Schenectady mayoral hopeful Roger Hull says the city went over a financial cliff, while Mayor Gary McCarthy says Hull is living in the past with no plan for the future.
The two mayoral candidates faced off in a debate sponsored by The Daily Gazette on Wednesday evening at Proctors — the same place they debated four years ago, in a race McCarthy ultimately won by 89 votes.
Hull, a former Union College president, asked a series of questions in his closing remarks that prompted some of the hundreds of people in the audience to scream, “No!”
Are you better in terms of taxes?
Is your rent lower than it was four years ago?
Are the roads better, potholes gone?
Is your home worth more?
Hull said, if elected mayor, he would work to “end cronyism in City Hall” and operate in a fair, honest and open way.
“This is not a career move,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know anyone in history who went from a college president to becoming mayor. “There is so much we can do to make this community better.”
McCarthy, who is seeking a second term, said he never takes his eye off the future and said the development of downtown and the neighborhoods could happen at the same time and “we’re doing it.”
McCarthy, a Democrat, and Hull, an Independent candidate backed by the Republican Party, fielded several questions regarding the casino that will be built in Schenectady. McCarthy said he believes it will be a success.
“The casino will be an asset to the community,” he said. “Other communities gave greater incentives, but we’re not doing that. We’re going to maximize revenue from the facility.”
McCarthy said the casino would create “a crime-free zone” with state police assigned to the facility and noted other Rush Street Gaming properties have seen a reduction in nearby crime.
Hull said that since the casino is inevitable, he would “work to make it work.” He questioned why an agreement has not been put in place between the casino operator and the city.
“There should be an agreement that spells out the terms,” he said. He said fire, police, infrastructure and social costs must be taken into account.
Both agreed that the revenue from the casino, a projected $4.1 million a year, should go toward reducing property taxes. McCarthy is projecting a 10 percent reduction in taxes in 2017 from the casino.
Citywide, Hull said he believes crime is a major issue, particularly drug-related crimes, and that he would aim to establish a command center at Crane and Sixth streets and have first responders living in the city.
“We need to deal with the small things first and change the culture in communities,” he said. “The question has to be answered, ‘Do you feel safer?’ ”
McCarthy said the city’s ongoing crackdown on drugs is a coordinated effort between the Schenectady Police Department and the New York State Police, which is producing results.
“We’re eliminating blight, creating home ownership opportunities and working with the community,” he said. “I’m proud of the Schenectady Police Department’s work every day. We have a high [investigation] closure rate.”
Hull said property taxes would go down in the city when there is greater demand for housing.
“That will happen when crime goes down and people feel safe,” he said. “Property values are down 20 percent in four years. We need to take bold, not incremental, action.”
McCarthy said he has lowered the tax levy since he has been in office and that property taxes will decrease once the casino comes online.
McCarthy said he believes the biggest problem facing the city is distressed properties. He said under his administration, the city is getting more houses back on the tax rolls and creating home ownership opportunities.
He pointed to the Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady program and a state grant to establish code enforcement standards in partnership with Amsterdam, Gloversville and Troy as “setting an example for other communities.”
“The neighborhoods are crumbling,” Hull said. “We should use Metroplex money for facade grants. There should be a public-private initiative, and the College Park neighborhood is proof of that,” he said, citing the area adjoining Union, where the college bought rundown houses and made them into student housing.
Hull said he would look to establish a mentorship program at the Schenectady City School District, modeled after Big Brothers Big Sisters, to help increase the graduation rate, which is now around 60 percent.
McCarthy said the graduation rate of students who stay in the district is 95 percent, according to Superintendent Larry Spring. McCarthy said he would work to keep children in stable homes and therefore stay in the district.
“I have done more than any other mayor working with the school district,” he said. “We brought in Realtors, bankers and talked about offerings and programs. “We try to look for creative ways to work with the school district.”
Hull and McCarthy were asked a series of questions as part of a lightning round during the debate. Here’s how they responded:
u Should there be term limits for the position of mayor? Yes or no?
McCarthy: Initially answered “some days yes, some days no.” When pressed to give a yes or no answer, responded yes.
Hull: Yes, “for everyone.”
Who would you say, past or present, is the city’s greatest or most significant resident?
Hull: Eliphalet Nott (president of Union College from 1804-1866)
McCarthy: “A group of individuals,” like Mark Little, who recently retired as General Electric’s chief technology officer.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo — has he been good or bad for the city of Schenectady?
Hull: “Don’t know yet,” no opinion.
What’s your favorite place in the city of Schenectady? Least favorite place?
Hull: The top of the Nott Memorial, don’t have one.
McCarthy: Central Park, the podium at The Gazette debate.
As mayor, would you officiate a same-sex wedding?
McCarthy: Yes, “and I have.”
Are you on Twitter, and if so, do you write your own tweets?
Hull: Yes, and yes.
McCarthy: Yes, and no.
Will you gamble at the casino?