by EMMITT LEWIS
Utica mayor Thom Dionne and mayoral candidate Frank Czapski met on Monday for a debate to discuss a wide range of topics affecting the city of Utica. In 2016, Dionne defeated Czapski by the narrowest of margins – five votes – to earn the title of mayor.
Hoping to get re-elected, Dionne started the debate off by introducing himself. He went into detail about growing up in Utica, attending the schools in the city, and explaining why he originally wanted to become the mayor.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in the city of Utica,” Dionne said, adding that being a public servant has been part of his life since he was 18 years old.
Having served in the U.S. Army for five years, then serving as a police reserve officer for ten years, and currently serving as a public safety officer, Dionne said that he is committed to his country and city. “Serving my community and my country is in my blood,” he said.
“The greatest service for me is being able to give back to my community, and serve these 1.7 square miles honorably, and represent the city in the best possible light. I’m proud to be from Utica. I bleed orange and black and I’m very thankful to be here today as your mayor,” Dionne said.
His opponent, Frank Czapski, was next to introduce himself at the podium. Czapski wears many hats in addition to being a Utica city councilman. He is also an assistant principal at Southfield Public Schools and Union President for Southfield Association for School Administrators.
Czapski said that his campaign is made up of three basic components: principles, integrity, and experience.
Living in Utica for 14 years, Czapski said he is dedicated to the city. “I’m committed to this city. I chose Utica for the great community, the strong schools, and the neighbors that support each other on a daily basis,” he said.
After hearing feedback from the citizens of Utica, Czapski said he wants to address the problems of every age group, restore public trust, improve infrastructure, improve land use, and more.
Downtown development was a big topic at Monday’s forum. One question posed to the candidates asked how Utica can better establish itself as a destination city, or a place to live for millennials.
Czapski said he believes that Utica is already a destination city, but to make it more so, feels that only small changes are needed. He said that they have to capitalize on the Jimmy John’s Field, outdoor activities, and have buildings like Royal Oak where there are living units at the top and businesses at the bottom.
Czapski added that public safety can help too. “We have to reinvent on how we are going to support our police officers,” Czapski said, adding that he would like to build a bond and a feeling of community between the officers and the citizens of the community.
Dionne noted that the ballpark should just be the start of what people can enjoy in Utica. He mentioned that a dog park is coming and that they have looked into adding a hill for sledding and a skate park.
“The millennials are going to be having children that they’re going to want to take to these venues,” Dionne said.
Above all else, Dionne said he wants to add culture to the city. “Something that we’re lacking that we could really use in the city is culture, and that’s what people want,” he said.
Dionne asserted that culture is the main draw for cities like Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Birmingham. To attract businesses to the city, Dionne would want to do more with land development. He mentioned that the city is split into two parts by M-53.
“We’re pretty much pigeon-holed where we are. We can’t really change too much. We’re not growing any, the city is just this dynamic. What we need to do is redevelop within that dynamic,” Dionne said, adding that the city will have to think outside the box in terms of what businesses Utica needs.
He reiterated that entertainment and culture are essential aspects of this decision.
Czapski agreed that art and culture are important for the city. “Culture and art, you have to go for those. Culture and art is an economic driver for a city, any city,” he said, adding that above all else, the results all depend on the person who is trying to sell their vision to businesses.
To watch the forum in its entirety, visit YouTube and search “2018 Utica Mayor Candidate Forum.” Midterm elections will be held on November 6.