a little place called Tell City, Indiana. I love it. I’m not going to knock it. The first house was built in 1858, two or three stories, that and the city hall, everything, pales in comparison to what you find here. The city after all is a collection of people and buildings. Why you incorporate as a city is because you’ve got something there, and things there are beautiful. But we seem to do the craziest things with what’s beautiful here. In Rochester they’ve torn down the whole downtown. And Auburn the same thing.
You became known as an environmental reporter. The city administration has painted a picture of Syracuse as a “Green City,” greener than most. Is that accurate?
I don’t know enough about everything that goes into that to say it’s accurate. I do believe it’s a true hope. And I would hold it as something a public official should be responsible for. Sometimes you need to say, here’s what you are. And sometimes it might not be true. But if someone says to me Syracuse is a green city and getting greener and greener, I’ll say good for us.
If you won, what would be your concerns the first day in office?
You have to see to business. I think there are three things, at least identified in my talks with people. To have a good city you need to have good schools, good jobs and safe streets. I believe they’re all the same thing. If you have good schools, people will have good jobs, and if they have good jobs they’ll have safe streets because there’s less crime.
But the deconstruction and green jobs and retrofitting houses and all the things I’ve been studying about forever, I’d love to see come to fruition here. Those are jobs, and those are jobs that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t send to China.
You’ve been a staff person at Democratic Party headquarters. Is that an inside track to getting a nomination?
No. But it gives you a lot of knowledge. When I was a reporter I voted in every election, but I wasn’t registered in any party. I always thought that being a good parent was important, being a green citizen was very important. But as far as taking a political affiliation, if you keep that out of the arena people can talk to you straight forward. When I worked at the Democratic office, that was a hoot. All this stuff I didn’t know, and am never going to tell you, was really interesting about how things really work.
Do you anticipate a primary?
I don’t know.
Would a primary be good or bad for the party?
It would just be. What I will do, is when the vote from the designation process comes in, we’ll look at what’s there and assess at that time. But I really don’t quit. You have to do these steps to get to where I want to be, in order to do things that I think would be good for the city. So these are the steps that I take. If people listen to what I have to say and sign on and actually believe, then you’re building a foundation, and maybe some of this stuff might come true.
Would you tear down Route 81?
I really like that idea. But the best thing I heard recently, was that originally, the city didn’t want it. Nobody wanted us. It certainly hasn’t done us any good. But one thing I would like to put on the table is we’re a city with a footprint for about 270,000 and we’re closer to 140,000. So you still have the same number of streets to plow, and the same number of streets to protect. Very interesting things are happening in Youngstown, Ohio. They are downsizing the city, concentrating of fixing up certain areas, making them comfortable for people to go to. And they’re not tearing down. They’re mothballing. And that’s what we need to do because we will come back. Say Yes to Education will bring people back. Green jobs, in the larger terms, will bring people back.