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RPCV Benjamin Banta is executive assistant to the mayor of Oswego
RPCV Benjamin Banta is executive assistant to the mayor of Oswego
by Dola L. Deloff
It was "Baptism by ice," Ben Banta said of his first week on the job as the executive assistant to the mayor of Oswego. It was the Great Ice Storm of 2003, and Banta felt right at home. "It was just like the old days," he said.
Banta was back in Oswego after having been away for 23 years. Originally from Geneva, NY, Banta moved to Oswego with his family in 1959. His father owned the Ford dealership, Big Ben Ford, then located on West First and Cayuga streets in the city. Banta later attended Ohio State University and held a variety of positions.
"I've spent most of my life promoting people, products and policies," Banta said.
He was living and working in London on Sept. 11, 2001, when he experienced an epiphany, the executive assistant said. "I wanted to slow down," he said. "My priorities changed. I decided to come back to Oswego."
Banta said that the only thing he knew for sure when he moved back to Oswego was that he wasn't going to take a position that would require him to commute. "I looked at the college, city and county," Banta said, "and then John [Gosek] called and asked if I'd like to be his assistant."
Jeff Wallace had left the office of executive assistant to the mayor in March.
"He said it would be a good fit," Banta said of Gosek's conversation with him about the position.
Banta's first day on the job was April Fool's Day, and a week or so later, the storm hit. "It was really something else," he said. "We were in a state of emergency. There were blocked roads and power outages. People needed adequate housing and food." City Hall became a kind of command control center, Banta said, coordinated by the mayor's office and other agencies.
Banta had had experience working in crisis situations, although not of the same type. He was involved in crisis communications for Miller Brewery in Milwaukee and also held positions as a press secretary for a cabinet member in Washington, DC, and a US senator in Wisconsin.
"After my experiences in the White House and in the Senate, I didn't really want to get back into government," Banta said. "There was a lot of travel, a lot of work, and long hours involved. I didn't want to go back to that."
In Washington, Banta worked for William Bennett, the White House director of the Drug Control Problem in the Office of National Drug Policy during the Bush, Sr. administration. "It was quite a title," Banta said, adding that Bennett was popularly known as the Drug Czar. For Bennett, Banta said he acted as a liaison between the office and the states. He also helped to write policy, Banta added.
As press secretary for Senator Bob Kaston, Banta said he was involved in Kaston's campaign to repeal the 10- percent interest tax. "This was before 24-hour news stations," Banta said.""We had to look for coverage through non-traditional outlets, and once we got started, the ball started rolling." The tax was eventually repealed.
Public relations wasn't always Banta's field of choice. Hoping to be a dentist, Banta attended Ohio State, which has one of the best dental schools in the country, he said, but switched to anthropology in his sophomore year, "I took a course in creative writing and decided I wanted what a liberal arts education could offer," Banta said.
Bill Bennett was to later say that the liberal arts gives a broader understanding of cultures from a broader perspective, Banta said. "And I agree with that," he added. It was this education that prepared him for the different positions in the public relations field he held. And after having worked in both the public and private sectors, Banta said, he can attest to the fact that the two worlds aren't all that different. "Working in government service for the people is very similar to pleasing stockholders," he said. "No two days are ever the same."
Banta said he had wondered initially, though, after returning to Oswego and taking the position as the mayor's assistant if he had made the right decision in going back to public service. "It was evident to me, after seeing downtown, that past administrations had not been pro-business," Banta said, adding that just in the past six months he's been Gosek's assistant he's seen many changes.'"I'm in total support of the mayor," Banta said. "It's not my job to make policy but to carry it out."
"There are many exciting things happening," the executive assistant said. "And the key is working with business to promote the city and to help it grow." Banta said he supports the 20/20 Vision committee's plan to preserve the integrity of the downtown Oswego area just as the mayor does.
Oswego is unique, Banta said, in that it has a college in its own yard. Before he was offered the position in city hall, Banta said he had approached the college about teaching a course or two in communications. "I had over 25 years experience," he said. "I felt I had the wisdom gained through time and experience." He was told, however, that he couldn't teach at the college because he didn't hold a doctorate degree. "It was the most asinine thing I've ever heard," Banta said.
Among Banta's other positions were as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s, a vice president of communications for a high-speed communications company, and the public information officer for the county of Oswego.
Banta said that two local people inspired him greatly over the years: Doug Barclay, who was recently appointed ambassador to El Salvador ("He's honest, courteous, and always looks you in the eye. He's a great listener.") and Oswego County legislator Art Ospelt ("He has wisdom. He would preface his advice with 'If I were you' And he believes in what goes around, comes around.").
The executive assistant said he also learned a great deal from Bill Bennett. "He challenged people," Banta said. "When approached by someone, he would say, 'What makes you say that?'"
And Banta also remembers the words of the late Tip O'Neill, the former Speaker of the House: "'All politics are local,' Tip said," Banta recalled. "Whatever happens, affects everyone."
Name: Benjamin F. (Franklin) Banta IV
Position: Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Oswego
Birthdate: March 17, 1947 in Geneva, New York
Residence: 33 West Sixth St., Oswego
Personal: Wife: Jennifer; sons: Travis (24), senior at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Fla.; and Jack (8); daughters: Brittany (20), junior at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.; and Brennan (11).
Education: BA degree from the Ohio State University
Career: Experienced in public affairs. Positionsvice president, corporate communications, FLAG Telecom, 2001 to present; Nextel Communications, vice president, corporate communications, 1997-2001; The Brennan Group, principal, Washington 1993-1996; acting director of public affairs and press secretary for William J. Bennett, The White House, 1989-1992; MCI Corporation, senior manager, corporate affairs, 1985-1988; press secretary, Sen. Robert Kasten, Washington, 1982-1984; senior manager, public relations, Miller Brewing Co., 1978-1982; director, public information, Oswego County, 1975-1978.
Phone: 315-343-4426 (home); 315-342-8136 (office); 315-374-2904 (cell)