SCHENECTADY — Former teacher, father, metalhead — these are just a few things Matt Nelligan has been called. Next up, he wants to be called mayor of Schenectady.
Nelligan, who is running as a Republican, held a campaign kickoff event at Central Park on Sunday afternoon, grilling up hot dogs and dishing out the hard truths he thinks Schenectady needs to hear.
If elected, Nelligan’s first step would be a full forensic audit of the city budget, he said. Next, he’d work to improve sidewalks. He said rather than keep the onus on individual property owners, he’d tackle the issue on a city wide level and focus first on high-traffic areas in most need of repair.
After that, he wants to both create and fill jobs, starting with the city police department. Nelligan hopes to hire 50 additional police officers in Schenectady. Within the police force he also hopes to instill task forces for specific issues.
One team would be a quality of life unit, which would handle smaller crimes like graffiti and littering. Another would be a violent crime and guns unit, to address those issues in areas that need it. Additionally, he wants a mobile crisis unit, where police could be paired with social workers or mental health counselors to intervene when a citizen needs assistance.
“If someone’s having a mental health crisis, the first thing shouldn’t be to grab them and arrest them,” Nelligan said.
Nelligan has denounced calls to defund the police in entirety, and instead wants to bolster their resources, allowing them to respond to such situations in a way that keeps everyone involved safe.
Part of the problem, Nelligan said, is a dip in public support for the police. He recognizes that policing may not be the most eye catching job in today’s climate, where respect for the force has faltered. To address this, he hopes to improve public opinion and establish bonuses that could incentivize new recruits.
Another focus of Nelligan’s campaign is ethics in government. He wants to put in place a law requiring elected officials to disclose things like investments and gifts received. This information, he said, should also be available to the public.
Another hallmark of his plan to ensure an ethical government is to instill term limits. He believes there should be a two-term limit for the mayor’s office and plans to serve a maximum of two terms himself if elected.
“If it’s good enough for the president of the United States, it’s good enough for me,” he said
The GOP candidate is a strong proponent of the working class, a group he proudly grew up within.
Nelligan’s happy to see projects in Schenectady, but thinks the focus needs to pivot towards affordable housing.
“You’ll never be able to convince me a $2000 a month apartment is affordable,” Nelligan said, referencing popular new developments like Mohawk Harbor.
Part of encouraging homeownership in Schenectady is making sure everyone can afford a home. To do this, Nelligan wants to expand city jobs.
“City jobs have a pension, good insurance, [and] they pay well. That keeps people here,” he said.
The candidate was a teacher at Guilderland and Amsterdam high schools for 12 years, before moving to a career in the state Senate. He hopes to invigorate education within the city.
“I’m not going to leave behind an entire generation of kids,” Nelligan said.
One of the city jobs he hopes to create is a full-time liaison to the school board.
Several supporters came out for the event, friends and newcomers alike, they all shared two things — hope for change in Schenectady, and a belief in Nelligan’s ability to bring it.
“We’ve had so many years of McCarthy, Nelligan brings a fresh voice,” said Claudia Cavanagh, member of the City of Schenectady Republican Committee and CEO of Black Redneck LLC.
The committee presented Nelligan with an award on Sunday, bestowing upon him this year’s “The Man in the Arena Award” for his dedication to the committee.
“He seems like a nice, down-to-earth guy,” said Tyler Lindner, a rising senior at UAlbany, and member of the New York State Federation of College Republicans. “I’m excited to see the rest of his campaign.”
Nelligan is a proud Republican, and thinks the party can bring change to Schenectady, which has been a Democratic stronghold for some time. The last GOP mayor was Albert Jurczynski, whose term ended in 2003.
However, Nelligan also wants to remind voters he may not fit in the box they typically put GOP officials in.
“I have an amazing transgender son,” Nelligan said. “I’m a Republican, so that usually surprises people.
Nelligan proudly sports a Harry Potter tattoo and a rotating array of heavy metal band shirts. His mayoral one is not the only campaign he’s a part of, between political events he can often be found entranced in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
In the fall, Nelligan will square off against at least two other candidates. On June 27, a primary election will determine if incumbent Gary McCarthy or City Council President Marion Porterfield will hold the democratic line, the two debated last Thursday. Both democrats have another party to fall back on with McCarthy holding down the Conservative party and Porterfield receiving endorsement from the Working Families party. Ed Varno, a political newcomer, will battle Porterfield for the WFP line in a separate primary.
Contact reporter Ameara Ditsche at [email protected]. Keep up with her on Twitter @amearaisawriter.