The Politics of Trees

By Aaron Snyder:

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Being a Mayor of a village is no small feat, especially for someone who never planned on running for public office. Who knew that caring for the environment and caring for trees could lead to a life in politics? Mayor Margaret Blackman never did, and she currently is in her second term of as mayor of Brockport.

Blackman grew up in Indiana. She has moved quite a bit in her life, but considers Brockport home. She came to Brockport in 1977 to work as professor of anthropology at the college. Before that, Blackman was getting her bachelor’s in Anthropology from Miami University of Ohio, and then her Ph.D. from Ohio State.

Blackman has lived in Brockport for 42 years, longer than she has lived anywhere else.

“Brockport is a kind of town where everyone is very aware of their roots,” Blackman said. “It’s amazing to see families with four generations who all grew up here.”

She has raised her children here and thought this town is as good as any to stay in. So how does an anthropology professor end up a mayor? Interestingly, it was because of a student, she said.

In 2005, Blackman had set up an internship with the mayor at the time for a student in her department. The internship had to do with urban forestry and how people are affected by the trees in town. In order to figure out how Brockport compared to other towns, this student attended village meetings and found out that Brockport did not have a tree board.

A tree board has the responsibility of maintaining, classifying, and educating the public on what kinds of trees are in their town. With Brockport lacking a tree board, the student made a motion in a town hall meeting that one be created. The motion was passed. Blackman was asked to be the first chairman of the newly founded tree board. This is when her political career began.

In 2010, Brockport had a chance to dissolve into the greater community of Sweden. The mayor at the time was for the dissolution, but Blackman and others were not. Fortunately, the dissolution was down voted and Brockport was able to continue being its own governing village. Blackman decided that she needed to know more sooner if she was to prepare for something like this again, so she ran for village board trustee. She won.

Three years later, the mayor at the time was up for re-election. The board the mayor had assembled was divided, and the mayor was running for office again.

“I was going to just remain a trustee,” Blackman said. “But I had a number of people come up to me and say ‘You should really run for mayor,’ and so I did.” She won that election, became mayor, and was re-elected in 2017.

Since her time in office, Blackman has made major improvements in the urban forest in Brockport. The database where the town keeps track of the trees has been updated and is being updated again soon. It will now be able to tell a person what trees need maintenance, what kinds of trees they are, and where they are located. Blackman also has collaborated on the highly controversial Canal Embankment Project. This was to make sure the embankments on the canal do not burst which would cause flooding.

Mayor Blackman has done many great things for the Brockport community. Some of them are known widely, and others people may not know so much about. One thing is for sure, she cares for this town and most definitely cares for its trees.

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