Kim Muller, November 3, 2021 (video)


Kim Muller, November 3, 2021 (video)
Kim Muller
Allison Bolam
Economic Revitalization
Environmental Policy
Oneonta, New York
Ostego County Board of Representatives
Solid Waste Management
Women in Politics
Kim Muller (née Kucharski) is a current Project Consultant and former Mayor of Oneonta, New York. Muller was born in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1956. After studying Geology at Binghamton University, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked for the United States Geological Survey and entered public service in 1982 as a staff volunteer for Senator Paul Sarbanes.

She moved to Oneonta, New York, and she was elected to the Otsego County Board of Representatives in 1985. She was the second woman ever elected to the County Board, and the youngest representative ever elected. During her time on the County Board, she was recognized for her work on solid waste management issues and as a proponent of recycling and was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo in 1989 to the NYS Solid Waste Management Board. She served four terms on the County Board of Representatives.

In 1997, Muller was elected Mayor of the City of Oneonta and re-elected Mayor for a second term in 2001. She was the City's first – and to date only – woman mayor. During her terms as mayor, her administration focused their efforts on improving the economic climate of Oneonta. Some of her economically driven initiatives include projects such as the Clarion Hotel, the Oneonta Susquehanna Greenway, the beginnings of a performing arts center called Foothills, and the "Water Street Initiative," a project to enhance Downtown Oneonta and improve public safety. She has been associated with the Democratic Party during her time in public service.

Muller was involved in public service in Oneonta in a time before environmental efforts like recycling were widely adopted, and her reflections on her time advocating for environmental action as a County Representative reflect that. She also began her first mayoral term when areas of Oneonta had sat vacant and unmaintained for years, or in some cases, decades.

Ms. Muller talks about her goals to incorporate strong environmental policies and the economic development of the City of Oneonta throughout her time in public service. She recalls tactics she used to garner public support for environmental initiatives, ways she built networks in order to enact economic development plans, and details some of the projects started and completed during her time in politics in Oneonta. She also recalls her experience as a woman in politics and shares insights into women's perspectives in public service.

I interviewed Ms. Muller at her home in Oneonta, New York. I have attempted to transcribe her dialogue as accurately as possible but have made minor edits for clarity.
KM = Kim Muller
AB = Allison Bolam


Ok, Kim, could you state your name?

Kim Muller, and I live in Oneonta, New York.

Ok. Could you talk a little bit about how your goals as an environmentalist and your plans for economic revitalization aligned or didn't align during your terms as mayor?

Sure. I have a long-time interest in environmental issues. Certainly, in Oneonta where we have such a beautiful environment, as we were looking at economic development projects it was really important to do them in a way that maintained the environmental integrity of the community and helped improve it. Some of the projects were in the parks, we put a lot of money into the parks, and that helped improve the environment and expand recreation. But also, some of them involved clean-up of areas that would almost be considered brownfields. For example, the Rail Yards and Damaschke Field project, and even when we did West-Nesbitt and we tore the building down – that's the area where Foothills is now – I made sure that we adhered to environmental regulations and did all the environmental impact statements that we had to do. And we tried to take into consideration the impacts at the same time that we're trying to improve or do economic development projects that would enhance the community and help us in the long run. Even back when I was on the County Legislature, I've always thought that if you can put environmental arguments in terms of economic arguments, that you're more likely to attract more people, and get them interested, and get them to have some buy-in if they understand the positive values of paying attention to the environment and improving it at the same time that you're doing economic development projects.

Can you talk about the challenges you might have faced as a woman in politics?

Sure. It definitely was interesting, especially when I first was elected. I was only 28 years old. I was the second female on the County Legislature. It's a 14-member board, so there were 12 men and two women. And it definitely was a challenge, I think because of those two factors – my age and my gender – as well as I was a Democrat, so, the minority party. I think in a way when I first started, the men on the Board were all older, and, maybe, in some ways I was a different kind of a beast. And they weren't sure how to handle me and were more dismissive. But I learned that if you do your homework and you educate yourself on the issues, you'll build your credibility. And I also learned that if you try to find something personal or get to know someone that even if you have battles then at the end of the day if you can still go to lunch or dinner and get past them that you can fight as much as you have to about an issue then you still have that personal relationship and it goes a long way to succeeding on projects. In terms of how my relationships were affected with my male political colleagues, I would say that there were certainly issues of power, and again, unfamiliarity. But I just hung in, and again, in some cases I was the one that had the most knowledge. For example, when we tackled recycling and solid waste on the County Legislature, I was the only person on the Board who actually had a background that helped me understand those issues, having been a geologist. So again, I think it really came down to being willing to work with people who have a different perspective of you or might find you to be challenging and also knowing what you're talking about.

Could you talk a little bit about your experience with men caucusing in the bathroom?

[laughs] Sure. So, the men on the County Board did have a habit of taking breaks, and they would all go in the men's room together. But they weren't going in just to use the facility, they were going in there to caucus outside of the range of my female colleague and I. So, finally one day I was just like "I'm done with this," and so I followed them in. And after, you know, surprises and laughs, they understood that I was calling them out. And I really said, "You know, you can't keep doing this, it's just not going to work." And I would have followed them in again, but they kind of stopped the practice.

Alright, thank you so much Kim.
Upstate New York
Oneonta, NY
Allison Bolam
Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta
Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY
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