By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
Nestled in the Centro Civico conference room in the city of Amsterdam Wednesday sat about 30 individuals from throughout the community -- from residents to community leaders -- in anticipation of the arrival of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Ladan Alomar, executive director of Centro Civico, said before his arrival that the meet-and-greet was open to the public and was an historical event for the community.
"It's just having an opportunity to welcome him. I think Amsterdam doesn't have the opportunities that cities such as Albany have because obviously the state government is there," adding that in those places community members have exposure to political leaders and visa versa. "If there is any opportunity for us to have someone here, to host someone, (so) they know about Amsterdam, Amsterdam's needs, Amsterdam's issues, it's fundamental."
Alomar said that it's all about access and she was excited for Centro Civico to be that "bridge" for the community.
Though DiNapoli was at the nonprofit for just a short period of time, he introduced himself to those in attendance and gave them an update on his background and his reason for being there.
DiNapoli started his public service when he was 18, he told them, when he ran for the school board in his town.
"All that activism, being someone who came of age in the late 60s early 70s, I got very caught up in the notion that being involved in the community and fighting for change and doing it through the political system was the way to go," he said.
From there he went on the New York State Assembly before becoming state comptroller.
"It's been a wonderful opportunity for me," he said. "I loved being a legislator. I loved being an advocate, but as state comptroller we have responsibility over important parts of state government.
"So the ability to move an agenda in a positive way is something very important to me."
Taking care of the state payroll, approving contracts for the state, and being responsible for the operation of the state government are just some of the things the office does, he said.
They also do research reports "on a host of issues" to "inform the larger community on what's going on."
His presence in Amsterdam on Wednesday is part of a concentrated effort to get to know the communities that he's not had exposure to.
"We've been traveling the state and trying to do more outreach to explain to everyone, the not-for-profit sector, the science provided in important community services," he said.
Grisel Davis, statewide outreach coordinator for the Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Division said the effort to reach out to the communities that DiNapoli has not yet tapped into is an endeavor for his office.
His first four years were about getting situated and establishing transparency and credibility, Davis said, but this term is about reaching out.
"It's just to reach as many people and to start to create relationships and start to have the opportunity to do things because we have so many resources, we have professionals that we pay and there's so many opportunities that we have to help communities and nonprofits and different organizations that may not have the resources to do for themselves. That's something that we can do with our credible and professional staff," she explained.
By doing that outreach at Centro Civico, Davis said, it also gave the comptroller a chance to connect with the Latino-populated communities.
DiNapoli said he appreciates the mission of Centro Civico in that fact that they have a real focus on a variety of immigrant communities.
"When you look at the economic activity, especially during these tough times, where there's the greatest burst of activity, entrepreneurship, and success, we look at the boroughs of New York City, it's in the communities with the highest concentration of immigrants that we see the greatest economic activity," he said.
"We really wanted to make a point that what that shows is that we have nothing to be afraid about with immigration. It's just the opposite," he continued. "We should be celebrating it and encouraging it because that's where we have the greatest opportunity, the greatest potential to revitalize communities."
He said he looks forward to future opportunities with Centro Civico as a partner in realizing their dream for an expanded facility.
"We need more organizations like yours who are successful, provide services, and if we can help you in any way we want to do what we can."
After a few questions from a few leaders in the crowd, like Julia Caro of Centro Civico and Dustin Swanger of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, DiNapoli made his way to the Amsterdam Rotary Club's meeting to meet with business professionals.
Following the Centro Civico meeting, 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero said he was thrilled that DiNapoli made a stop in Amsterdam and that the city is starting to get some recognition.
Frank Valiante, an employment opportunity developer at St. Mary's Healthcare, said after the meet-and-greet that it said something in itself that DiNapoli took the time to come to Amsterdam.
"I think he realizes the impact that the state has on communities such as Amsterdam," he said.