SCHENECTADY — Within an hour, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Council President Marion Porterfield blazed through a spate of questions.
It wasn’t even all of the questions written from the panelists at the city mayoral primary debate Thursday at SUNY Schenectady.
For much of the campaign season, the mood has been publicly mild between the nearly 12-year Democratic mayor and the 11-year City Council member, who now serves as its president. However, now some of the differences between campaign messages are clearer.
Here are five takeaways from the debate:
THIS WASN’T AN IDEOLOGICALLY TINGED DEBATE
McCarthy has often idealized middle-of-the-road politics. Porterfield has championed a number of progressive causes in the council chambers, including rent control and criminal justice reform.
But make no mistake: The debate on Thursday appeared to show differences that were more managerial than ideological, as Porterfield spoke at large about her vision to pursue comprehensive planning, insource more jobs and increase staffing.
Granted, there were moments when the challenger did hit some talking points to McCarthy’s left, touching on her support for community policing, universal pre-K and bringing inclusivity into the mix.
In her closing statement, Porterfield highlighted economic divisions between downtown and some of the city’s adjacent neighborhoods — a point brought up by every political opponent of McCarthy for years.
BOTH CANDIDATES ARE DISPLEASED WITH THE LOCATION OF UPSTATE CANNA CO.
Upstate Canna Co. on Union St. is the Capital Region’s first legal pot retailer. The store, owned by Donald Andrews, opened on April 1.
Neither candidate likes the location.
The site was chosen by Andrews with the approval of the Office of Cannabis Management. McCarthy said that he hadn’t experienced “the level of engagement” he wanted with the agencies and stakeholders involved in the process.
“Now we’re at the place where there was a place that’s on upper Union Street and we are getting complaints because it’s situated near a studio where children go, and where the families feel uncomfortable walking through, is what the feedback that I’m getting,” Porterfield said.
McCarthy blamed Porterfield’s leadership for not getting the City Council on board with zoning modifications. She said that she made an effort to push through such changes before the city opted into cannabis sales.
McCARTHY HAS DISTANCED HIMSELF FROM THE CITY COUNCIL
This wasn’t a newsflash, but it’s a notable pattern repeated by the incumbent mayor. McCarthy has been at arm’s length with the City Council as the city’s progressive and moderate wing incessantly duke it out.
The former council president has often characterized the council as a blemish out of his control. Porterfield, making the case that she’s tried to bring order to the council, said that it’s critical for all city officials to work as a team.
“Again, it’s a separate legislative body,” said McCarthy. “The dynamics in the council in the last couple of years are less than optimal.”
He also blasted the City Council lawmakers for reallocating federal COVID-19 relief (ARPA) funds “behind closed doors” back in October.
“That was extremely controversial,” Porterfield said about the time. “But for me, it was important to make sure that the residents had a voice in how we were to spend this money, so we could see a broader picture of it, as opposed to the staff at the City Hall, which as I said before, we are understaffed.”
PORTERFIELD, McCARTHY THINK THAT SCHENECTADY IS ON THE RIGHT TRACK
When asked whether Schenectady is on the right track, McCarthy gave a resounding yes.
Porterfield agreed before pivoting toward her pitch for a citywide comprehensive plan, which hasn’t been crafted since the days of Brian U. Stratton’s mayoralty in 2008.
In a press release after the debate, GOP mayoral candidate and Save Schenectady ballot line holder Matt Nelligan differed with both candidates, saying that crime prevention and education are out of their wheelhouse (Nelligan has previously advocated for mayoral control of the Schenectady City District).
“This City is on the wrong track,” Nelligan wrote. “A blind man could see it and every citizen I talk to agrees.”
Nelligan is expected to be part of what could be a two- or three-way debate around the general election.
THE DEBATE WAS MORE MILD THAN WILD
When asked by a panelist if the city would welcome asylum seekers, both candidates, again, appeared to be on the same page.
McCarthy maintained that the city already doesn’t have the capacity to house homeless individuals. Porterfield said she would have to look at the city’s resources before taking action “so that there’s not continuing suffering for those who are coming and also for those who are currently in need of assistance in our community.”
A number of counties have ordered emergency responses to a nearly 80,000-person influx of asylum seekers entering New York — namely New York City — following the expiration of a federal COVID-19 era immigration policy lifted in May.
“Well, I think the mayor and I both agree that we would definitely have to look at what our resources are to make sure that we will be able to do that, if at all,” said Porterfield. “And as the mayor, it makes sense that he is working with the county and the city as any leader would do.”
There were few climactic moments in the debate where both candidates had a steady back and forth.
Porterfield’s last swing at the city’s chief executive occurred in the final stretch of her closing statement, referencing McCarthy telling a debate audience in 2015 that he believed in term limits.
“He’s been there 12 years,” she said. “That’s three terms, which is one more than the president gets, so at this time I’m just saying if you believe in term limits, I believe the time is now.”
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil