Wednesday, October 11, 2017

2017 election: Town Council Candidate Celia Spacone

Today's candidate interview is with Celia Spacone, Democratic Party candidate for Grand Island’s Town Council. Celia, age 65, is running for one of two open seats on the Town Council. The incumbents, Ray Billica and Chris Aronica, have chosen not to run for re-election. The election will be held on November 7th.

Tell me about you.
My life started in Niagara Falls. I’ve lived in Western New York my whole life, and I’m Italian-American. My father came from Italy when he was sixteen years old. He became an American citizen. He is a U.S. veteran, who fought in World War II. My father served in the Philippines and New Guinea and contracted malaria. He survived it and is now 96 years old. My mother is from Niagara Falls, too. My father had the first pizzeria in Niagara Falls. He then sold it and went on to do other things. I have one brother, David Spacone. He used to live in Grand Island with his wife Mary, and they now live in Orlando, Florida. They owned a company, Softrek, which they recently sold.

I grew up in Niagara Falls. I went to Prince of Peace Elementary and Madonna High School, which is now Niagara Catholic.  I went to Buffalo State College and graduated in 1974, and I was certified for kindergarten through twelfth grade. I started as a teacher because I always liked children and working with children. I taught in Lockport for six years. In Lockport, I started out with middle school English, then I became a reading specialist. I taught there from 1974 until 1980. 

As a graduate student in UB, I supervised teachers as part of my assistantship. Then I started tutoring kids at Wyndham Lawn, a residential facility for children and adolescents. I just became more interested in their psychological issues, and so I decided to go back to school and get a PhD in psychology. I became a licensed psychologist. I did my internship at the Buffalo Veterans Administration. I liked the adult population that I found so I got into working with adults. I got my first job as a psychologist at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

It was very challenging, and it was a different place back in 1985. We’ve made a lot of advances since then. There were a lot more patients then. It used to be more custodial. If you were there, you were there for life. Now there is more of an emphasis on active treatment. The treatments are better now. We’ve learned more about how better to treat the patients. We do a better job. It gives hope to people with mental illness. People can go home, get jobs, and become productive members of the community. 

I’ve been at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center ever since, working in a lot of different positions and then doing administration for about twenty years. I liked it because I felt like, when you work with one person, you can help change a life. But, when you work with an organization, you can change many lives. It’s a different place, and I hope that I’ve helped make it a better place

Tell me about your life outside of work.

 I got married to David Pratt in 1980, when I started grad school. I went to grad school first, and my husband put me through, and then I started working and put him through. My husband has a PhD in psychology. He works with children and adolescents in a small private practice. He recently retired from the Children’s Psychiatric facility in West Seneca. We have two kids. Our eldest is a son, Justin, age 30.  He is a mechanical engineer. He graduated from RIT, and he lives in San Clemente, Calif. Our daughter, Andrea who is 27, is working on her PhD in psychology, and she is at Fordham University in New York City. This year, she is doing a clinical externship at the Manhattan VA. They are good kids.

Celia and I walked together at the
CROP walk on Sunday, October 9th.
The CROP walk raises money for
Church World Service to combat
hunger, both abroad and in the local
community.
We do adventure vacations once a year. This year, we did a five-day backpacking trip into Yosemite.  One of our best family vacations was when we all hiked to the top of Mount Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the continental United States. That was a backpacking trip. That was a tough trip. At both Yosemite and Mount Whitney, we ended up with hail. In 2013, we hiked Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in New York State. It is in the Adirondacks. We go to the Adirondacks a lot. We have a cabin there. We’ve been going up there for about thirty years. The kids learned to ski and hike and enjoy the wilderness up there.
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How long have you lived in Grand Island?
We’ve lived in Grand Island for five years. The view from my living room is breathtaking. I’m supposed to be doing a chore, and I just find myself standing and staring out the window at the river. I love the river. It’s peaceful. When I come over the bridge heading home, I take a deep breath at the top of the bridge and relax. 

