SCHENECTADY — Linda Sweet-Sharkey knows the general public.
The executive secretary to Mayor Gary McCarthy answered about 100 phone calls every day in her second-floor office at City Hall.
“Even though I dealt with people screaming at me and swearing at me all day, I had a list of people I called on Tuesday and said, ‘I just want to let you know I’m leaving,’ because over the years I was the one they would call,” Sweet-Sharkey said Friday, her last day on the job.
The staff working in City Hall — reduced in size because of coronavirus precautions — lined a first-floor hallway when Sweet-Sharkey walked through a side door at 1 p.m. Daughter Mikaela Center, grandson Liam Center and son and city firefighter Mitchell Burke were waiting outside.
Sweet-Sharkey, 58, began working in the mayor’s office in September 2007, answering first to Mayor Brian U. Stratton. She had joined the City Hall work force earlier in 2007, landing a position in the Finance Department.
Helping people with their problems was part of the job. Sweet-Sharkey said she talked to people who complained their tap water was brown; griped their neighbors were playing music too loud; reported neighborhood vandalism; and expressed concerns neighbors were putting up illegal fences.
She also would transfer callers to the proper city departments, compile street closings, schedule City Hall weddings and set up the mayor’s calendar.
People appreciated Sweet-Sharkey’s good work.
“One sent me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and thanked me for everything I had done,” she said. “It’s a very rewarding job when you feel like you can help people. They’ll call me screaming and at the end it will be like, ‘Thank you so much for your help.'”
Different mayors meant different ways of working.
“Both administrations had totally different personalities and totally different ways they wanted things done,” Sweet-Sharkey said. “It was pretty much the opposite. The way I had done it for Brian, I didn’t do it for Gary. So it was re-learning everything.”
Sweet-Sharkey, who also worked at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, at local day care centers and in Schenectady schools as a paraprofessional — an educational assistant — has decided to trade adventures in government for adventures in babysitting. She wants to spend more time with Liam, now 3 months old.
“He had to have two heart surgeries within his first week,” Sweet-Sharkey said of Liam, who was born with transposition of the great arteries, a rare heart defect. “I was home, I was with Mikaela and the baby and then the COVID started and I said, ‘Life is too short.’
“I just watched him have to struggle with a month on life support, he had tubes everywhere on his body,” Sweet-Sharkey added. “I don’t want him to go to day care, I need to be able to take care of him so they can go to work and not worry about him … to me, this is important, my kids, my grandbaby, my husband. I decided it was time to do it.”
Sweet-Sharkey is celebrating retirement another way. While men and women have been living without salons and barber shops since the pandemic shutdowns started in March, Sweet-Sharkey will be living without her light auburn hair — she planned to shave her head Friday night as a fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
“When Liam was in the hospital, they stayed at Ronald McDonald House for a month, people were wonderful, people donated, Ronald McDonald House is amazing,” Sweet-Sharkey said. “I said, ‘All right, now that he’s out, what can I do to help kids?’ St. Baldrick’s is for child cancer and the families that are going through it.”
“I was able to raise my $300 within four days,” Sweet-Sharkey said, adding people will be able to watch the transformation on Facebook.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]