New Fulton mayor about to fulfill a long-held dream
By Stefan Yablonski
After getting a taste of politics at an early age, James Rice set his sights on a higher office.
“I ran for class president in the fifth or sixth grade and I always had a vision of wanting to become mayor some day,” he said.
In November he was elected mayor of Fulton.
Rice spent his career working at Tops for 43 years, including 25 as the meat department manager. He will retire at the end of 2023 — “Yes,” he confirmed. “I will be retiring; my date is Dec. 30. Paperwork is in — 43 3/4 years.”
From 1992 to 1993, and 2003 to 2005 he served as the Second Ward councilor and spent several years as the Fulton City Democratic committee chairman.
A Fulton native, he graduated from G. Ray Bodley High School in 1982. He married Cathy LiVoti; they’ve been married 30 years.
“She was actually a councilor, too, like I was for the Second Ward,” he said. “I served in 1992-93; got out for 94-95 because with my job [at Tops] it looked like I might be moving around; so I didn’t know if I could fulfill the responsibilities of a second term.”
Jim Teramiggi served 1994-95. Then he chose to run for mayor in ‘95 against Don Bullard.
“The Republicans actually came to my house and they said, ‘Jim we know you are still interested, we’d like you to consider running for council again.’ And I said ‘I can’t, the Democrats already have a candidate.’ They wanted me to change parties and I wouldn’t. I said ‘maybe I have the next best thing for you, maybe my wife would run, she’s a Republican.’ She did and she won. So that’s how that came to be.”
Rice has three grown children: Brian, 37, is the oldest, Amanda, 26, and Sarah, 24.
All three kids are doing well, he said, adding: “Amanda actually served as my campaign manager during my campaign. As an adult, when you can do something like that with your adult kids — it’s pretty gratifying!”
An early loss
When he purchased a home in the Second Ward, he had his sights set on running for council.
“I thought that might be the best area [to get elected] even though I grew up over here in the First Ward. I felt the best opportunity to win a council seat was in the Second Ward,” he said.
But the first time he ran, in 1987, he lost.
“By 48 votes. But I didn’t lose by so much that it made you want to give up. I left the option open to run again somewhere down the road. I was pretty young at the time; I was like 24 years old, kind of like getting started in life,” he said.
At that time, Muriel Allerton became mayor and she wanted to keep Rice around. She put him on the recreation committee and also on the Lake Neatahwanta reclamation committee.
“I served more than 20 years on that, both as a citizen and as an elected official,” he said.
“Part of my campaign dealt with dredging the lake. [State] Senator Patty Ritchie helped us get a dredge and currently it sits behind the DPW garage not being used,” he said. “It’s a spring-fed lake so, in my opinion, you have to continue to try to dredge.”
The lake isn’t a drinking water source, so it’s harder to get funding to help fix it, he said.
“If it were Skaneateles Lake or maybe Owasco Lake, they’d be here to work on it and fix it pretty quick. But ours is mostly recreational, it doesn’t really generate a mechanism to generate state and federal funding to help us,” he added.
High poverty rate
“There is a homeless problem in Fulton. There are four shelters in the county — all in Oswego,” he said. “I think it’s bigger than the average person knows about. I definitely want to work with agencies to see if we can get something going in Fulton to alleviate that problem because right now everything exists in Oswego.”
“Our poverty rate is high. We need to address that — 21% of our population lives in poverty,” he said. “Where poverty exists, so does crime. Our crime rate is high. Quality of life, you can’t relate that just to codes. I think you can’t raise the quality of life until you can raise the standard of living.”
“We can go in and do an inspection in a rental unit and everything’s good, right? The windows are good, doors are good, the heat works — everything checks out. But dishes might be piled from the floor to the ceiling, kids don’t have adequate clothes, the grass is too high outside and the garbage pail is over flowing,” he continued. “You’re going to have absentee landlords, but I don’t think taking a bus and trying to run over them is the right thing to do. Until you raise the standard of living, it’s going to be very difficult to raise the quality of life. I think the goal should be working from the back end, let’s try to raise the standard of living to improve the quality of life.”
There are many programs and services available for people — but they might just not know them.
Rice said he encourages community volunteerism. Join a service club or any type of community-based organization that helps facilitate things in the community, he urged.
“My idea is to reach out to the nonprofits and see maybe what I can help facilitate. And, if at the end of four years I can say that I helped facilitate something that helps this city, it would be something that I’d be proud of,” he said.
Name: Jim Rice
Position: Mayor City of Fulton
Birth Date: Dec. 24, 1963
Birth Place: Fulton
Residence: 77 Patrick Circle, Fulton
Education: G. Ray Bodley High School, 1982
Personal/family: Wife, Catherine LiVoti-Rice 30 years; son, Brian; daughters Amanda and Sarah
Hobbies: Watching spectator sports, walking, cooking and reading.