I think that, in this race, it’s been wonderful because I’ve met so many people. The people are friendly and kind. I’ve gone door to door, and I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors, introducing myself and talking to people. They’ve been friendly and open. It’s a safe community. I feel very safe here. We used to come here to enjoy the parks, even when the kids were little. We brought breakfast to Beaver Island and sat on the beach with the kids. Then we’d come and enjoy the parks. We’d bike ride and walk, and we decided, why don’t we just live there? So our kids asked why did you get a nice home after we left, with the river and the pool? They come home and they kayak, and they go swimming and they really enjoy it. In winter, we cross country ski out the front door in the median. I’ve seen practically every mode of transportation go by… snowmobiles, skiiers, bikers, horses, jet skis, sailboats, motorboats. A biplane landed on the river once. Hang gliding. It’s amazing. I can see the fireworks at the casino. It’s just an amazing place.

How did you get interested in running for Town Council?
I decided that I was going to retire. I’ve always wanted to do something to give back to the community. I’ve always been interested in politics and how political structures work… It’s like being in administration. You can have an effect. Put in a regulation and law or program that impacts people’s lives for the positive. I’ve always been on the periphery of politics, helped with campaigning, etc. But there was an ad in the Island Dispatch saying that if you were interesting in getting into politics, call this number and I did. After hours of interviews, the Democratic Party decided to endorse me. I was honored and humbled and a little bit awed by the potential responsibility. It kind of took my breath away, but I decided that I’d been working for so hard for so long, I wanted to do something different and this would be different. 

Celia Spacone at the
September 28th community
conversation on the opioid
crisis, which she moderated.
I studied systems theory as a psychologist. Families are a system, neighborhoods are a system, communities are a system. A community is like a large extended family in many ways. We have to learn to get along. We have to learn to listen to each other, even when we have opposing views, because that’s where you can get real compromise. If you listen to the other side, you find out what they really want, and often there is a way to meet that need and still get your needs met. It’s a big problem. We don’t listen to the other side enough. With true compromise, you don’t get exactly what you want, but you get what you need. You get the essence of what you wanted.

What is your vision for Grand Island?

It would be nice to see us more connected as a community. In talking to people as I walk and knock on doors, this is a common thread.. We are spread out, and that’s wonderful but sometimes we lose the human connection. So I think that we need structures. We need a downtown that’s walkable and that has enough to do so that it will bring people there and they can meet and talk and support each other. My vision also includes keeping the environment healthy. Water quality is critical. We need to focus on air quality and the vegetation, especially trees. We have some crises that we have deal with. Our water quality… we are looking at our antiquated sewers and problems with our trees. We’re going to be deforested because of the emerald ash borer. I’d like for us to take on some of these environmental issues on this island.

I’m the executive director of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. I know how to be fiscally responsible and ensure that our budget is on track. We have a  $4.2 million+ budget. To me, my vision is that we do all of those things, but we don’t overspend and overtax. There are ways to manage your budget and do what you need to do.

I’d like to see a connected community, a good environment, and an economically strong town.


7 comments:

Dr. Amrita Basu Misra said...


I am loving these posts .Its so enlightening when we get a glimpse into why people go into public sercvice.
My favourite para in this beautiful post.Trying to brain stamp this.


We have to learn to listen to each other, even when we have opposing views, because that’s where you can get real compromise. If you listen to the other side, you find out what they really want, and often there is a way to meet that need and still get your needs met. It’s a big problem. We don’t listen to the other side enough. With true compromise, you don’t get exactly what you want, but you get what you need. You get the essence of what you wanted.

Balaka Basu said...

That is an interesting interview. I kind of like her life..she grew up in the Niagra area and backpacking in Yosemite..that is a dream life.

Alana said...

I am impressed by a woman my age hiking Mt. Marcy and knocking on hundreds of doors to listen to the people of her community. Anyone for more walkable communities has my vote.

Celia Spacone said...

I so appreciate your thoughtful read of who I am.

Akshata Ram said...

She is surely a power puff lady, I liked reading about her background the diverse things she did.

Jeanine Byers said...

I love her story, Alice!! And as a retired therapist (retired early do to motherhood), myself, who stopped shy of going for a doctorate, I love hearing about all these caring helpers in her family. I liked hearing about the changes in her center, too. Great interview!

Nut-a-tut said...

My husband was in Buffalo! Like the way you've covered her personal and professional life, giving a complete picture of her as a person.