In 1953, ideas about forming Port Authorities were percolating in Albany and the St. Lawrence Seaway seemed to be moving forward, but Oswego was distracted by a variety of more parochial interests. Only Operation Oswego, led by attorney Hosmer Culkin, was examining the idea of a Port Authority. The Harbor and Dock Commission was not talking very much about the Seaway or its potential impact on Oswego’s port, and Mayor Gould seemed consumed by his opposition to public housing and seeking re-election. The concept of an Oswego Port Authority, however, garnered more attention during the last half of 1953.
Spirited Mayoral Campaign. Mayor Frank Gould was in his third two-year term. Enrolled as Republican, Gould had run as an Independent (All-Oswego Party) in 1947, ‘49 and ‘51, winning the last election by a mere 35 votes out of about 9,100 votes cast, a turnout of about 95% of the 9,600 registered voters in Oswego. In 1951, Gould also was on the Liberal Party line. His opponent was Edward F. Crawford who was listed on Democratic, Republican and Independent lines.
In 1953, the Democratic Party wanted to endorse George Fitzgibbons (father of Mayor Jack Fitzgibbons, 1976-79), who declined. Instead they endorsed attorney Robert Iles, the Republican Party nominee, who also had the Liberal Party endorsement and an Independent line as well. Gould ran on his familiar All-Oswego Party line, and announced that he would run against Iles in a Republican Primary election as well.
Gould, however, failed to collect enough valid signatures to force a Republican Primary against Bob Iles, so was pitted against a challenger who had three formal party lines plus a fourth Independent line.
A major part of Iles’ campaign dealt with supporting formation of an Oswego Port Authority. He stated in one of his ads, “A report by the Port Authority Committee of Operation Oswego recommends a Port Authority for Oswego. I am in complete agreement with that recommendation and feel that the creation of such an Authority by the State Legislature would be of great value in the industrial and maritime development of Oswego” (OPT, 11-2-53, p.5).
Mayor Gould was defeated by 1,241 votes of 8,765 votes cast (about 93% of the 9,396 registered voters in 1953 actually voted in the mayoral election). In addition, the entire Common Council was replaced! All of the incumbents in 1953 were voted out of office in Oswego. Photos and analyses appeared the next day in the news (OPT, 11-4-53, p. 8). The Editorial in the same issue (p. 6) listed the campaign promises made by Mayor-elect Iles including, “…creation of a Port Authority….” Also, the Editorial stated, “In fairness to the outgoing council, it should be emphasized that, a number of progressive and far-sighted actions have been taken in the past two years. Because of the courage of its members there have been things accomplished which might otherwise have been overcome by the resourceful efforts of pressure groups.”
That Common Council of 1952-53 held its final meeting on 12-28-53. The OPT editorial (12-29-53) said, “The Common Council…will probably go down in Oswego’s history as one of the most controversial ever elected. It would therefore perhaps be more discreet to allow its members to pass from political life without further comment on their record. But to do so, we feel, would be to ignore some signal contributions they have made to the city.
“Outstanding among them was the establishment of a public housing project here. In spite of the most vigorous opposition, the council enacted legislation that will provide a development of which Oswego will one day be proud. It took courage and foresight to withstand the pressure and abuse leveled at them, but the aldermen, with only two displays of weakness and opportunism, stood firm on what they believed to be right. The future, we are confident, will prove their judgment to be sound.”
In early December, Mayor-elect Iles named six new members of his administration, effective January 1, 1954 (OPT, 12-9-53, p. 3), including George Fitzgibbons , Joseph E. Kinney, Karl H. Kirshner, Charles W. Linsley, David J. Read, and Robert H. Turner. Mr. Kinney was named as Port Agent, a position that had been vacant for about a decade.
During that decade period, the salary payable to the port agent was to have been paid through the Harbor and Dock Commission (HDC), but had been held, instead, by the HDC as part of their operating budget. Under the new arrangement, the port agent was to be paid $3,000 directly from the city budget. That meant a sharp cut in the budget of the HDC.
Port Authority Discussions Begin. Operation Oswego’s newly appointed Port Authority Committee scheduled its organizational meeting for June10, 1953. The Rev. Arthur Hergenhan chaired the new group. Other members included, Thomas J. Christian, George Fitzgibbons, William Fleischman, Jr., Frederick J. Garahan, Clark Morrison, 3rd, the Rev. Thomas J. Murphy, David J. Read, and Peter J. Shortt (OPT, 6-3-53, p. 18). Note that two of those members also were appointed later to the new Iles administration. Numerous discussions clarified a variety of issues.
Formation of a Port Authority would require an act of the State Legislature. It was noted that virtually every major port in the world was operated by such a structure. In New YorkState, Albany and New York City were operating with Authorities for more than 25 years. A Port Authority had the power to issue bonds, and would not be dependent upon the Common Council for funds. Authority members would be appointed and removed only by the governor.
Operation Oswego’s Chairman, Hosmer Culkin, who appointed the Port Authority Committee, said that they would investigate and report to the Board of Directors of Operation Oswego on the feasibility of such an Authority in Oswego.
In December 1953, Mayor-elect Iles and the aldermen-elect began seek to expert advice on Port Authorities, and to be briefed on Port Authorities and the proposed Port of Oswego Bill in Albany (OPT, 12-10-53, p. 3; 12-15-53, p. 14). Of great importance to the City was the proposed language in the Bill that “the bonds and other obligations of the Authority would not be a debt…of the City of Oswego (OPT, 12-16-53, p. 9).
Terrence M. Hammill
201 West 2nd Street, #302
Oswego, NY 13126