Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy is fond of using what he calls a “common sense approach” to his city’s problems. Most recently it was how he described his strategy for not fining people who fail to shovel their sidewalks when it snows — as if showing them lenience and “educating” them might get them to comply.
Surprisingly, McCarthy didn’t use the term to describe his plans for dealing with two other sore spots he brought up in his State of the City address Monday, but he may as well have because his strategy is nearly identical. And it’s a proven loser.
Exhibit A: The mayor says he wants to clean up the drug trade that’s flourished among a number of corner stores in the city. “They foster an environment of drug activity, buy stolen merchandise, their accounting is creative at best, and they have a negative impact on our neighborhoods,” McCarthy said. Amen.
And the mayor says he has a “long list” of prime suspects. Well go get ’em, mayor.
Unfortunately, he first wants to give them one more chance, organizing a meeting with public safety officials and the building inspector and laying down the law — as if these guys don’t already know it. Then, he said, “if they don’t play by the rules, I want them out of business.”
Exhibit B: The mayor is frustrated by the city’s dismal recycling rate, which hovers between 7 percent and 8 percent. Residents simply refuse to comply with a law that’s been on the books for more than two decades, despite repeated efforts by city officials to remind them. As a result, the city pays roughly $400,000 a year more to transport and landfill solid waste than it did when the law first took effect (and the compliance rate was 25 percent).
But rather than do the obvious — fining scofflaws up to $50 per violation, which would be a fairer way to raise the extra $400,000 but has never been tried — McCarthy is opting for yet another education campaign. “The rules, the goal, the benefits of recycling are fairly simple to understand,” the mayor says, as if the law is brand new and no one knows about it.
The real “common sense” approach with laws like these — that people clearly know about (or should) but flagrantly break because they’ve seen they can get away with it — is enforcement. McCarthy’s approach lacks teeth.