Schenectady is a city in recovery.
The recovery hasn’t been quick or even; some areas still lag behind.
Crime, poverty and homelessness still plague some of our neighborhoods. New businesses are still reluctant to take a chance on the city; we still don’t have much of a retail economy and there are parts of the city without a major grocery store. The roads still need fixing and the taxes are still too high.
But there are many signs that recovery is happening, evidence that the city is moving forward. And a large part of that progress can be attributed to the steady hand and meticulous attention of Mayor Gary McCarthy.
The downtown area is more vibrant than it has been in decades, with new stores popping up in the main business district, apartments and office buildings replacing run-down remnants of the city’s past, the development of the Alco site with hotels, townhouses, stores and a regional casino, and a general improved perception among visitors and especially residents — the hardest people to convince.
City spending is leveling off, dilapidated buildings are finally being torn down with regularity and properties are being put back on the tax rolls. Violence and drugs are still a problem, but the statistics are encouraging. The residents’ once-strained relationship with their police force is now more open and trusting. Rising taxes that have crippled the city and forced many residents to scatter to the suburbs are now under control.
McCarthy is not a flashy politician. He’s not the star quarterback going for the touchdown with one big pass. He’s the game manager, the one who marches the team downfield, eating up the clock and not turning the ball over. He’s doing the little things that need to be done to address the problems, like tearing down decaying buildings that bring down property values, make the city less appealing to visitors and attract criminal activity. He’s enlisted real estate agents and contractors to fix up old homes and sell them. In order to reduce the number of abandoned properties in the city, he’s been working with mortgage holders to keep residents in their homes while they work out their financial problems.
Under McCarthy, the city’s tax problem — while still onerous — has been brought under control. In his four years, taxes have risen less than 2 percent each year. This year, residents will see no property tax increase. The city’s financial health is also improving, as evidenced by a stellar financial report from the state Comptroller’s Office giving the city a perfect score for fiscal stress based largely on budget management.
McCarthy has embraced technology to make the highway and police departments more efficient. He retained a city public safety commissioner from the previous administration to provide oversight of police, fire, emergency services and codes departments. Most importantly for the city’s economy, he has worked closely with developers and Metroplex to encourage more business operators and developers to invest in the city, a key to lifting the business district and the neighborhoods out of the doldrums. He backed the new casino and ensured that it would pay full taxes on its revenue, rather than offer some kind of partial tax payment plan that many cities have used to entice their facilities. When called upon to do what it takes to get the money flowing into the city instead of out of it, he’s finding a way to get it done.
His opponent in the race is a familiar one. Roger Hull, the former president of Union College, is making his second run for mayor, having narrowly lost to McCarthy four years ago. His campaign is based largely on his involvement in Metroplex during its infancy and his initiative to improve the neighborhood around Union College two decades ago. He implies that he can repeat the Seward Place success in other city neighborhoods, but doesn’t say exactly how he’ll accomplish that or how much city investment it will take. Unlike his spirited independent campaign four years ago, Hull seems to have no vision or plan for the city this time around. He’s got the talking points down (taxes, crime, potholes), but nothing to back them up. He says he wants to rein in taxes, but offers no specifics on how he plans to accomplish that, especially since he’s pledged to put more police officers on the streets and not to lay off city employees. Police cost money, and Hull doesn’t say where it’s going to come from. Gimmicks like pledging to donate his mayor’s salary to charity, switching to zero-based budgeting and promoting public safety by ensuring police and EMS workers live next door seem more like pandering than governing. His attacks on the comptroller’s report, the lack of a guarantee that casino jobs will automatically go to city residents, and McCarthy’s acceptance of his law enforcement pension are weak tea compared to what really needs to be addressed.
The mayor does have room for improvement. He does seem to focus more attention on the business district and the needs of developers than the neighborhoods. Crime is still a big problem, and McCarthy seems to defer to his police chief and public safety commissioner in times of unrest. And his commitment to government transparency leaves a lot to be desired. Requests for information must go through his office, and the city still hasn’t released information on code violations relating to the Jay Street fire, the victim’s name in a recent killing, or the revised renderings of the pylon sign for the new casino. McCarthy in his second term must loosen the reins on information the public has a right to know.
During a recent mayoral debate, Hull asked the audience if they were better off than they were four years ago. Despite the negative vocal response from Hull’s supporters, the answer to the question is a qualified yes.
Is the city perfect? No. Has it arrived where it wants to be? No. But is it making steady, tangible strides toward that end? Absolutely.
The problems facing this city weren’t created overnight, and they won’t be solved overnight. Steady improvement is the measure of an effective government official.
Gary McCarthy has proven that he deeply cares about this city, that he’s invested in this city, and that he’s got the skill and the vision to continue to improve this city.
He’s earned the support of Schenectady residents for a second term. We encourage voters to support Gary McCarthy for mayor on Nov. 3.
The Gazette Editorial Board includes Publisher John DeAugustine, Editor Judy Patrick, Managing Editor Miles Reed, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and Digital Director Heather Graham.