Elections: An interview with Steve Cummings

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Steve Cummings

The Oshkosh Mayor position is up for election on April 2, 2019. We connected with current Mayor Steve Cummings, who is seeking re-election.

Cummings is challenged by Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Lori Palmeri (read the Lori Palmeri interview here).

For more information about Steve Cumming’s re-election campaign, visit www.facebook.com/stevecummingsmayor

The Oshkosh Independent: You have been a strong and visible advocate for many of the city’s significant development projects in the last 4 years, including the Menominee Nation Arena and the Oshkosh Corporation Headquarters. How have you advocated for city support of Oshkosh’s
growing low-income community?

Steve Cummings: Advocating for significant development projects in turn produce jobs and generate tax dollars which helps all the citizens of Oshkosh. Employers in Oshkosh and the surrounding area are hiring
which points to a healthy growing economy. Taking advantage of these opportunities is the responsibility of the individual, not the government.

As for housing for low income, this is more the responsibility of the Housing Authority, which is governed by the County. This was a change that took place a number of years ago.


The Oshkosh Independent: You have served two consecutive terms as mayor, and if victorious would serve another two for a total of 6 years.  Looking at your future aspirations, if victorious in 2019, would you
plan to run again in 2021 for a fourth term, and why?

Steve Cummings: I am only interested in the election taking place on April 2, 2019. I have not considered what my plans are beyond that.


The Oshkosh Independent: During your term as mayor, the council has implemented multiple new rules that limit or restrict public participation in council meetings. In light of this, how have you improved public participation in council meetings, municipal and council decision making, and local government?

Steve Cummings: The most recent rules have not restricted citizen participation, and were primarily put into place at the request of the city clerk. This allows for the record (minutes) to accurately reflect a person’s name and address, whereas prior to this sometimes spellings, etc. were difficult to capture.

Citizens may register to speak prior to a meeting or the night of a meeting if they chose. On occasion, someone comes to a council meeting, and didn’t have time to register, and we have still allowed them to speak to the council. The time limit on citizen participation was enacted long ago, during
another person’s mayoral term.

Furthermore, the rules established are made up by the entire council once the new council is seated, and we all agree on them. As the Mayor, my role is to ensure the meetings follow the agenda, and that comments and questions are respectful and civil. This is especially critical during the opening part of our meetings when we have young people in attendance leading us in the Pledge or for special presentations.

I have been a proactive advocate of citizen engagement on boards and commissions for our city. It is my belief that this is often the most effective way for someone to ensure their voice is heard. In addition to this, I am actively out in the community on various levels and have always welcomed citizens comments and questions regarding the work of the city.


The Oshkosh Independent: You have been a strong advocate and active participant in the Greater Oshkosh Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.  The organization has come under scrutiny for perceived minimal successes in its first three years, following investment with minimal successes at its predecessor Neighborworks Oshkosh. You voted and advocated for a new city 3-year grant of $300,000 to this organization. Why is this non-competitive grant important, and what have you done to improve accountability and assurance that expectations will be met?

Steve Cummings: I disagree with the statement that GOHNI has seen minimal success. I continue to be a strong advocate of the program as it is beneficial especially to our older city neighborhoods, and the City of Oshkosh on a whole by improving the tax base.

We did as a city opt to create our own entity, (GO-HNI) rather than continue with NeighborWorks so that we do have better accountability.


The Oshkosh Independent: At meetings this past year, you have voiced questions and positions related to Oshkosh’s homeless population. At a Redevelopment Authority meeting, you questioned if the homeless
population was actually comprised of Oshkosh residents.  At a recent council meeting, you suggested that one solution to the shelter problem is a warehouse on the outskirts of town. These suggestions have been met with criticism by leaders active in local homelessness programming.

Describe the process you take when developing your position on issues such as homelessness, and what type of research you conduct prior to issuing opinions as the city’s mayor.

Steve Cummings: Homelessness is a real and perplexing problem that needs to be addressed by the city, private citizens, churches, not for profit organizations, and the business community. It is not unique to Oshkosh, cities across the country are wrestling with this issue.

My questions have revolved around the data we have at our fingertips regarding our homeless population, i.e. why are they homeless, where are they from, is there a common thread among them?

While I suggested utilizing empty buildings that might be reconfigured to meet the growing need (which many communities are considering) I never used the word warehouse or warehousing, that came from my opponent. What I have done is start a dialog with numerous parties who can help solve the problem in a collaborative way.


The Oshkosh Independent: During your term as mayor, what steps have you led and advocated for that helped to improve Oshkosh’s environmental health, including water quality, green space improvement/expansion, and others?

Steve Cummings: Oshkosh has taken a progressive approach to city park improvements, added green space, community gardens, and neighborhood associations, all of which I have supported.

Water quality is truly more of the responsibility of the DNR, and the ECWRPC and others addressing this issue. Because our water system is so vast, (The Wolf River System and the Fox River System) it would be
difficult to work as city in a vacuum to try to improve it. However, the City Council has supported water utility needs, which in turn promote a healthier environment for all.


The Oshkosh Independent: You were in staunch opposition to citizen-led efforts to reduce the punitive penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession charges, including casting the sole vote against the successful measure reducing the penalties from $325 to $200.  Should marijuana possession be a priority of the city’s law enforcement? What is the basis for your position on the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and how does your position improve and strengthen the safety and social justice within the city?

Steve Cummings: I continue to believe that legalizing yet another mood-altering substance with documented adverse consequences is not in the best interest of anyone.


The Oshkosh Independent:  You have stated that your election is important to keep the city moving forward along a progressive path. Define one specific project or policy that you will be working to move forward shortly upon re-election.

Steve Cummings: I am not a single interest or issue candidate. Among my priorities are developing the Youth Council, expanding Unity in Community, waterfront development, the development of the Sawdust District, healthy neighborhoods, the redevelopment of Aviation Plaza, understanding and working to minimize homelessness, and protecting our children from violence. I also think it’s important to be open to new opportunities that come along.

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Justin R. Mitchell

Justin is the founding editor of the Oshkosh Independent.

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