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Sherwood Boehlert

The office, now occupied by Congressman Arcuri, looks out across the off-ramp that leads into downtown Utica, northeast to the New York State Thruway, and a bit further north the Route 8 and Route 12 extensions can be seen meandering toward the Adirondacks, the largest mountain range east of the Mississippi.

Just a few feet from the steps of the Alexander Pirnie Federal Building, named after the late Congressman whom Sherry worked for during his Utica College days, the Erie Canal paved the way for travel to the golden promises of the West.

Talking with Sherry made it apparent that he's well versed in the rich history of his congressional district. A district whose once mighty job force was decimated by a massive loss of jobs caused by the new era ushered in by the onset of information age.

Surely, the biggest hit occurred when, in 1993, the Presidential Base Realignment Closure Commission shut down Griffiss Air Force Base, 22 miles west of Utica. With Griffiss went 10 percent of Oneida County's population and a $700 million annual budget. The closing of Griffiss had far-reaching ramifications on Greater Utica's economy as several ancillary type businesses were forced to close, leaving thousands out of work and many more fleeing the area in search of opportunities. Facing tough situations throughout his political career is nothing new to Sherry. He takes a tough stance on all issues concerning the environment even if it means voting against his own GOP leadership. Although the criticism by the GOP leadership would have weathered most members of Congress, Sherry prevailed and won praise from both aisles of the House.

Sherry was second in command as a member of the House Committee on Science. He was chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also served on the Select Committee on Intelligence, a position he is particularly fond of because his duties put him "in close touch with all the university and research communities nationally."

One would surmise that with all the negative news that flowed seemingly endlessly for a time that Boehlert would be politically damaged and appear inept at helping local officials retain or create new jobs. Well, think again. Not only did Sherry get reelected eight times since his first Congressional run in 1982, he proved his worth and put his Washington acumen to use by bringing the Defense Financing and Accounting Service Center to the Griffiss Technology Park, which added 500 jobs to the nearly 3,000 other civilian jobs that have been created since the Air Force left for New Jersey. Although the activity at Griffiss pales in comparison to the base's military heyday, Sherry boasts that capturing the Accounting Service Center is another example that the former air base can succeed as a civilian installation without relying primarily on the military for jobs.

Questions:

* You come from modest means. Where did you grow up? 
* You worked at the famous Trinkaus Manor restaurant for a time. 
* Were you an "A" student in high school? College? 
* Some people say you're out of touch with your district and never seen there. How do you respond? 
* You and your wife Maryanne are film buffs. What's your favorite movie? 
* During your youth you mentioned you were surrounded by caring people. Who were they? 
* What are your significant career remembrances? 
* What was a low point in your political career? 
* Air traffic at McGuire Air Force Base (New Jersey) has increased some four-hundred percent since accepting the fleet of B-52s and F-16 fighter jets from Griffiss Air Force Base. Did the Presidential Base Realignment Commission make the wrong choice? 
* New Jersey picked up a lot of air traffic they can't handle. 
* Will Griffiss ever reopen? 
* What does the future of the Mohawk Valley look like? And how will the Internet play a role?

Q: You come from modest means. Where did you grow up? Answer from Sherry: My dad was a milkman and he and my mom divorced when I was four. I moved to my grandmother's in Corn Hill, until my freshman year in high school, and then moved to Whitesboro with my dad and his new wife. I transferred from UFA (Utica Free Academy) to Whitesboro High School.

Q: You worked at the famous Trinkaus Manor restaurant for a time. A: I started working at Trinkaus Manor in 1951 and worked there through high school and college. I was a busboy, dishwasher, I did everything there. I drive by there (now) and I cry (Trinkaus Manor burned to the ground in April 1992, arson is the cause but no criminal charges have been filed).

Q: Were you an "A" student in high school? College? A: I was a so-so student. Did very well in English and Social Studies, not well in Math and Science. I worked a lot and my homework wasn't very well done. My freshman year was spent at University of Miami, where I went for one semester till my money ran out, then transferred to Syracuse University till my money was gone again. The dean (at SU) told me to get my act together and get my military obligation out of the way, which I did.

Q: Some people say you're out of touch with your district and never seen there. How do you respond? A: Anyone who says that just doesn't know me. I'm home every single weekend. When I got elected to Congress (1982), my family and I decided to maintain our residence here and I would commute. Once in a while I like to go visit the coffee shops - Whitey's on Bleecker Street, Tommy Carcone's, and I go and have a cup of hot chocolate and scrambled eggs, but listen and talk with people. I go to the Polish Community Club, Sons of Italy, and I go to church locally. So, I'm very much in touch.

