Schenectady County

Savage, McGill discuss plans for District 1 Schenectady County Legislative seat

Omar Sterling McGill, left, and Brendan Savage, right
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Omar Sterling McGill, left, and Brendan Savage, right

The candidates in both the Democratic and Working Families Party primary races for the District 1 Schenectady County Legislative seat are Omar Sterling McGill and Brendan Savage.
 
The candidates could be considered a study in contrasts: McGill, a 31-year-old state Senate staff member, was born and raised in Schenectady and has suggested he is more representative of the district. McGill lives in the Stockade neighborhood.
 
Savage is the son of former Schenectady County Legislature chairwoman Susan Savage. The 22-year-old Siena College student worked on President Joe Biden’s campaign and grew up in Niskayuna. He now lives in the city’s Northside, in a home he owns with his brothers.

Endorsed by county Democrats, Savage changed his voter registration to the Working Families Party to afford voters a choice on the ballot line. 

McGill is endorsed by the Working Families Party.

The young candidates are vying to replace county Legislator Peggy King, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Their respective plans to improve the district are as follows:

Omar Sterling McGill

Does Schenectady County do enough to support the City of Schenectady’s government, financially and otherwise?
 
County and City Governments must work together to best serve residents and coordination across levels of government is key. As the county continues on the path to recovery, it is important the city of Schenectady is not left behind. Both governments already work together to address social services, a shared tax agreement, SCCC, and a unified communication system. It is important that we continue to build the local economy in the city of Schenectady because it is the economic engine of the county as a whole. Both governments should always partner to find opportunities to improve our quality of life and the local economy. Even though there are many complexities between both entities the lines of communication should always remain open and keep the people of Schenectady County top of mind. 
 
What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic?
 
The COVID-19 crisis exposed the cracks in our society, whether it be economic, healthcare, or education, marginalized people were already falling through. Plainly, those with means were able to weather this pandemic much better than those without. It is essential our county government is transparent and accessible as we work towards recovery. The community must be continuously informed on vaccine schedules, utilization of the American Rescue Plan funds, or how we address the looming education gap with many of the youth in our community missing out on an entire year of schooling. It is our duty to work together with leadership and the community to recover from COVID-19. 
 
What will your priorities be if elected to the District 1 seat?
 
My first priority will be the people of District 1 and Schenectady County as a whole. It is important to me to make sure we are doing our best by the people when it comes to their tax dollars and the services we provide as a County Legislature. I will work to move economic revitalization throughout all our neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has unique issues we need to take into account when we look to improve them and careful consideration must be given. Also, it is important that our local government is accessible and transparent. We need to educate our constituents about what the County is doing for and by them. 
 
What strengths will you bring to the legislature?
 
I was born and raised in Schenectady, have spent most of my life in District 1 and I currently live in the Historic Stockade neighborhood. I have worked at the State Legislature for the past six years where I have learned a lot about the political process. It has given me insight on how to approach an issue and to listen to all sides in order to make an informed policy decision. I believe in a government of, by, and for the people requires all of us to be represented. Each of our unique talents, skills, pain, and power is what makes our community strong. I feel like I can bring a unique point of view that is not currently at the County Legislature 
 
What do you see as the district’s strengths, and how will you as an individual legislator try to build upon them?
 
Economic revitalization of our downtown has been steady and in abundance but we must shift the focus to our neighborhoods. It is important we expand our economic development beyond downtown into all our neighborhoods. As a government and with the collaboration from the people of these neighborhoods we must assess the unique problems and find solutions together. Each neighborhood has different needs but must all be treated with the same priority. 
 
What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack?
Our County Government could be more accessible and transparent in order for the government to work best for the people. The people must be able to easily understand what their government is doing, how it helps, and where to find information about it. I am committed to convening regular Town Hall meetings and information-sharing sessions on important legislation. I understand the importance of the county budget and am committed to holding the line on taxes while maintaining important services. I am dedicated to improving the transparency of our budget process to ensure the public is informed and knowledgeable. Diversity of the county workforce requires increased focus. Just as our leadership should reflect our community, so should our workforce. Recruiting and training individuals to prepare for the civil service exam and removing barriers to the Civil Service system must be a priority for the county. I will work to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to prepare for county employment regardless of their educational background
  
With recreational marijuana legal now, how will you help the district chart its course for commerce?
The County must be prepared for this monumental legislation that has now legalized marijuana. I think it is important that we research what similar counties to Schenectady have done. Also, we must lean on our state legislature to guide us on what we are able and allowed to do under the new law. As an elected official I will do my own research and share with the county legislature team the ideas that we can possibly use to make sure we are doing best by the constituents of Schenectady County. No matter what is the eventual reality, we must make sure that there is a social equity component that removes barriers into the marijuana industry as well as input from our community members about what they want to see. 
  
