SCHENECTADY – Tensions continue to run high between District 1 Schenectady County Legislature candidates Brendan Savage and Omar Sterling McGill, as the close of polls for Democratic and Working Families parties primaries approach.
Savage, a 22-year-old Siena College student who worked on President Joe Biden’s campaign, and McGill, a 31-year-old state Senate staff member, are vying to replace county Legislator Peggy King, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Critics of Savage recently accused the white candidate of engaging in “dog whistle” racial politics concerning a campaign mailer that suggests McGill, who’s Black, is in favor of defunding the police.
McGill said he’s never uttered those words.
The dustup was first reported in the Times Union earlier this week.
Early voting began Saturday and runs through Sunday. The Democratic and Working Families Party primary is Tuesday, June 22.
When initially reached for comment about the mailer in question, Savage asserted that the issue wasn’t timely because the mailer went out four weeks ago.
Savage said he didn’t want to participate in another “hit job” concerning the mailer, and he pointed to a more recent mailer in which he points out McGill’s record of not voting.
Savage also urged a reporter to look into McGill’s “firing” of Angelicia Morris, the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission’s former executive director, as well as McGill’s so-called legal issues.
The Savage for Schenectady campaign’s mailer doesn’t mention McGill by name.
Instead, it states “there has been quite a bit of reckless talk about defunding or abolishing the police among some activists supporting my opponent.”
The mailer includes an image of two city police officers smiling and crouching as they pose with a Black child wearing police garb at a community event.
The police photo sits underneath a photo of a smiling Savage.
The literature promises:
“As your Legislator, I will work tirelessly to both reduce crime and reduce the root causes of crime here in Schenectady County.”
But McGill said he’s never said he wants to defund or abolish the police, and “that will never be my stance.”
In an interview, McGill said he’s spoken about “repairing the relationship between the community and police and making sure that we hold both sides accountable to making sure they do their part in repairing that relationship.”
McGill said he’s called for additional social services for the police.
“We need the police,” he said. “They’re an integral part of our community. But we want to make sure we give them the resources that they need, so they won’t have to do so much.”
McGill said it was “inappropriate” of Savage to align the McGill campaign with calls to defund the police. But he didn’t classify the mailer as racist.
However, Ravi Mangla, spokesperson for the New York Working Families Party, which endorses McGill, did.
In a statement, Mangla said: ”Brendan Savage is using racist dog whistles to sow fear and division. Our membership voted overwhelmingly to support Omar McGill because of his legislative experience, knowledge of the issues, and deep community roots. It was clear in the interview that Brendan Savage still has a lot of growing to do, and that couldn’t be more apparent after his new mailer.”
McGill said that his campaign had already made its position about policing known to would-be voters. But in some cases, he said he had to explain what he said was Savage’s misrepresentation.
Savage initially agreed to speak to The Daily Gazette Wednesday about the mailer and other campaign matters that emerged. Instead, he issued a prepared statement that read, in part:
“My campaign has been focused on my 5-Point Plan and how the City and County can work together to improve the lives of Schenectady residents: fixing the roads, revitalizing vacant properties, getting a grocery store downtown, investing in improved trash and litter pickup procedures, and safer streets through community policing.
“My opponent’s campaign has not been focused on these issues and is instead seeking to divide Schenectady residents along racial lines by making hurtful and untrue accusations about my campaign at the last minute. Democratic primary voters will see through these false and divisive last-minute attacks.”
The Schenectady County Democratic Committee has endorsed Savage.
In a statement its chairman, Joe Landry, said a separate mailer by county Democrats was sent out last week pointing to McGill’s “abysmal record” of not showing up at the polls during important elections, including the 2016 presidential election in which former President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
The mailer examined 15 general and primary elections spanning 2010 to 2019 in Georgia, where McGill attended college, and in New York. It said McGill only voted in one of those elections, the 2012 general election.
Landry said McGill’s campaign wanted to distract from his voting record by making “last-minute false characterizations about a mailer that was sent four weeks ago.”
Landry said the “defund” mailer pointed out that McGill’s campaign chose to align itself with All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles, “an activist who has in public settings unapologetically called for defunding and abolishing the police.”
Landry’s statement sent a hyperlink to McGill’s campaign web page in which he congratulated Miles for winning a seat on the Schenectady school board.
It includes an image of McGill crouched next to his and Miles’ respective campaign signs.
McGill addressed all of the claims made by Savage – his voting record, previous incidents involving the police, and his role in the firing of Morris.
McGill, who lived in Atlanta from 2008 to 2015, said he voted both times President Obama was elected, but he did not vote in the 2016 presidential election when he returned to Schenectady. McGill said it was because he was turned away from the polling place and was told he had to vote at City Hall. When he tried to do so, he said the building was closed.
Meantime, McGill was told that The Daily Gazette received an anonymous letter in April that contained a packet of information regarding McGill’s involvement with local police.
The packet contained redacted copies of two incident reports of domestic disputes in 2019, and a set of citation reports of McGill allegedly driving with a suspended license, unauthorized driving and speeding, all stemming from a traffic stop in May 2020.
McGill said he’s never been arrested, and he was the named victim in the two domestic calls. McGill said a then girlfriend had argued with him, and a neighbor called the police.
McGill said the ex-girlfriend and he remain on good terms, and she spoke to his campaign about the incidents as the information continued to float anonymously.
“That is not news to me,” McGill said. “But that’s their road. I can’t help that that’s what they feel they have to do to win.”
As to his involvement in terminating Morris last year – for insubordination, failure to follow commission bylaws and other issues – McGill said he was acting chairman of the commission at the time of the vote.
“That was a board vote that I had to participate in, that I had to carry out, and that’s all I can say about that,” McGill said.
Asked his reaction about Savage bringing up these matters, McGill said:
“At the end of the day, that’s just the type of politics that he feels that he needs to run. I’m not perfect. I’ve had life experiences.”
In his second bid for the county seat, McGill said he’s never been one to resort to negative campaigning:
“I’m focused on the people of Schenectady, District 1, and the people of Schenectady County as a whole. I want to represent them. My heart is in this community, and that’s where I’m going to keep my focus. I cannot focus on my opponent. I will not focus on my opponent. I will continue to focus on the people and let the people speak when they go to the polls and hopefully cast their vote for me and my team.”