SCHENECTADY — A political newcomer has announced he will seek an open seat on the County Legislature, setting up a contest between a fresh-faced novice and a seasoned veteran with decades of experience in local politics.
Omar Sterling McGill announced on Thursday he will challenge Margaret “Peggy” King for the District 1 seat.
He pointed at his youth, deep community ties and experience working in the state Legislature as key assets.
King was appointed to the seat following the death of Karen Johnson in June, but must run to serve the remainder of the unexpired two-year term in a special election on Nov. 5.
McGill, 29, currently works in the state Senate. He has also spent time in the lower chamber, where he worked on progressive legislation as a member of state Assembly Program and Counsel Staff. He pointed at recent laws to increase the state’s minimum wage, legalize upstate ride sharing and combat the ongoing opioid epidemic as key accomplishments he has shared in.
Those efforts, he said, have also afforded him the opportunity to build relationships and reach consensus.
The Schenectady native graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in business administration with a concentration in management. While in Atlanta, McGill also founded a non-profit, EPIC Inc., to work with youth and young adults on collegiate readiness, health awareness and community service.
Both candidates are registered Democrats.
McGill unsuccessfully sought the endorsement of the county Democratic Party last month. King, who previously served as Schenectady City Council president, was seated last month. The vote by county lawmakers to appoint her was unanimous.
McGill has been endorsed by the Working Families Party and will be running on that line for the seat, which covers the city of Schenectady.
The candidate did not mention King during his brief remarks, which were delivered amid roughly three-dozen, sign-waving supporters outside of the county Legislative Offices on Veeder Avenue.
If elected, the Stockade resident said he would prioritize job creation, bolster infrastructure, continue to improve the city’s neighborhoods and work with law enforcement to continue to build improved community relations.
While he hailed recent progress, “The foundation has not been as concrete as we would have liked,” he said.
McGill said he would also work with area leaders to ensure his constituents are properly counted ahead of the 2020 census by ensuring participation in the Complete Count Committees program.
Participation will be critical in ensuring continued funding, including allocations for public school funding, he said.
“It’s critical everyone be counted so communities receive their fare share,” McGill said.
Republicans are not running a candidate.
County Republican Committee Chairman Chris Koetzle said the party will instead invest resources in backing incumbent Legislator Brian McGarry’s (District 4) bid for re-election, the only sitting GOP member of the 15-member body, as well as putting forward two challengers for seats in District 3, and another in District 4.
“We have an excellent chance winning in those districts and that’s where we’re going to focus on,” Koetzle said.
King retired from SUNY Schenectady County Community College in 2010 after working there for nearly three decades.
She served on the City Council from 1996-2002 and again from 2006 to 2015, when she retired. She served as council president for part of that time.
King also served on several non-profit boards, including Habitat of Schenectady County, the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation.
McGill announced his campaign amid concerns by supporters that the County Legislature isn’t as diverse as it should be.
“The leadership table must represent the community of which it serves,” said McGill, who is black.
Schenectady City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield echoed those sentiments.
“We need to move towards that,” Porterfield said. “We’re not there yet, and I don’t feel as if we’ve done that.”
Porterfield also said McGill’s status as a millennial will bring a fresh perspective to governing.
“This is a campaign based on opportunity, not opposition,” she said. “[McGill] comes with the education, skill set and knowledge and I think he will do a fabulous job at the county.”
The Democratic-controlled Legislature also includes three women, and the only black member of the 15-member body is Legislator Philip Fields.
Following King’s appointment in June, Schenectady County Legislature Majority Leader Gary Hughes praised the veteran lawmaker as someone with “lots of experience in the legislative process and in achieving compromise.”
The county offers a broad range of services, from consumer protection to public safety, he said, and the bottom line is having the road-tested experience in running a complex government.
“In this particular instance, the consensus of the Legislature is we would look for someone with experience in both the community and in government,” Hughes said on Thursday. “In Peggy King, we found someone who fit that criteria.”
Hughes acknowledged the county Democratic Party needs to be more diverse and could do a better job of recruiting promising talent, both young people and those of color.
“We need to keep working on that,” Hughes said.
Reach Gazette reporter Pete DeMola at 518-395-3113, [email protected] or @pmdemola on Twitter.