Are you in agreement with how the district is using money from Metroplex?
 
There is no doubt that Metroplex has done a great job of encouraging investment into Schenectady County. Through big businesses and independent developers we continue to change the face of the county. However, I think it is important that we change the course and focus on our neighborhoods. We must ensure that when we allow developers to invest into our areas that they provide housing that people in that community can afford, so we are not pushing out people who in some cases have lived in these communities all their lives. I believe that we need a different Metroplex that is focused on Crane Street instead of State Street, or Van Vranken Avenue instead of Erie Boulevard. This new entity can work in tandem with small business owners that I speak to on a regular basis and who tell me they would love the support that Metroplex provides, but are far too small to truly benefit from the current setup.
 
What are your thoughts on police reform? Do you think there needs to be further changes to policing in your district?
 
I recognize that people have different lived experiences on the topic of law enforcement reform, and that law enforcement as it exists today does not always serve all parts of the community. But any discussion of law enforcement must include the recognition that officers cannot do everything that is currently asked of them. If elected I will support partnerships with Social Services Alternative Models that promote safety and wellness such as 24-hour mental health crisis teams in the County, community youth art, athletic, and educational programs, community-led domestic violence support, and homeless shelters. As an elected official I would work with Schenectady County Sheriff Dagostino, the Schenectady Police Department, and most importantly the people of the community to cultivate and support a healthy relationship between each entity. We must all work together to best convey the ideas of the community and work together to come up with creative solutions.   
  
If you were in charge of marketing and tourism to promote Schenectady County, what would you do?
 
Schenectady County continues to grow as a destination for the arts, entertainment, and waterfront activities. It is important that we properly market events. Destination businesses like Rivers Casino and thriving breweries such as Great Flats and Frog Alley have the bandwidth to market their events. We must help to lift up small businesses that do not have the same resources to be a part of county events to help get them exposure. I would continue to encourage the collective experience of businesses coming together to support each other and ultimately the people of our county; our Wing Walk, Soup Stroll, and Ale Trail are prime examples of that and we must continue to build on them. Schenectady has a rich history that attracts people from all over the state and in some cases the country. We must include the Schenectady County Historical Society who provides tours and other events that highlight our history. We need to find ways to partner local businesses with the Historical Society to create exposure for both entities. Many of our events such as the concert series at Collins Park or the Music haven are free and it is on us to spread the word so we can have as many people participate in these events. 
 
Name five places in Schenectady County that you like to visit and spend time:
 
Mohawk Harbor, Riccitellos, Vale Village/Hamilton Hill, Central Park/Rose Garden, Little Italy

Brendan Savage

Does Schenectady County do enough to support the City of Schenectady’s government, financially and otherwise? 

Under my 5-point plan, Schenectady County would do much more to support and partner with the City of Schenectady to improve the quality of life for city residents in five key areas: Neighborhood Revitalization, Fixing the Roads, Reducing Trash and Litter in the Streets, Bringing a Grocery Store Downtown, and Safer Streets through Community Policing. 

I believe the County has done an excellent job spearheading revitalization Downtown. However, I feel that working together, the City and County can do more to bring this revitalization to neighborhoods throughout our city. 

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic? Our small businesses are part of what makes Schenectady such a great city. They’ve also been hit very hard by this pandemic and the corresponding economic downturn. Coming out of this pandemic, I would like our County to promote an increased number of smaller special events to make sure we are constantly attracting visitors to our small businesses. While large events like Schenectady County SummerNight and the Downtown Holiday Parade have brought many thousands of people to our Downtown, it would be great to work with our small businesses, and assets like Discover Schenectady to create and promote even more smaller-scale events year-round, to make sure there is a constant flow of visitors supporting our small businesses. We also need to make sure we are making needed infrastructure improvements and sidewalk connections, especially in neighborhoods like Mont Pleasant, Goose Hill and the Eastern Ave corridor.

What will your priorities be if elected to the District 1 seat? 

