Schenectady County

This time, incumbent supervisor may be spoiler in Rotterdam

Brian McGarry is often credited with being the third-party spoiler who gave Frank Del Gallo the edge

Brian McGarry is often credited with being the third-party spoiler who gave Frank Del Gallo the edge he needed to win the supervisor’s race in 2009.

Harry Buffardi

AGE: 61

BALLOT LINES: Democratic, Conservative, Working Families

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: M.S. from Syracuse University, former Schenectady County sheriff

PERSONAL: Wife, two daughters and a son

Frank Del Gallo

AGE: 72

BALLOT LINE: Rotterdam First

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: Owner of Del Gallo Country Pools, Del Gallo Construction, F&R Unlimited; town supervisor

PERSONAL: Married with a daughter and son

Brian McGarry

AGE: 54

BALLOT LINES: Republican, No New Tax Party

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: M.S. from The College of Saint Rose; photography business owner; teaches at Duanesburg Elementary

PERSONAL: Wife, six children

Del Gallo beat incumbent Supervisor Steve Tommasone by 250 votes, while McGarry’s message of fiscal conservatism on the No New Taxes Party line secured him 1,493 votes. Many Republicans claimed McGarry’s candidacy fragmented the party’s vote, allowing Del Gallo to narrowly secure the victory with the Democratic and Conservative endorsements.

But the dynamic of this year’s race for the town’s top executive position has taken a 180-degree turn. McGarry is now running on the Republican line and in a tight race against Democrat Harry Buffardi, while Del Gallo is expected to play spoiler for one of them with his candidacy on an independent line.

The Democrats and Conservatives both shunned Del Gallo for an endorsement after his somewhat tumultuous first term in office. Instead, they tapped Buffardi, the former Schenectady County sheriff, to head both tickets.

Del Gallo waged unsuccessful primary and opportunity-to-ballot challenges against Buffardi, meaning he’s left with only the Rotterdam First line. Del Gallo established the independent party with help from William Cooke, the former chairman of the Rotterdam Democratic Committee who is running for a Town Board seat on the line.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” acknowledged Buffardi. “I know he’s going to take some votes away from me, but I also know he’s going take away some votes from Brian McGarry.”

McGarry believes the incumbent will ultimately help swing the race in his favor. He said the Democrats’ abrupt change of heart with Del Gallo will create a schism in the party that will draw votes away from Buffardi.

“The Democrats are fighting among themselves over an incumbent supervisor,” he said.

Del Gallo is well aware that he’s the underdog of the race. But he’s determined to secure one more term to continue the financial reforms he’s been implementing since taking office.

“It’s an uphill race, there’s no getting around it,” he said. “But I’m not giving up that easy. If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.”

Del Gallo said his top goal is to continue trimming the town’s budget and building the town’s fund balance, its reserve pot of money unspent in previous budget years. His controversial 2012 budget proposal trimmed 16 jobs through layoffs and attrition to keep the property tax increase below the new state-imposed 2 percent cap.

Three members of the Town Board ultimately reversed those cuts by trimming the budget elsewhere and relying on roughly $365,0000 in fund balance from Rotterdam’s water and sewer districts. Del Gallo said the board’s budget is irresponsible and puts off the cuts needed to set the town on a fiscally sustainable path.

“Once a year goes by and you haven’t cut the overhead, we’re going to be back in the same boat we’re in now.”

Del Gallo said his ousting from the Democratic ticket was a response to his refusal to take orders from the party. He said the rift between him and the Democrats started early on, when he started fulfilling his promise to voters: Run Rotterdam like a business.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Buffardi said his work overseeing the 200-member Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department and its $14 million annual budget for 10 years has provided him with the necessary experience to lead the town. This experience includes everything from bargaining with unions to effectively managing employees.

“I’ve dealt with those issues for a long time,” he said. “The learning curve will be less for me.”

Buffardi said he offered input to the three Town Board members on their 2012 budget proposal that helped avoid the 13 layoffs Del Gallo had proposed. He said tapping the brimming fund balances in the town’s special districts is a good way to protect jobs in the short term while a long-term solution to the town’s budget woes can be hashed out.

“I think we can attribute some of those fund balances to offsetting costs in other areas,” he said.

A longer term solution will be to work with the town’s collective bargaining units to reach contracts that recognize Rotterdam’s fiscal shortcomings. Both the CSEA and Rotterdam Police Benevolent Association contracts expired last year. “I think there’s an excellent opportunity for the new supervisor to get some concessions and givebacks,” he said. “We need to talk to unions and say look, the days of wine and roses are over.”

Buffardi would also like to work out a long-term solution with General Electric to end a long-running battle over the company’s property assessment. He said ending this struggle could encourage GE to develop some of the vast areas of land the company keeps vacant in Rotterdam.

“We don’t do much more than tax them,” he said. “It’s been pretty obvious to me that General Electric has taken note of that.”

McGarry said he’s sticking with the same message of fiscal conservatism that gave rise to the No New Tax Party in 2009. Only now, he’s got a major party to help promote the message.

McGarry said many residents have already called for lower taxes at the polls.

Voters resoundingly defeated a special taxing district to support Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services Inc., and a $3.5 million proposal to renovate the Pine Grove firehouse.

“They can’t be any more clear with their message to elected leaders,” he said.

McGarry said his path to a leaner town budget would start with a charge to each of the department heads. He said he would provide them with a figure to operate their departments and see what kind of cuts they would return.

“You set a tone among your department heads and demand from them a zero percent based budget,” he said.

McGarry said he’s also interested in exploring areas of “smart consolidation.”

This could be through public-private partnerships or through shared services — anything that would benefit the bottom line for taxpayers.

McGarry also sees an opportunity to negotiate with unions to secure a contract that will reduce the burden on taxpayers. He also advocates creating a five-year plan to start better predicting the cost of running the town further into the future.

“I’m a fan of limited government, private property rights and listening to the message that people deliver,” he said. “In this case, it’s demanding that government live within its means.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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