Categories: Schenectady County
After defeating Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane in Tuesday’s election, Republican Michael Villa is starting to put a “transition team” together to hit the ground running on Jan. 1.
Villa, son of former Amsterdam mayor Mario Villa, ousted two-term incumbent Thane by a comfortable margin, 2,250 votes to 1,304.
“When there’s that kind of mandate, based on that kind of popular vote, it’s probably what the city wanted,” said Dave DeFazio, who founded the nonprofit Carmel’s Free Diner, along with Mike Burbank, in the city’s East End.
DeFazio said Thane’s administration was “very encouraging, very welcoming,” and he expected more of the same from Villa.
“I’ve met and interacted with Mr. Villa on a handful of occasions,” he said. “He certainly seems pleasant enough. He certainly seems to love the city.”
Villa said Wednesday he plans to meet with Thane, likely next week, to begin forming a transition plan. In the meantime, he’s got a few names in mind — though he wouldn’t reveal them — to invite to join his transition team to begin assessing the city’s situation on various fronts.
Already, he said, he’d like to reconsider the position of corporation counsel, currently held by Gerard DeCusatis. He suggested splitting the role in two: one attorney to act as corporation counsel and another dedicated solely to code enforcement, a move he hopes will help the city address its problems with blight.
In doing so, he would also like to make the positions contractual, rather than city employees, as DeCusatis currently is, he said.
“These are things we’ll discuss with the incoming council as we put our team together and go through the transition,” Villa said. “We’ll explore every avenue that’s not only beneficial cost-wise, but is going to address the areas of need with a higher priority.”
The same scrutiny will be applied to the position of economic development director, which was saved from the chopping block during budget negotiations earlier this year largely through the advocacy of Thane.
“Do we have a person that is going to do a better job? And are we reaping the benefits of salary versus results?” Villa said. “These are the items that we will address and take a very close look at.”
Current Community and Economic Development Director Robert von Hasseln said Wednesday the mayor-elect will have plenty to catch up on in the next two months.
“I hope we do a very effective and orderly transition,” von Hasseln said. “There are many, many projects out there that are essential to this city’s future.”
The city’s Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge, while already well on its way to completion, still requires enthusiastic support and promotion, he said. Villa has not been as enthusiastic about the bridge as Thane but said during his campaign he recognizes the need to stand behind it now.
There’s also the redevelopment of the closed America’s Best Value Inn on lower Market Street, which was recently sold for $1 million; the four-city shared code enforcement initiative; and the community-needs assessment and upcoming revision of the city’s comprehensive plan.
“Just a long list of things that hopefully aren’t just going to come to an end, but will continue on for the good of the city,” von Hasseln said. “I think the bottom line on it is that we can’t afford to go backwards.”
Villa seems to agree. He said Wednesday that he wants to carry the positive momentum forward while correcting what needs to be corrected, namely blight, the city’s finances and the frequent arguments that characterized Thane’s relationship with the Common Council.
On financial matters, he said he’s still willing to hire an outside firm to help bring the city’s books up to date if necessary. He said that will be decided after more detailed conversations with city Controller Matthew Agresta, who was re-elected Tuesday.
Dan Weaver, owner of the Book Hound in Amsterdam and voice of the radio program Valley Vox, said Wednesday he believes in Villa’s ability to bring unity to the council, which, after Tuesday, will consist of only one current member; the rest were defeated by challengers. The formerly Republican-led board will have a 3-2 Democratic majority in January.
“I just think that we’re going to have a Common Council and mayor that’s going to work better together than the previous one,” Weaver said. “I think the new mayor is going to have a different kind of leadership. I think it’s going to be more based on cooperation, compromise and that kind of thing. So I think for a business owner or for anybody in the city, I think a lot of this rancor and discord is going to be gone.”
Villa said he would start putting his transition team together before the end of the week and would have a better idea of specific proposals after they complete an assessment.
“All I have is from the outside looking in; I haven’t seen on the inside yet,” he said. “We all have the same vision, we just have different ways of getting there. First and foremost, we have to put our needs before our wants.”