My top priorities are outlined in my “Focus on the Neighborhoods,” five-point plan: Neighborhood Revitalization, Fixing the Roads, Reducing Trash and Litter in the Streets, Bringing a Grocery Store Downtown, and Safer Streets through Community Policing. Additionally, I would immediately seek to pass animal welfare legislation that creates a registry of animal abusers here in Schenectady County, joining 22 other counties in New York State. I would also seek to promote transparency and ban the use of non-disclosure agreements at any public entities that receive taxpayer money here in Schenectady County. 

What strengths will you bring to the legislature? 

I will be an independent voice focused on solving quality-of-life issues in our City. I also have a broad depth of professional experience and community involvement that would prepare me well in advocating for residents of the City of Schenectady at the county level. I have experience with the Metroplex Development Authority, Capital Region Land Bank, the Office of Congressman Paul Tonko and an outreach center for a local District Attorney’s Office. I worked for Joe Biden’s campaign in Iowa, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, and I believe in the values of the Democratic Party in advocating for working-class people, and I believe we can “build back better” right here in Schenectady County. I am honored that my candidacy has received the support of Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, CSEA Local 1000, and all six county legislators in the City of Schenectady. I am a lifelong resident of Schenectady County, I am a homeowner in the City’s Northside, only 500 yards from the house I grew up in with my eight brothers and sisters. I will work hard to hold the line on property taxes for our middle-class families while making sure we maintain vital county services. 

What do you see as the district’s strengths, and how will you as an individual legislator try to build upon them? 

Our District has tremendous assets that we can build upon. We are home to Union College, which has an endowment of $466 Million Dollars. We can and should partner with Union College to make mutually beneficial and targeted smart investments throughout Schenectady. Our district features federally designated Opportunity Zones, which can be used to encourage private investment in low-income census tracts. Our district is also the site of the recently awarded Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds, bringing $10 Million worth of investment to District 1. Additionally, with many hundreds of new apartments Downtown, I believe we have the assets to finally attract a much-needed grocery store to our District. 

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack? 

Our weaknesses include a large number of vacant and abandoned properties throughout the city, roads that are in poor condition, too much trash in our streets, and the lack of a grocery store in our district. I believe we can solve these problems, and solutions are addressed in detail in my five-point plan. 

With recreational marijuana legal now, how will you help the district chart its course for commerce? 

I am glad that the state’s Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act directs funding to education, job training, the expansion of afterschool programs, re-entry services, and other community-centered projects. The County will have an important role in overseeing the distribution of some of these funds and making sure they make a positive impact. While some localities are discussing opting out of allowing marijuana sales, I believe opting out would be the wrong choice for Schenectady County, as we would miss out on much-needed revenue. The City and County should make sure these sites are operated only in appropriate locations in commercial areas, and work to prepare law enforcement to mitigate potential negative impacts, such as individuals driving while under the influence. 

Are you in agreement with how the district is using money from Metroplex?

The Metroplex Development Authority has been a success story in revitalizing our Downtown. I would work with Ray Gillen and the Metroplex Board to continue and enhance revitalization efforts in three key areas of my district: Mont Pleasant, Goose Hill, and the Eastern Avenue corridor. I would also like to work with Metroplex to continue improvements to Schenectady’s waterfront trails along the Mohawk River and one day market it as a regional destination. 

What are your thoughts on police reform? Do you think there needs to be further changes to policing in your district? 

I do believe we need to work thoughtfully towards reforming policing, both nationally, and here in Schenectady County. My plans would be geared at improving our police, not defunding them, with an increased focus on police accountability, training, community policing, and expanding mental health and drug treatment services. My hope is that by making these improvements, we can work to get out in front of some issues before they become situations that require emergency services. 

If you were in charge of marketing and tourism to promote Schenectady County, what would you do? 

In addition to promoting Schenectady’s great restaurants, entertainment venues, and rich history and culture, I have one very specific idea. At the blank wall on the corner of State & Erie, I believe there is a great opportunity to showcase a mural honoring workers from General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. This would not only honor Schenectady’s rich history as “The City that Lights and Hauls the World,” but could be a place where people of all ages would stop to take photos and post them on social media, which could give free advertising to our city. Each post would send an implicit message that Schenectady is a cool place that is worth visiting.

Name five places in Schenectady County that you like to visit and spend time

Mike’s Hot Dogs, Ferrari’s Ristorante, Blue Ribbon Diner, St. John the Evangelist Church, Frog Alley Brewing

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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