Foss: Will McCarthy cruise to re-election?

Thearse McCalmon announces her candidacy for mayor of Schenectady at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center.
Thearse McCalmon announces her candidacy for mayor of Schenectady at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy hasn’t made it official yet. 

But he is widely believed to be running for a third term, and will likely cruise to re-election. 

I say likely cruise because McCarthy does face a challenger: Schenectady resident Thearse McCalmon, who announced her candidacy Monday with the goal of forcing a Democratic primary. 

Whether McCalmon’s candidacy gains any traction remains to be seen. 

But her platform is a good one, and it’s nice to see someone highlight the complaints and concerns I hear all the time from Schenectady residents. 

Certainly, there’s a case to be made, as McCalmon did, that city neighborhoods have not reaped the benefits of the renaissance downtown — that blight and poverty remain urgent, if unaddressed, matters. 

It’s a case similar to the one City Councilman Vince Riggi might have made had he elected to throw his hat into the mayoral ring. 

But Riggi told me that he is not running for mayor — that while he would have liked to challenge McCarthy, “I need to be realistic. … If I can’t give him a good run for his money, I’ll let the people down.” 

“Certainly, there are a lot of problems with this administration,” Riggi said. “The neighborhoods continue to deteriorate. Is the city really as flush as we’ve been led to believe?” 

For the anti-McCarthy crowd, Riggi’s decision is surely a disappointment. 

Riggi would have been a strong candidate — the strongest candidate McCarthy might have faced. 

He has name recognition and he’s popular — in 2015, he was the top vote getter in the Council race, earning almost as many votes — 4,567 — as McCarthy. 

But he also knows a challenge when he sees one, and he knows that McCarthy, who earlier this month received the endorsement of the city Democratic Party, will be tough to beat.  

Riggi has always run as an Independent, and his independence is a big part of his appeal.

But he would have needed support — in the form of money and volunteers  — to beat McCarthy, and it’s not clear where that support would have come from. 

Certainly, the Republican Party would have supported Riggi — but in a city where the G.O.P. is weak, powerless and badly outnumbered by Democrats, that support wouldn’t have amounted to much. 

Given the organizational disadvantage Riggi would have faced, it makes sense that he would seek re-election to the City Council instead. 

That said, his decision not to enter the mayoral race is still a loss for the city.

Former Union College President Roger Hull, who ran against McCarthy in 2015 and 2011, doesn’t plan to run for mayor this year. 

Competitive elections are a way to hold public officials accountable — to ask questions about their record, propose new ideas and inject some freshness into a policy arena that’s grown stale and unimaginative. 

Ideally, every politician would face a viable challenger, but Schenectady is dominated by one party and afflicted by low voter turnout — a recipe for uncompetitive elections. 

It’s an environment where a flawed candidate who’s far from beloved can emerge, as McCarthy has, as a formidable and — in this election cycle at least — possibly unbeatable candidate.

Still, it wasn’t all that long ago that the G.O.P. party was a powerful force in Schenectady, electing Republican Al Jurczynski, who left office in 2003, to two terms. 

I caught up with Jurczynski earlier this month, and he told me that the Republican’s lack of competitiveness stems from a lack of organization and a failure to groom viable candidates. 

“Shame on the Republican Party,” he said, adding that many voters are fed up with the major political parties. “There’s disappointment in both political parties at every level.” 

Jurczynski also acknowledged that Schenectady has changed — that while he was popular with his parents’ generation, many of those voters have died. 

Before McCalmon can primary McCarthy, she must get signatures from 5 percent of enrolled Democrats to get on the ballot — no easy task. 

But her candidacy is a welcome development. 

On Monday, McCalmon attacked McCarthy’s close relationships with developers, saying “Instead of partnering with the people of the city, this mayor has partnered with commercial and luxury real estate developers and failed to sufficiently — sufficiently — make sure that the community benefits from those agreements.” 

In an ideal world, there would be more people running for office and raising concerns about the city’s infrastructure, quality of life and growth downtown.

There would be more people calling attention to the neglected corners of the city, and those that have been left behind. 

But it’s a tough political landscape, and few are willing to enter the fray when support — not to mention victory — is far from assured. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Opinion, Schenectady County

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