Two candidates running for a Schenectady County Legislature seat representing the city have been in a heated battle since before the primaries.
Omar Sterling McGill, a 31-year-old state Senate staff member and Brendan Savage, a 22-year-old Siena College student who worked on President Joe Biden’s campaign, are vying to replace county Legislator Peggy King, who isn’t seeking re-election.
McGill, a registered Democrat, won the nomination, even though he wasn’t endorsed by the Democratic Party. He lost the Working Families nomination, for which he had been endorsed. This is McGill’s second bid for a seat on the Legislature.
Savage, who had registered with the Working Families Party prior to the primaries, but didn’t receive their endorsement ended up winning the nomination. He’s since switched his registration to the Democratic Party, for whom he had originally received backing from. Savage is also running on the Conservative Party line.
Here are where the two candidates stand on various issues:
Q: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing your district and how do you plan to resolve those issues?
McGill: It is important we expand our economic development beyond downtown into all our neighborhoods. I will promote continued investment in our residential areas and address blighted properties to attract and retain more local businesses. I will take a comprehensive approach to investing in blighted properties, including creating the opportunity to build community gardens. Building community gardens will not only beautify our environment but increase the health of our communities by ensuring access to healthy foods. Also, as we get developers into communities, we must ensure that they keep our housing affordable and encourage community led development.
Savage: The most important issue I see facing our county government is how we can make the most positive long-term impact with the federal money we receive. My top priorities are laid out in my five-point plan: aggressively fixing roads and sidewalks, revitalizing dilapidated housing in a faster manner using new state laws, improving response times in local law enforcement agencies by funding increased staffing with funds set aside for community policing, reducing litter in the streets by making long-term investments in trash pickup infrastructure, and working with Metroplex to finally recruit a grocery store to District 1, which is currently the only one in the entire county without a grocery store.
Q: What does bipartisanship look like to you and how will you seek that out if elected?
McGill: Bipartisanship is a prime example of teamwork making the dream work. I see this firsthand every day at the state Legislature where I have been employed in various policy and procedure positions for the past six years. When both sides work together and put the people first great things are achieved. Our Schenectady County Legislature representation is currently 11 Democrats, four Conservatives, and one Republican, which is not the same breakdown on the national or state level. I will focus on working for the people and not get into the fight of bipartisanship, but I will keep in mind that compromise is what leads to success for the people of Schenectady County.
Savage: Running as an Independent Democrat on the Working Families and Conservative Party lines, I believe I am well-positioned to be an independent and bipartisan voice on our county Legislature. I believe at the local level, there is no Democratic or Republican way to pave a street, and I am willing to work with anyone to make positive changes happen in our county. I will cross party lines (and party bosses) if it means getting results and improving the quality of life for our residents.
Q: What do you believe is the county’s role on climate change and what actions should the county take?
McGill: The county should take a leadership role on climate change, the county doesn’t have to wait for any other local government and the state has already been making strides as we should. We should increase and improve our green spaces, which will help improve our air quality. Healthier people lead to healthier communities, which ultimately leads to a better Schenectady County. We also should continue to monitor emissions that are polluting our air to help improve the quality of life.
Savage: I believe every level of government has a role in reducing our carbon footprint and making sure we leave a healthy planet for future generations. We can double down on our county’s Solar Consortium and make sure all local school districts and public entities are 100% solar powered. The long-term savings of reducing energy costs in our public buildings can be passed on to residents and result in millions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. The county should also work on transitioning as many government vehicles as possible to an electric fleet by 2030, build hundreds of more charging stations to support electric vehicle use, and also work to make Schenectady County more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Q: What role should the county play in revitalizing the county and district you represent?
McGill: Each neighborhood in my district is unique and needs different things. It is important that we engage our community members on what they want and need in their respective communities. As a county elected official, I will encourage the continued collaboration between county and city government. I have a good relationship with Mayor (Garry) McCarthy, who endorsed me, as well as other members of the council. Our downtown continues to thrive, and we must highlight our tourist attractions that make the city of Schenectady the economic engine of Schenectady County. Whether it be any of our great restaurants, our local breweries, or any of our small businesses, we continue to highlight these entities. Revitalization must happen all over the city and not just downtown. As the county continues to look at ways to revitalize our neighborhoods, I will make sure your voices are being heard in this development.
Savage: The county and Metroplex have done a terrific job in spearheading revitalization of our downtown. I believe that we can take this same attitude and approach in revitalizing key corridors of our city, including Broadway, Crane Street, Van Vranken Avenue, and the Eastern Avenue corridor. These are entrances to Schenectady that are often a visitor’s first impression. I will work hard to continue Schenectady’s revitalization and make sure we lift up every neighborhood in our city.
Q: In what ways can the Legislature support education and what will you do to support that?
McGill: Our children are the future of our society. As a candidate for District 1 in the county of Schenectady, which is right in the city, I will come to the table and be a part of the solution to help our students and their families through the difficulties of having an education system that is in distress. Our new superintendent and his staff will work diligently to improve our Schenectady City School District and I as an elected official will support them in any way I can. I recognize education doesn’t fall within the purview of county government, but the students and the families who live in my district do, so it matters.
Savage: We need to work with the school district to ensure a sound education and a safe environment for all children in Schenectady. We need to fully fund our libraries, to make sure that children in our city have the opportunity to use these educational resources. We need to ensure school safety: there have been two incidents in the past year where an adult has entered the high school building unauthorized to assault a student. This cannot ever happen again — it is dangerous to students and disruptive to their education. I believe our county sheriff can work with the district to address all security concerns to ensure student’s safety from outsiders. If this issue is not fixed, young families will be hesitant to stay here, or move here, which is bad for our city and county.