Barbara Blanchard spent her last moments on the City Council mustering words to express her gratitude for unexpectedly being bestowed the Patroon Award.
The outgoing councilwoman, stricken with a progressive neurological disease, was presented the city’s highest honor just moments before she left her last meeting Monday evening. Amid thunderous applause from the crowded council chamber, Blanchard spoke softly into a microphone and returned the overwhelming praise showered upon her from both city officials and her constituents.
“Thank you so very much for everything,” she said, laboring to push the words from her mouth.
The council also adopted a commemorative resolution honoring Blanchard’s service throughout the city and during her eight years on the council. She received a standing ovation when it was adopted.
Blanchard, 66, was aware she was going to be honored at the meeting. But the Patroon Award came as a pleasant surprise to both her and a legion of her supporters who attended the meeting.
“Your perseverance, your tenacity and just your friendship has made such a difference for so many people in the city of Schenectady and the surrounding area,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
Blanchard’s accomplishments in the city are nearly impossible to summarize succinctly. She helped create the Union Triangle Historic District, was a founder of Re-Tree Schenectady and was critical in establishing the Schenectady Greenmarket.
A Girl Scout troop leader, she helped spearhead its Silver Award project to design and present a walking tour through Vale Cemetery. Blanchard was an active member of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation and was largely responsible for creating the Livable Cities program — something that helped incorporate new urban design standards into the city’s zoning code. She served as a member of the Schenectady Energy Advisory Board and raised environmental awareness in the Capital Region.
But Blanchard’s friends and supporters look beyond her list of accomplishments. Instead, they laud her as a person — someone dedicated to making life better for others.
“It’s not about her accomplishments,” said John Mishanec, who worked with he councilwoman to found Re-Tree and has known her for more than two decades. “It’s about her heart and soul. Barb has a heart bigger than Schenectady.”
Janis Polish, another friend, agreed. She said Blanchard also looked out for people who had trouble standing up for themselves.
“She always helped out the underdog,” she said.
Dick Shave, who helped found the Greenmarket with Blanchard, said the mayor presenting her with the Patroon Award was a no-brainer. He said one look at her accomplishments is enough to prove her merit.
“Her résumé is just so strong,” he said.
Councilman Carl Erikson lauded Blanchard for helping him acclimate to city politics. Even if she didn’t agree with him on a particular topic, he said she was always willing to field his questions and give him thoughtful answers that helped him forge his own decisions.
“Having Barb on the council as a mentor was extremely important to me,” he said.
Blanchard has remained largely out of the public eye since suffering a severe stroke in August 2012. The episode badly damaged her ability to speak and has left her in a wheelchair.
Blanchard, a Democrat, opted not to run for re-election last fall. Democrat John Mootooveren will be sworn in as her replacement in January, having won the seat in the election last fall.
Blanchard left the meeting after receiving the award at the beginning of the session. The council continued on with six members.
In other business, the council adopted a settlement that will pay Schenectady County for all delinquent taxes from 2012 and 2013. Starting next year, the 20-year agreement means the city will only pay the county when property owners actually pay up.
Until 2012, the city paid the county for all delinquent taxes and then tried to collect them from the owners. Two years ago, city officials decided to change that policy, opting to pass on only the money collected rather than paying the county in one lump sum.
County legislators will now have to adopt the agreement during their next business session. McCarthy said there’s no reason to believe the settlement won’t be adopted.
“It works to everybody’s advantage,” he said.