Late Schenectady Mayor Frank Duci remembered as ‘Man of the People’

State Sen. Mary Anne Krupsak accepts an award of recognition from Mayor Frank Duci, right, in 1974.
State Sen. Mary Anne Krupsak accepts an award of recognition from Mayor Frank Duci, right, in 1974.

SCHENECTADY — Frank J. Duci never lost his fire for Schenectady politics.

Brian U. Stratton knows for sure. The two former city mayors used to meet for lunch and conversation in Florida — Duci was then a full-time resident; Stratton was visiting his son.

“Just last December, Alex and I paid a visit to Frank and Pat and had lunch with them,” Stratton said on Monday, remembering the longtime Schenectady politician who died Sunday morning at age 97. “We talked about politics and talked about things that were going on in Schenectady.”

Some of those things, Stratton said, were things Duci as a politician had touted for Schenectady — ideas Stratton said people did not consider valuable or realistic at the time. 

“They’ve actually turned out to be some of the foundations of the city’s economic renaissance, including casino gambling,” Stratton said.

While Duci was then a longtime resident of Florida — he and wife Pat lived in Largo — Stratton said the former mayor still followed happenings in his hometown.

“His heart was still in Schenectady,” Stratton said.

Others who knew and worked with Duci on Monday remembered the longtime Republican, a man who was proud of his heritage, his family and his city.

“I am proud to have been the first mayor of Italian-American extraction in the city of Schenectady,” he said during a 1995 interview with The Daily Gazette. “I am very proud to have had 16 years, more than any other mayor, and I’m very grateful to my family, to the good Lord and to the people who voted for me.”

Democrat Stratton joined the City Council in 1992. Duci was just beginning his second stint as mayor, which lasted until 1995.

“I got to know him very well over the years and certainly developed a tremendous amount of respect for his style and his commitment, his energy and his natural ability to connect with the people,” Stratton said. “He always, from the very start, reminded me of my father [Schenectady Mayor and later U.S. Rep. Samuel Stratton] — that same sort of character to just go and do what you can to help the people because you love doing it.”

Duci was known for his stamina. And a hands-on approach to politics.

He wrote letters — bunches of them.

“They were hand-written letters he would crank out himself, either at home or late into the evening or first thing in the morning in the mayor’s office,” Stratton said. “I would get my mail on a Saturday; he’d be in there working in the office, answering the phones himself and firing off memos and notes.”

Maureen Gebert also remembers the mayor. She applied to become Schenectady’s urban cultural park coordinator in 1995. She talked to Duci at a dinner conducted by a local business.

“I sat next to him and we were talking, I was telling him I wanted the job and told him what I had done before and so forth,” Gebert said. “He was very chatty about the whole thing and finally he said, ‘Are you a Democrat or a Republican?’ I said, ‘I’m a Democrat.’

“He kind of looked down and shrugged his shoulders and sighed a little bit,” Gebert added. “He said, ‘I always get in trouble for hiring a Democrat.’ And then he went and hired me.”

Gebert also recalled Duci as a person with imagination. Like others, she recalled Duci’s idea to introduce riverboat gambling to Schenectady — the city now has gambling alongside the Mohawk with the Rivers Casino and Resort.

“That’s a creative mind,” Gebert said.

Duci, who grew up on Green Street, worked at General Electric and served in the Navy. He once said he entered politics in 1947 because he loved working with people and wanted to fight for issues they cared about.

The politician later moved to Avenue A in Goose Hill. He first served as mayor from 1971 to 1983.

John A. Marcille covered some of those years as City Hall reporter for The Gazette.

“I like to think that Frank and I got along pretty well,” Marcille said in an email note. “What I remember most clearly is that when you talked with him, he gave you his undivided attention. You could see in his face that he was listening as carefully as he could.

“He was down to earth, didn’t put on airs,” Marcille added. “I think that was a big part of his appeal to the electorate. Even though some of his policy proposals were off the wall, I really liked the guy personally.”

In a 2016 interview, Duci said his accomplishments — while serving in ward and county-level politics in addition to serving as mayor — were a combination of things.

Among the accomplishments were spearheading the purchase of the former Hotel Van Curler as a home for Schenectady County Community College, building a new county library, and fighting a proposal to build a four-lane extension of Nott Street.

“I also promoted the sales tax to help offset the real property taxes for the people,” he said during the 2016 interview. “The sales tax revenue unfortunately they use some of it for Metroplex. I’m not too happy about that. The Central Park pavilion we attracted volunteers to construct it at no cost to the taxpayers.”

Duci also discussed the riverboat plan during the interview.

“I urged them to get a casino,” he said. “Then I tried to promote at the same time riverboat gambling. I had three people from a casino company come to Schenectady and they went up and down the river with me and loved what they saw. I tried to point out that the revenue would be terrific and we would be able to help the people.”

Tom Isabella was elected to the City Council as a Democrat in 1979. He said he and Duci battled on many issues, but both had something in common — a love for Schenectady.

“I did a lot of community projects throughout my career and he supported everything I did,” Isabella said. “I did a lot of hands-on things with the parks, we formed the Committee for the Preservation of the Parks. I did a lot of stuff for kids. He was always supportive. But on other things, we battled.”

Isabella said respect was part of his relationship with Duci.

“We had our ups and downs,” he said, “but I always respected the guy and I would have hoped he would have respected me.”

Nick Barber, a former member of Schenectady County’s Board of Representative, remembered Duci kept a 1937 Packard automobile parked in his garage.

“He only took it out for elections,” Barber said.

“Frank was unique,” Barber added. “He was a committed, passionate, public servant. He took it seriously. He loved serving the public, he loved people and he loved Schenectady.

“Some people thought he was unorthodox but he was a very, very good mayor, a very good representative.”

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]







Categories: News, Schenectady County

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