Neil Golub in his column last Sunday tried to rewrite history by disputing my Facebook post which stated: “Schenectady City and County have been so much better off when in 2003, the citizens rose up and threw out the Republican Alliance of Jurczynski, Hull, Robertson and the rest.
They brought us a police chief who was jailed, a downtown that looked like bombed-out Beirut and an anemic economy. God bless the Democratic Reformers who turned it all around.”
I stand by that statement.
Following the creation of Metroplex in 1998, Schenectady County economic development remained in chaos from 1999 to 2003 under the Republicans. Neil Golub’s close allies, George Robertson and Mayor Jurczynski, brought the city of Schenectady to junk-bond status and the brink of bankruptcy.
Metroplex, during its early years, was ineffective and economic development was stagnant. State Street was torn up for three years. The Proctors expansion was stalled. The city of Schenectady lost $1 million each year on its parking garage. The county wasted $4 million on its World Trade Center project.
The city and the county were at war with the largest employer, General Electric. The city received $48 million in federal Renewal Community Tax Credits, but Jurczynski lost these credits when he did not use them. That $48 million is six years of Metroplex funding down the drain.
Due to George Robertson’s incompetent structuring of PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes), the county, city and city school district were deprived of over $23 million in revenue because Robertson did not utilize Empire Zone credits for projects. That $23 million is three years of Metroplex funding.
The county loan fund under the Republicans had a 40 percent default rate. The County Business Center on Albany Street had three employees, but was half-empty and made loans to corporations which were not incorporated.
There were two closed ‘dollar stores’ on State Street and the majority of storefronts were vacant. Downtown was a disaster.
In November, 2003, the public elected a Democratic majority to the county legislature for the first time in 37 years and elected a Democratic mayor in Schenectady for the first time in 12 years.
On January 1, 2004, the Schenectady County Legislature chose Democratic County Legislator Susan Savage as its chair and Brian Stratton was sworn in as mayor. A new era had begun. The era of junk bonds and junk government was over.
The County Legislature’s top goal was a complete and total transformation of economic development in Schenectady County. Savage, along with county legislators Gary Hughes, Ed Kosiur and Karen Johnson, created the new Department of Economic Development and Planning.
Savage recruited Ray Gillen to be the director of this new department and to chair Metroplex. Neil Golub played absolutely no role in this recruitment. The appointment was by the County Legislature. The County Legislature also fired Robertson from the county IDA over Neil Golub’s vocal objection. Putting Ray Gillen in charge of Metroplex was a controversial move at that time.
Democrats on the City Council publicly opposed this action. Fortunately, the Democrats on the County Legislature prevailed and Gillen was hired.
When the County Legislature sought to raise the bond cap a few years back, Sen. Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco inserted a provision that would have forced Ray Gillen to resign from Metroplex. The Democratic County Legislature prevented this, but Gillen has been consistently under Republican attack from Suhrada, Riggi, Planck and others.
The new Democratic majority on the County Legislature ushered in a new era of competent and aggressive economic development under Ray Gillen and hit the ground running.
Phase I was to create a corridor of strength — from Broadway to Proctors, down Jay Street to City Hall, to the former Big N site (which Robertson said could never be developed). Phase II was to link an expanding GE campus down a reconstructed Erie Boulevard to a cleaned brownfield at the Alco site. Phase III brought the development of Lower State to Schenectady County Community College with its new dormitory and new music wing.
The new Democratic County Legislature and Mayor Stratton also repaired the relationship with GE, which brought 2,000 new GE jobs to our county. Stratton even brought back the GE plaque to City Hall — the plaque that Mayor Jurczynski removed.
The new Democratic team was leaner, smarter and tougher — unnecessary jobs were eliminated at Metroplex, County Planning and the Business Center, saving several hundred thousand dollars each year.
There had been no economic plan for the towns under the Republicans. That changed. The new team focused on improving infrastructure and removing blight in order to grow jobs in a network of business parks that surround a revitalized urban core and entertainment district.
The Glenville Business and Technology Park and the Rotterdam Corporate Park are growing, providing new jobs and opportunities to our residents. There is a new optimism throughout Schenectady County.
After 12 years of Democratic leadership on the County Legislature and in City Hall, the results are visible: Over $900 million in new investment and over 7,000 jobs created or retained. That doesn’t count over $400 million in new investment coming to the Alco site with over 1,200 new jobs on the way. This momentum has continued under Legislative Chairs Judy Dagostino and Tony Jasenski, and Mayor Gary McCarthy — all Democrats.
The city and county of Schenectady are both growing again according to the 2010 census — a good barometer of economic health. The city of Schenectady is one of only three cities in New York state with no fiscal stress, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The county is one of only 5 counties in the state with a double-A bond rating. There are no Jurczynski junk bonds in sight.
The city and county of Schenectady are much better off today under Democratic leadership than they were 12 years ago under the Republicans.
Decades of decline have been reversed and our future has never been brighter.
Christopher Gardner has been Schenectady County Attorney since January 1, 2004, and served as chairman of Schenectady County Democratic Committee from 1996 through 2003.