Samuel Northrup, Editor-in-Chief
Frederick Nichols, 45, is a graduate student at Utica College. He is running for Councilman 5th Ward in Utica. The Tangerine sat down with him Monday for an interview before Election Day on Nov. 7. Questions asked are in bold with Nichols’s responses below them.
Before we get into politics, what are some things about you I should know?
My name is Frederick Lee Nichols. I was born in Utica, raised in Utica. I went to high school, grade school in Utica, and I also was an assistant teacher in the elementary schools. After I graduated from Mohawk Valley Community College in 2003, I wanted to get into politics because I’ve always been interested in and involved in politics in some way or another, but I decided to leave the country for awhile, which I thought would be one year and come back, I ended up being gone for 12 years. Visiting a lot of countries and living and working gave me a global perspective. I constantly tell people all the time that if you have an opportunity to leave the country you should do it because the global experience is one that you must understand.
Why did you decide to run for office?
When I came back [to the United States] to get my undergraduate from SUNY Polytechnic in Marcy, I came back to the community called Cornhill, the fifth district. We have about nine districts in Utica, and Cornhill is the worst. We have some of the highest unemployment rates, shootings, drugs. We have high rates of single mothers in that community. It’s primarily known as a so-called African-American community, but we have a mixture of a lot of foreigners, a lot of poor whites, a lot of different people are there from ethnic groups, like Bosnian, Chinese, but it is primarily a lower income neighborhood. All of Utica seems like a low-income place, but this seems to be the worst hit with economic, family and criminal problems.
So, therefore, I decided I would like to make a difference since I grew up in that neighborhood. I’ve been shot in my leg in that neighborhood. I’ve been stabbed in that neighborhood. I used to fight in that neighborhood. Coming from a total dysfunctional background, and having been a complete ‘F’ student all the way through elementary and high school, I thought, since now I am getting my MBA here at Utica College and I’m going to graduate in May, I understand, at least from my point of view, what it takes for people who live in that environment to kind of rise above. I know what it takes to get from A to B having been raised in an environment with drugs, violence.
What was life at home like in Cornhill?
My father was a drug addict and he died. My mother was a very beautiful woman but she ended up having a mental problem. So I didn’t grow up with any of my parents. I grew up at my aunt’s, and I was physically abused by my uncle, who was a heroin addict. So growing up in communities, in an experience like this, and your homelife is in such disarray, you’re not able to focus on school work. You’re not sitting there going ‘Oh, I’m going to try to get an A when I go home and I don’t know where the next punch is going to come from.’ It just doesn’t work that way.
I understand why it’s hard for other kids who don’t eat properly, their parents are on drugs or there’s violence in the home. I understand why they don’t do well in school.
One of the pillars of you campaign is opposing the controversial downtown hospital in Utica, something your opponent Bill Phillips supports. Explain your position.
There are so many reasons why the hospital should not be downtown, but just to give you one, they would have to buy out the businesses that are already down there. Now those businesses down there generate a lot of tax revenue for Utica. If those businesses have to be bought out or knocked down, then you lose the tax revenue you get from those businesses. There’s more than 20 businesses down there. Therefore, the money that Utica would get from those businesses is gone, so if you’re not receiving any money how are you going to fund programs?
When you take the tax revenue out from down there, which is a couple hundred thousand dollars, and those couple hundred thousand dollars can rebuild sidewalks, fix the roads, fund community action programs. Then when people from my community need a community program they (the city) says ‘We don’t have money.” Well, you just knocked down the building that was generating revenue for you, why would you do that?
Let me say very clear, I’m not against a hospital coming to Utica, it just would be better financially, all around, for the residence of Utica, if it was at St. Luke’s. You have the space, you own the land, you don’t have to knock down any buildings. It’s all positives to be built up here at St. Luke’s instead of down there and downtown right across the street from the Aud.
Another position of your opponent’s that you oppose is the term extension given to Mayor Palmieri. Why are you opposed?
Number one, the extension for the mayor to have three terms in office, and the common council and the comptroller all get an extension if elected. Well, we in this country decided a long time ago that we don’t want that.
When we had George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and all these great men in office, they could have stayed in there for a long time. They did their two terms than they got out of there. What the common council did was they surpassed what the voter decided on. Back in the 90’s we decided here in Utica that we wanted the mayor and common council to only to do two terms. Now, they put it on the floor to be voted on, but not by the people. They didn’t have a choice in the matter. The common council voted it in without the people being able to express their opinion, and I have always said that I believe the people’s voice is the most important thing. Therefore, I told my opponent, if you really believe in the mayor and yourself and the comptroller to have three terms in office, why not bring it to the people of Cornhill, go to different churches, have town hall meetings, let people make decisions, and then if they agree that the mayor should get three terms I’ll back it because that’s what the people wanted. But when you don’t bring it to the people and you vote on it and then you bring it to the people it’s like the reverse.
I’m not a Democrat. I’m a Republican, a conservative. There’s a large number of female, Democratic voters in my district. So, I have my list that I received from the Board of Elections of all the hardcore voters and I will knock on their doors and when I tell them about this they tell me ‘I know you’re a conservative, I know you’re a Republican. I’m a Democrat, I’ve been voting Democrat all my life, but I’m going to come out and vote for you this time because of what they did down in city hall without asking us about extending the term limits,’ they don’t like it. A lot of people are angry about that because no matter what party you are in, no one deserves to be in office for 12 years. It’s too long.
I hear people say we’re a democracy, but if you actually read the Constitution you’ll see we’re a republic. A pure democracy means that the majority rules. We live in a republic mixed with democracy. We believe the rule of law is most important, and no one is before the law or comes above it.
It’s one thing if you vote for the extension of three terms for the next group coming in, but when you do it while you’re in office that stinks of something not being right.
Frederick can be reached through call or text at (315) 796-6407. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Facebook under “Frederick Lee Nichols.”