With an Introduction
By Lewis Turco
This is a book about neighbors written by a neighbor. John T. Sullivan, Jr., was born in 1947 in Oswego, New York. He graduated in 1964 from Bishop Cunningham high school; one year later my family and I moved to town where I began to teach at the State University of New York College at Oswego.
John went on growing into his shoes while I began settling in at the College. After receiving his degrees at Syracuse University John married his wonderful wife, Charlotte, and began his family. When two of his three daughters were in high school our son, Christopher, dated the youngest, Julie, and John was elected Mayor of Oswego in 1988.
This introduction is not the first time John has asked me to write something – the first time he did he asked me to write an inauguration poem, which I was happy to do. I recited it at his ceremony. The One-hundred signed copies printed on parchment paper were distributed as keepsakes of the Inaugural, “…which,” John wrote me, “still hopefully adorn the walls of many Oswegonians to this day (which at least mine is, and it is numbered 1)!” The poem was also published on paper in a broadside that was circulated widely:
It lies in the curves of the lakeshore.
Across Ontario the last of the sun breathes light
out of the horizon, turning the clouds shades
of red to the west. The water darkens,
splits over the stones where the spiders live,
where the gulls alight to conceive of evening.
Hardwoods rise on country roads, their limbs
casting tall shadows into the silence deepening
among the tumescent milkweed and the cattails.
A twist of goldenrod runs into fields,
to the apple orchard fence where ravens
give voice to the dark quality of waiting.
The cries of geese are incipient
out of the north, over the great water, the turning
of another season. The thrust of wings, the high
call of flight before the changing wind, will
fall soon to Oswego's waters, send frog
and salmon deep, beyond ranges of color
that fades now as the light falls onto Ontario,
and a dream of summer settles along
the stone coast road like a fleet of waterbirds.
Subsequently, Mayor Sullivan proclaimed me honorary Poet Laureate of the City of Oswego. Needless to say, I was deeply honored to be asked to contribute in this way, but John soon followed up by asking me to do a harder job: correct and revise the City of Oswego Charter as Secretary of the city Charter Revision Commission. I won’t go into the particulars of all the grammatical, punctuational, and typographical errors one had to address, but they were legion.
John Sullivan was by far the best and most active mayor the City of Oswego has had while I have been a resident. He was instrumental in cleaning up the Lake Ontario waterfront which was a shambles when my family moved into town. Wright’s Landing, the River Walk, the Town Hall center all were spruced up and turned into beautiful and livable environmental attractions.
Not least of these innovations was Harborfest, one of Charlotte’s pet projects. It was not many seasons before this festival was attracting enormous crowds to town during the summer, and it is still doing so. But all great mayoralties must come to an end.
John went on to become Executive Chairman of the State Democratic Party from 1995 to 1998; he was one of the founders of the Democratic Rural Conference. He served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Watertown office from 2003 to 2007, and then he accepted a position as Deputy Inspector General and counsel for legislative matters with the state Medicaid Inspector General’s office, relocating to the Albany area where he lived in Saratoga Springs.
During all this time John Sullivan never lost touch with his Oswego roots. He visited town often, gave programs frequently (my wife Jean and I attended one at the town library in the spring of 2015). Just after the mayoral election in the fall of the same year John’s picture appeared in The Palladium Times with the new Republican mayor, twenty-five- year-old Billy Barlowe! (Sometimes one suspects that John might carry this being a good neighbor a bit too far.) (Just kidding.)
John kept in touch also by writing essays and articles, including the profiles in this book for various and sundry periodicals in the Albany area and elsewhere, but particularly for Oswego’s daily newspaper, The Palladium-Times. I don’t need to say more because those who enter these pages, even if they are strangers, will soon feel as though they know the City of Oswego down to its roots and have themselves become neighbors of my dear friend, John T. Sullivan, Jr.