By CHL and Dave Dancy
On Saturday March 9, 2019 veteran, local politician, Bill Philips succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Philips served for two separate terms on Utica’s common council as 5th Ward councilman. His death left a vacancy in the 5th Ward. A vacancy that would be would need to be filled immediately.
Mayor Robert Palmieri acted quickly, choosing local activist and NYC transplant Freddie Hamilton as Philip’s successor to represent the constituents in Utica’s 5th ward making her the first Black woman to hold political office in the City of Utica or Oneida County. And yes, her real name is Freddie. She is named after her father.
The Utica Phoenix sat down with Mrs. Hamilton to find out exactly how and why she was chosen and what the community should expect from her as a representative of the 5th Ward.
Phoenix: How long have you been in Utica?
Hamilton: I’ve been here since 2012. Before I came, my children Pamela and Chris were here. Then I sent my mother to stay with my daughter, Pam and I followed shortly thereafter.
Phoenix: But why Utica?
Hamilton: I had a friend who had moved to Utica and I would come visit. I loved it here. It was the slower pace. People are nicer. Much less traffic and everywhere I went I could find a place to park. There were so many drive throughs all around and at banks. And I could park right in front of the post office. It was so much more convenient.
Phoenix: What did you do before you came to Utica?
Hamilton: Well that’s a loaded question. I’ll try to be short. I was born in Louisiana and moved to NYC as a child. I got involved with child care early and went on to start a daycare. The daycare I started in the 70’s, the Herman Hannaham Daycare, grew into what is now known as the Childhood Development Support Corporation. The CDSC is now a fulltime foster care placement agency. The agency finds suitable homes for foster children in New York City. It has an annual budget of 10 million dollars. So, I spent the better part of 35 years building the agency until retirement in 2006.
During this time Hamilton managed to raise her six children in the City. It wasn’t easy for her or her family. She tragically lost her youngest son to urban gun violence in 1993 an event that continues to fortify her commitment to activism.
Hamilton also earned a Bachelor’s degree in early Childhood Development from Antioch University in Ohio. At that time Antioch had a New York Campus on the Westside of Manhattan which she attended. Hamilton was politically active there as well.
Freddie Hamilton, today the area’s first Black woman to hold public office worked alongside Leticia (Tish) James, currently New York State’s first Black Female Attorney General. Hamilton was then a grassroots campaign coordinator for veteran New York Politician, Al Vann, while Tish James was Chief of Staff. James went on to run for and successfully win a seat as City Council representative.
“For twwelve years I was Democratic State committeewoman for my Assembly district in Brooklyn so it was natural for me to reach out to the Democratic party once I moved here.”
Hamilton did reach out and developed a friendship with the late Councilman Bill Philips who had then just been elected to represent the 5th Ward after a two term absence. He followed in the seat that was held by former Councilman Jerome McKinsey, current Democrat candidate for Council-At-Large.
Philips was sufficiently impressed by Ms. Hamilton that he appointed her to the Oneida County Democratic Committee. Hamilton’s evident political savvy resulted in her being elevated to ward Chairperson by the City Democratic Committee.
When Philips passed away it was easy for Mayor Palmieri to make the important decision regarding filling the vacancy from Philip’s death.
According to Mayor Rob Palmieri, “I had multiple conversations with Freddie and felt that she was the right fit at the right time. With her wisdom, experience and background I am confident that she will do well in representing the 5th district and city as whole.
I didn’t know how she would respond when I asked her but I had had a conversation with Bill about her and he had a very good feeling about her based upon her commitment to the community.
He felt that she had the community’s best interest at heart so I was very comfortable with asking her to fill his shoes. Not that Bill’s shoes could be filled. He was one in a million.
I know that Freddie Hamilton can and will hold her own and give the 5th district the representation the people deserve. She doesn’t have to learn about the issues. She knows the issues.”
Hamilton indicates that she does not have aspirations beyond her current post. “I’m really just keeping the seat warm…it is my hope Delvin Moody earns the vote of the constituency in the 5th ward and is sworn in next January.” Hamilton is referring to Common Council Democrat candidate for the 5th ward Delvin Moody who hopes to win the seat come November.
On being the first Black woman to hold public office in the City or the County, Hamilton says, “It is an honor to do so and represent the people of the 5th District. I hope and intend to make a difference for as long as I am in office.”