PICCIRILLO: We are what we do in Niagara Falls

We are what we do, not what we say. All of us have heard some form of this saying, from relatives and teachers, for our entire lives. Timeless words. Unfortunately, they are rarely applied to politics. Let’s change that in Niagara Falls, this year.

This election is a job interview. A mayor is being hired to serve you and one thing is certain at the outset: the citizens are more important than the candidates. From day one, our campaign has presented specific plans to reduce taxes for home owners and small businesses, invest in neighborhood quality of life, rethink community policing and negotiate better agreements across the board. I respect that I am now a politician and that any “plans” will be met with some skepticism. So, I ask that you — my potential employer — review what we have been able to accomplish in this community, together.

As Niagara Falls Community Development (NFCD) director, I am proud to have worked with you on:

• Home Owner Renovations: NFCD has overseen over 450 homeowner housing renovations and first-time homebuyer grants since 2013, in every Niagara Falls neighborhood. These renovations help save buildings, add financial worth to our neighborhoods and keep local contractors working.

• The Home Ownership Auction: In 2013, NFCD created the Niagara Falls Home Ownership Auction as an alternative to the standard in rem auction, which had become a hunting ground for absentee landlords to obtain rental properties at dirt cheap prices. So far, we have sold 36 houses, saving these homes from the dangerous tax foreclosure cycle.

• Cost Reductions: Our department’s administrative costs are substantially lower than the date I started. Cutting expenses in the public sector is easier said than done, but we have proved it is possible through discipline, creative approaches to management, and aggressive fundraising, while staying in good standing with all of our grantors.

• Participatory Budgeting/Public Input: We have hosted over 300 public meetings/events since 2012. I firmly believe that residents are the experts on their neighborhoods, and that working with you all is a privilege. In 2016, Niagara Falls became a pioneer in participatory budgeting, which empowers citizens to directly vote on how our funding is spent. The results: investments in the planning of a new North End Community Center, a new playground at “Big Lou” (formerly Liberty) Park, and a South End exterior housing renovation program that will be expanded to include more areas of the city in the coming months.

• Trades Training: Helping to bring functional trades training back into the city is easier said than done. We were tired of describing the problem without a solution. NFCD worked with Orleans-Niagara BOCES and Niagara County to bring employment training to the corner of Sixth and Walnut (former Planetarium building), and with The Isaiah 61 Project and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for HOPE to create real training pipelines for the under-employed.

• Jingle Falls/Festival of Slice: In 2017, our volunteer organizing committee came together to create an annual three-week winter event series in our city. The event will continue to grow as we do our best to pay tribute to the memory of A Festival of Lights.

• Parks and Playgrounds: NFCD has created or renovated 16 parks/playgrounds, without use of local taxpayer dollars, including the NF Skate Park, Art Alley, and Gluck, Hyde, 70th Street, Liberty, 91st Street, Jayne and Gill Creek playgrounds during my tenure. This year, we will add a dog park, a Garden Avenue Pocket Park, Hyde Park Inclusionary Play Project and more. All of these projects started with an idea from a resident.

• Summer in Your City: In 2018, NFCD secured a New York State Health Foundation grant to bring fitness sessions, family movie nights, the color run and STEAM workshops to city parks for our kids. Our young people need constructive and accessible activities and we are getting ready for an exciting 2019 session.

• The Zombie Fight Project: Our grant-funded Zombie Fight Project has helped force action at over 120 vacant houses stuck in the foreclosure process. Now, other cities are using our methods to hold banks accountable.

Results matter more than words. In this primary, I am the candidate that can point to neighborhood-based wins. Throughout my career, I have made a point to de-prioritize ribbon-cuttings and familiar political tag lines in favor of work that creates a genuine benefit for the people of our community. Every day I am proud to have worked with our residents on a wide range of important and complicated developments. As your mayor, our administration will take on the issues that matter to our neighborhoods and provide leadership Niagara Falls can be proud of.

Seth Piccirillo is a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls and a candidate for mayor.