Q: You and your wife Maryanne are film buffs. What's your favorite movie? A: As Good As It Gets is the best one I've seen the past 12 months.

Q: During your youth you mentioned you were surrounded by caring people. Who were they? A: There are several people who had a significant impact; who have been kind and generous. My high school English teacher, Dorothy Day. My high school social studies teacher Charles Schott; the Trinkaus brothers (owners of Trinkaus Manor) gave me a job and some guidance. Ray Simon, who was my professor, advisor and mentor (at Utica College). After college a guy named Carl Spitzer gave me my first job at Wiandatte Chemicals. And Alexander Pirnie, who I worked for as a volunteer when I was in college. He (Pirnie) was in public service for all the right reasons; he just wanted to make life better for people.

Q: What are your significant career remembrances? A: When President Bush signed into law on Dec. 11, 1990, a bill which contained a section including my language to launch the war on Acid Rain. I've had many bills signed into law. When I first campaigned for the office in 1982, one of the promises I made that I would go to Washington and do my best to deal with the problem of acid rain, which is so serious in our neck of the woods. Initially, when I talked about acid rain people (in Washington) would say, "That's not a national problem. That's a New York problem." Then I'd talk about it some more and they'd say, "That's not a national problem. That's a regional problem." And I'd talk about it some more and, finally, they appreciated it's not a national problem, it's an international problem because Canada was so heavily impacted. When President Bush signed that (bill authorizing industry to cut toxic emissions) at a ceremony at the White House, I was the only member of Congress invited. It was my language, but I wasn't on the committee. They usually just invite committee people but the President thought my role was important enough to include me.

Q: What was a low point in your political career? A: My low point was 1972 when I first ran for Congress. I lost to Don Mitchell (Mitchell, from Herkimer, served from 1972-82) in a four-way primary. I was too young and lacking in experience. Ironically, I succeeded him (Mitchell) in 1982.

Q: Air traffic at McGuire Air Force Base (New Jersey) has increased some four-hundred percent since accepting the fleet of B-52s and F-16 fighter jets from Griffiss Air Force Base. Did the Presidential Base Realignment Commission make the wrong choice? A: It's obvious the committee didn't make the right choice. D'Amato (Sen. Alfonse D'Amato) and me and the entire New York delegation were all saying the same things. When they (BRAC) decided to consolidate, we understood there were three bases under consideration. Clearly, everyone who looked at it (report about base closure consideration) initially, said McGuire isn't even in the zone of consideration. It's Plattsburg versus Griffiss. We set out to make the best case for Griffiss, and the Plattsburg people made the best case for Plattsburg. The decision-makers ignored both of them and went to McGuire, which was the worst choice they could have made.

Q: New Jersey picked up a lot of air traffic they can't handle. A: It was a dumb decision. They will not admit they were in error. Of course, I suppose, our judgments were somewhat bothered by the emotional aspect. But there are some things you can quantify and point to and they've got too much traffic down there.

Q: Will Griffiss ever reopen? A: We were able to salvage the Rome Laboratory, and they tried to close that, too. In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission had Rome Lab on the list. We fought that and won by a unanimous decision. They rejected the Air Force proposal because they said it would be too costly and too disruptive to critical research that was ongoing and necessary.

Q: What does the future of the Mohawk Valley look like? And how will the Internet play a role? A: The Mohawk Valley and its future potential is unlimited. The only limitations imposed are a lack of knowledge about this magnificent area; it is a great place to live in terms of climate. Part of the year you can be water skiing or skiing on snow. We don't have earthquakes, hurricanes; essentially we're disaster free. Then you look at us and see we are one of the lowest cost areas in the country in terms of housing. We've great educational opportunities; Oneida County alone has six premier institutions of higher education - Hamilton College, Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica College, State University of New York Institute of Technology, Utica College, St. Elizabeth's College of Medicine, Utica School of Commerce, and that's just one county. Go beyond Central New York, my district has 13 colleges and universities, plus some specialty schools. Every major employer in this area reports absentee rates are low, turnover rate is low, people show up to work when expected and produce a quality product. We're close to major metropolitan areas - New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. We don't have all the problems of a major urban center. We don't have a high crime rate. We've got it all right here. The Internet is a great opportunity for us because it is a vehicle that will carry further our message.

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