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Opponents to downtown Utica hospital seek office to stop it

Payne Horning
Several candidates running for Utica Common Council this fall, such as Lou Poccia in the city's first ward, are coming out against the proposed downtown hospital.

When voters in Utica's first ward head to the polls on November 7, they will see a unique addition to their ballots. Next to Utica Common Council candidate Lou Poccia's name are the words "NOHOSPITAL DWNTN."

"We wanted to demonstrate in a very vivid way that the people of this city are opposed to this downtown hospital," Poccia said. "It is being forced down our throats by the elites of our community."

Poccia is the only candidate officially running on the No Hospital Downtown Party line. But there are three candidates for the common council who have also pledged to vote against anything that would support the proposed Mohawk Valley Health System hospital in that location, such as bonding for the facility's parking garage that Utica and Oneida County are planning to finance.

"It depends how many are elected this we have to see but we believe we will be in a position to do it," Poccia said.

The opposition movement to the hospital has fought the project for months, saying it will mire the city in debt and displace dozens of businessesthat are operating within the proposed footprint.

Utica College government professor Luke Perry says getting that movement onto the ballot, while atypical, is strategic.

"It’s gotten a lot of earned media attention, which in a campaign is a good thing and certainly that enhances both the cause that they’re advocating for as well as their name recognition," Perry said.

Supporters of the downtown hospital, like Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri, say the opportunity is too good to pass up, especially when the state is making a significant investment in the project.

"It’s the first time I can ever remember that the governor coming up with $300 million to have a state of the art facility with consolidation," Palmieri said. "I think the people have to open up their eyes a little bit to understand that the most important thing is the health care facility."

Mohawk Valley Health System's CEO Scott Perra says they believe that downtown Utica is the best place to construct the healthcare campus, and planning and design of the state of the art facility will continue.

As for Palmieri, he says he's not worried by these No Hospital Downtown candidates. He says he's placing his trust in the voters.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.