In the race for mayor of Amsterdam, incumbent Ann Thane is running on her accomplishments and plans, while Michael Villa, son of former mayor Mario Villa, is promising to end the in-fighting that has plagued the City Council and enforce fiscal discipline.
Villa, a native of the city, announced his run early, less than a week after last November’s elections. He is running on the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Reform party lines.
Thane, a Democrat first elected in 2007, announced her run for a third term in February.
Thane and the Republican-dominated City Council have sparred frequently, most recently over the closure of part of East Main Street for a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and the hiring of an employee in the Code Enforcement Department.
“We’ve seen the dysfunctionality at Common Council meetings where we’ve put personalities above responsibilities,” Villa said Tuesday. “I find it incomprehensible that this council and this mayor cannot get along for this amount of time.”
In addition to the Democratic line, Thane will also, pending an appeal, appear on the Women’s Equality Party line. The nomination was upheld late last month by a state Supreme Court judge in Montgomery County after being challenged by county Republican Party Chairwoman Rosemary Smith on the grounds that the party itself contained conflicting rules.
“I think women’s voices are important,” Thane said last week. “And I would hope that everyone recognizes the positive benefit that it has to have women represented on the ballot. I think it gives everyone another choice and I am hopeful that the ruling will stand.”
Smith said they are re-arguing the case.
Thane is building her campaign on accomplishments like improvements to the city’s parks and housing complexes, upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, investments in infrastructure, and securing $1 million from the state for the completion of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge, which she has said is already attracting new small businesses to the city.
The bridge, labeled the “bridge to nowhere” by opponents and skeptics, is well on its way to completion, and should be walkable next summer. On the topic of the bridge, Villa is accepting but not enthusiastic.
“I think we all have to embrace it,” he said. “It’s here. I think we have a potential for growth on the south side of Amsterdam with that bridge exit.”
In terms of attracting outsiders and downtown activity, Villa is more concerned with tackling blighted properties in the city’s worst neighborhoods, a strategy at odds with the city’s current approach in cooperation with the Capital District Land Bank, which is first targeting rundown properties in otherwise healthy neighborhoods. Eventually, according to Thane and other city leaders, the Land Bank will work its way inward to focus on the higher-need areas.
Villa said the city has moved too slowly in foreclosures, allowing hundreds of properties to continue to deteriorate and drain taxes.
“Until we improve these inner-city neighborhoods, I don’t care what you build around us — you could build a rec center, you could build a bridge — if you do not improve those neighborhoods, we’re going to rot from the inside out,” he said.
He also said he wants to bring fiscal responsibility to City Hall, citing the city’s poor performance on state comptroller audits over the past few years. The city’s out-of-date bookkeeping has meant that the Common Council does not know how much money it has in its general fund or sewer fund, a situation that the city’s controller has been working to correct.
“I would not sit in that chair for one day without knowing how much money we have,” Villa said. “If that means we have to spend money to bring in a financial firm to rectify this situation, then that’s what we need to do.”
Financial stability and accountability are also at the top of Thane’s list of priorities, according to her campaign website. That includes continuing the Corrective Action Plan that addresses the concerns of the state comptroller as well as a list of 34 initiatives she has proposed to share services with the county, among other measures.
In terms of economic development, Thane focuses on some of the major initiatives she has proposed: moving the Amtrak station to the city’s downtown to create a transportation and commercial hub, continuing the development of the waterfront, nurturing partnerships with economic development agencies and surrounding communities, extending water service to nearby municipalities, and repurposing industrial sites into multi-use incubators, housing or commercial space, much like the former Sanford Clock Tower that now houses half a dozen or so businesses.
Her third priority is quality of life improvement, for which she suggests a slew of initiatives like furthering the city’s partnership with the Land Bank, establishing neighborhood watch programs, implementing the shared code enforcement program with Schenectady and Gloversville, and focusing on positive community events.
Thane has lived in the city for more than 30 years.
Villa is a retired Amsterdam police detective and patrol sergeant who is currently director of the Welfare Fraud Unit for the Montgomery County Department of Social Services.
All five City Council members, four Republicans and one Democrat, are also facing challenges next month.
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