SCHENECTADY — To the surprise of all involved, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy has put an end to a month of disagreement between citizens seeking to rename a city street and city leaders bent on enforcing a new ordinance.
As a result of an executive order, an 11-block stretch of Albany Street will bear the name “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way,” effective immediately.
The mayor announced the move during Sunday’s 30th anniversary celebration for the Schenectady County Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, ending a month of debate and overriding a city ordinance in the process. As a result, organizers who hoped to rename two blocks of Albany Street will no longer have to gather signatures in order to honor the civil rights leader with an even longer stretch of the street.
Coalition members came to the City Council in December with their plan to rename the street. But legislation adopted in November required that they obtain 500 signatures and limited the proposed ceremonial street name to a two-block radius.
Supporters asked for an exemption, citing the coalition’s status as a county entity and King’s reputation as an international leader. Council members expressed support for the renaming effort but said they could not provide an exception.
The mayor's executive order bypasses the ordinance to rename Albany Street -- from Veeder to Brandywine avenues -- as “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.”
The announcement came as a welcome surprise for the hundreds in attendance at the coalition’s celebration at Proctors.
“He had to stop a few different times because people were cheering so much,” one attendee said.
Angelicia Morris, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission, called the executive order a huge victory and noted that the street name will now encompass all of the Hamilton Hill neighborhood along Albany Street.
In the week prior to the announcement, the coalition had to postpone its planned dedication ceremony from Jan. 13 until April 11 in order to gather more signatures. Morris said the mayor’s announcement was “perfect timing,” since the entire community was gathered in celebration for Sunday's event.
“The coalition, we were surprised and ecstatic over the mayor’s announcement,” she said. “That totally took us off guard.”
The move also caught city councilors by surprise. McCarthy didn’t inform them ahead of time about the announcement, and Council President Leesa Perazzo said she felt it painted City Council in a bad light.
“I’m disappointed that the mayor would take a public opportunity to do this without ever letting the Council know, because it’s certainly something we would’ve been fully supportive of,” she said.
She expressed excitement that the coalition got the outcome it was looking for but said she wasn’t sure why the mayor waited so long to take action, if he knew he had the option to issue an executive order.
Over the past month, Council members expressed support for the renaming effort, and some offered to gather signatures. But Perazzo said they felt their hands were tied, given the ordinance passed in November. She said she plans to speak with the city’s lawyer about whether it is legal for the mayor to bypass an ordinance with an executive order.
“Not because I want to contest this circumstance,” Perazzo said. “What is of concern to me is where this might apply in the future. If the mayor can bypass an ordinance with an executive order, I think the Council needs to be aware of that.”
McCarthy was out of town Tuesday night into Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.