Foss: Close primary a wake-up call for Schenectady’s McCarthy

Thearse McCalmon at her announcement.
Thearse McCalmon at her announcement.

Thearse McCalmon is right. 

Mayor Gary McCarthy needs to start paying attention to his constituents, who issued a stunning rebuke of McCarthy’s leadership and oversight of the city of Schenectady on Tuesday night. 

His narrow lead over McCalmon in the Democratic primary is slim, but it speaks volumes. 

That a newcomer to city politics with little name recognition until just a few months ago came so close to beating a powerful two-term incumbent ought to serve as a wake-up call for a mayor who too often dismisses legitimate criticism as petty grumbling from a handful of naysayers. 

What McCarthy got Tuesday night was the opposite of a ringing endorsement from Democratic voters. 

His lackluster showing suggests he is a much weaker candidate than most observers, including myself, realized. 

In February I wrote that the mayor would likely cruise to re-election — a prediction that was incorrect. 

And while I still expect McCarthy to win, his road to re-election has been much bumpier than expected. 

He leads McCalmon by about 65 votes, and there’s still a chance, albeit a small chance, that she could prevail, as absentee ballots have yet to be counted. Given how close the primary was, the mayor is probably relieved that he doesn’t face a Republican challenger this fall. 

Hindsight might be 20/20, but it’s been evident for some time that many residents are dissatisfied with what they perceive as an administration that’s unresponsive to their concerns and uninterested in addressing them. 

Complaints about blight, infrastructure and quality-of-life matters such as litter are widespread, while substandard delivery of basic services such as garbage pick-up and snow removal remains an ongoing issue. Another common gripe is that City Hall has prioritized growth downtown while neglecting the rest of the city. 

McCalmon’s campaign spoke to residents dissatisfied with the way things are.

“… 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,” I wrote in February, although I also expressed doubt that she could capitalize upon this simmering resentment. 

Turns out, she could. 

Primaries tend to be low-turnout affairs, and it wasn’t at all clear to me that McCalmon could get people to the polls, even with the backing of the Working Families Party. 

The fact that she came so close to beating McCarthy — and, by extension, Schenectady’s formidable Democratic Party machine — suggests voters are, as she said, hungry for reform. 

Tuesday’s results ought to be cause for some reflection should McCarthy win a third term. 

The mayor needs to reconnect with his constituents and retool his agenda to address the numerous concerns expressed by disenchanted primary voters.

The perception that McCarthy cares more about developers than residents has dogged the mayor for some time. If he wants to counteract that, he should spend more time than residents, meet with neighborhood groups and hear what people have to say. 

Consider the close primary result a shot across the bow from voters unhappy with the status quo. 

They made a statement on Tuesday night, and the Democratic establishment would do well to listen.  

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

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

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