Op-ed column: Mayoral debate revealed evenly matched, capable candidates

The GE Theatre at Proctors seats more than 400 people, and on Oct. 19 it was filled beyond capacity.

The GE Theatre at Proctors seats more than 400 people, and on Oct. 19 it was filled beyond capacity. The event that pulled so many people in on a rainy and cold night: the Schenectady mayoral debate between candidates Roger Hull and Gary McCarthy. I arrived early and was lucky to get a seat.

Extra chairs were being delivered, placards and signs supporting both candidates were on display in abundance and people of all ages were there — 480 or so, according to management.

Before the panelists were introduced and the candidates took their places, I perused the large and enthusiastic crowd and I felt a sense of pride in my city that so many people had taken such an interest in the upcoming local election. While many people were obvious supporters of their respective standard-bearers, I felt that many had come, like me, to get a first hand look at the candidates, to hear their positions and platforms on various issues and to get a general sense of who these two men are and why they deserve our support and our vote. I was not disappointed.

Both candidates did well in their opening statements and in answering the questions that followed. I liked the fact that they both included some personal information about themselves, including some funny anecdotes, and both tackled the questions with honesty and directness. Both were well-prepared.

Four sections

The debate was set up in four parts. Part 1 included opening statements from each candidate giving us a glimpse of who they were and how they got here and why. McCarthy, being the acting mayor and with more political experience, was the more comfortable in this segment and won with his humor, experience and knowledge based on his incumbency.

Part 2 included questions from a panel of three, moderated with charm and humor by the Gazette’s Carl Strock. The panel consisted of Kathleen Moore of the Gazette, Read Shepherd of WGY and Greg Floyd of Channel 6 News.

The candidates were asked questions individually by the panelists, alternating their answers to each question. They were strictly timed in their two-minute answers and were given a short time for rebuttal and clarification.

The questions covered a multitude of topics, including budgeting, non-profits, the police department, a pay freeze or salary cut for the mayor’s position (both agreed to the idea), dealing with delinquent properties, and how to grow downtown. McCarthy had a distinct advantage in this segment, as acting mayor and member of the city council. He knew the background and details of the issues and his experience with the topics was evident. Hull held his own, however, and seemed to pick up speed as the evening progressed.

Audience questions

Part 3 consisted of a segment of questions from the audience submitted on 3×5 cards and read by Strock. These questions were insightful and creative and I thought brought out the candidates’ proposals more definitively. Some examples:

— On hyrofracking: Neither thought it would be something decided locally, but Hull used the topic to push his idea of selling more Schenectady water to outlying municipalities.

— On the charter amendment to fine-tune the powers of the mayor and the City Council: McCarthy said it was just a redefinition of existing responsibilities but Hull said it was a way to solidify McCarthy’s powers, whether he wins or loses the race, as he will still be on the council if he loses the election. He encouraged the crowd to vote no on this amendment.

It was the only time the gloves seemed to come off. Both candidates were cordial to each other throughout the debate.

— On the requirement that city employees live in the city: Both thought that it should be part of the job description, with McCarthy allowing for time to move here but Hull insisting that they be residents at the time of hire.

— On code enforcement: Both men thought that more enforcement is increasingly necessary to ensure the quality of life in the city, while both conceded that it has been selective and possibly unreasonable in some cases.

One of the most interesting questions posed to each candidate was “What was your most creative idea?”

Hull cited his involvement with Metroplex at its inception and with the development of Seward Place. McCarthy countered with his idea and work on attempting to unify the contracts of the city’s public employees.

There were questions on delinquent properties in the city, absentee landlords and reducing domestic violence. Some answers were vague and general, demonstrating more of the desire to rectify the problems but lacking ways to accomplish the solutions provided. It sounded familiar, I thought, to so many political debates offering ideas and positions, providing the final desired result but lacking in direct means to the end.

Still, this did not take away my impression that each man is aware of the problems our city faces and has thought through the hurdles to arrive at desired results. They both offered many specific ideas through the debate.

Part 4 was the closing statements by each candidate, including a summary of who they were and why we should vote for them. While Hull went considerably over his time limit, both men did an adequate job in closing.

While this was no Lincoln vs. Douglas debate, I left impressed with both candidates, the excellent questions from both the panel and the audience, and the ease with which Strock handled the evening. I was reminded once again of the pride I felt at the large turnout and the demeanor of the audience.

Pondering choices

As I meandered my way home through the city, I decided to travel down Seward Place and thought this beautiful street was certainly one accomplishment that candidate Hull could take pride in. But I also thought that there have been many areas in the city where the quality of life has improved and is improving and that candidate McCarthy has had a role in those accomplishments as well. It came to mind that we could do well with either man.

I’ve since made up my mind on my candidate of choice, but I expect it to be a close election with a large turnout. The lawn signs seem to be evenly distributed throughout the city and the mailings have been considerable.

It’s probably too close to call as Election Day approaches this week, but experience and incumbency may ultimately win the day.

Anthony Frank lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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