SCHENECTADY — A full GOP lineup will run come November for the first time in more than a decade, the Schenectady Republican Committee announced Thursday.
Political neophytes Veerma Rai, Bryan Barrett and Jeff Moore, as well as 2021 insurgent Kevin Hammer, will run for City Council alongside mayoral candidate Matt Nelligan in an uphill battle to upend full Democratic control of Schenectady government.
Former Republican Mayor Al Jurczynski has been involved in the party’s steering committee since the spring. The long-moribund committee was resurrected in winter of 2022.
“They’re dealing with a tremendous disadvantage, a voter disadvantage, from Democrats to Republicans,” said Jurczynski, who served from 1996 to 2003. “But I do know that the Republican committee has done the best they can to put together a slate that’s not an embarrassment — which what has been an embarrassment is not running anybody at all.”
As of Nov. 1, the state Board of Elections reported 16,573 active Democrats in Schenectady, 4,880 Republicans, 615 Conservatives, 379 Working Family Party members, 1,365 voters affiliated with another third party and 9,376 independent voters.
When Jurczynski defeated now-Mayor Gary McCarthy for a second term in 1999, Democrats only outnumbered Republicans by 4,000 enrollees. The last Republican to sit on the council, Cathy Lewis, was defeated in 2005, and the last non-Democrat, Vince Riggi, in 2019.
The Schenectady County Legislature hasn’t been in GOP hands since 2004. Nelligan plans to release another four Republican candidates for the 15-seat county board at some point in the coming month.
“The issue with the Republicans is that, for the last 20 years, once the Democrats were in charge of the county and the city we’ve had remarkable changes, remarkable progress on building jobs and investments,” said Schenectady Democratic Committee Chairman Tom Bellick.
Running for re-election are council members Doreen Ditoro, Carmel Patrick, and Carl Williams. Political newcomers Joe Mancini and Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Isaacs are also running as Democrats for council.
Rai, a Guyanese immigrant and owner of Ray’s Upholstery on State Street, believes that the GOP front will stand out to voters as a cozy alternative from the hostile working relationship between the council’s progressive wing of color and white moderate faction.
“With the Democrats, they’re so dysfunctional that they fight among each other,” said the 53-year-old candidate. “With the Republicans, we’re going to work together … without the Democrats.”
Tensions between the progressive majority — Williams, Marion Porterfield, John Mootooveren and Dammoni Farley — and the moderate minority — John Polimeni, Doreen Ditoro and Carmel Patrick — have spilled over into the public fray over COVID-19 federal relief spending, police budgeting and neighborhood noise regulations. In September, ire between the two groups spilled over into a racially-charged name-calling fest.
“We think we can convince non-affiliated voters and Democrats who are sick and tired of their own party’s antics to vote for us,” Nelligan said. “We think it’s an argument that’s easier to make than ever because it’s an opening the Democrats themselves have created.”
The party espouses a pro-policing, anti-rent control agenda, as well as plans to flip the city’s governmental structure back to a long-gone city manager system.
Nelligan, a self-described “raging moderate”, created a political firestorm back in June when he demanded the city remove a Black Lives Matter mural from Jay Street under the belief that it was too expensive and represented the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
Lifelong Schenectadian Barrett described himself as a social conservative “in the middle of Matt and Jeff” on the ideological spectrum.
Moore, a 54-year-old worker for Wells Landscape & Design, said that he first entered the political fray two years ago as an active supporter of conservative Republican candidates Liz Joy and Joe Mastroianni.
The self-described conservative-leaning candidate in a long-winded Dec. 29 Facebook post blamed the city’s housing crisis on “government intervention”, including high-dollar development projects supplemented, in part, by state grants.
“The picture I just painted for you is for the intended purpose of dissolving the middle class – only the upper class can afford these shiny new luxury apartments while the middle class is moved into section 8,” Moore wrote.
“This is the New Age of Communism,” he continued. “There is No Middle Class in Communism.”
Moore said that he wasn’t directly tying subsidized projects to radical collectivism.
“I’m not really saying it’s communism, but communism is a two-class system and in my theory, being a blue-collar worker and a middle class person, it seems that the middle class is dissolving,” Moore told the Daily Gazette.
Moore was one of eight council candidates considered by the party started conducting interviews back in October. Nelligan was the first to jump into the race in late December, influenced by a heart attack two months earlier to the seize the moment.
Both Nelligan and Hammer, the current GOP secretary, don’t plan to step down from their party roles.
“When I win, I have not decided on that yet,” Hammer said. “I don’t see it as something that would conflict with being on the City Council, but I have not made that decision yet.”
Nelligan asked Jurczynski if he was interested in running for office again back in the spring, to which the former mayor declined.
McCarthy hasn’t formally announced a re-election bid, but previously said that he seeks a fourth term. The city Democratic committee’s top brass will recommended endorsing McCarthy, as well as Mancini, Ditoro, Patrick and Williams.
Porterfield, the city council president, has expressed interest in challenging McCarthy, but hasn’t announced her intentions. Meanwhile, Polimeni on Sunday said that he’s weighing his options.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-527-7659 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.