A longtime Gloversville firefighter on Wednesday announced his intention to run for mayor on the Republican ticket, setting up a potential primary challenge against two-term incumbent Mayor Dayton King if he decides to run for re-election.
Bill Rowback Jr. is a 28-year firefighter with the Gloversville Fire Department. He announced his candidacy on the Republican and Independence party tickets at Harold’s Restaurant and Lounge.
Rowback, who has lived in the area all his life and graduated from Gloversville High School, said his primary motivation for running for mayor is to bring pride back to the city.
“That’s my whole campaign, bringing pride back to Gloversville,” he said. “Pride comes from within.”
Rowback said the way to bring pride back to Gloversville is to bring manufacturing jobs back to the city, revitalize the downtown corridor, create opportunities for residents to work together, and recognize those who make Gloversville a better place.
He laid out over a dozen policy proposals that he said are in line with those goals, including bringing activities like basketball tournaments back to city parks, instituting an adopt-a-street program and creating a citywide community learning center where residents can learn basic property management and upkeep skills.
Rowback also wants to highlight the area’s history by creating a trolley system with historically guided tours between Gloversville and Johnstown on weekends. He’s also looking to build a waste transfer station within city limits so residents can properly dispose of the garbage.
Rowback said under his leadership the city would institute a curfew for those 16 years of age and under of 11 p.m., with fines and community service serving as punishment for offenders.
King, also a Republican, said Wednesday an announcement will be coming shortly regarding his future political intentions. He last faced a challenger in the 2013 election when he bested Independent James Handy with 63 percent of nearly 2,500 votes cast in the general election.
In 2013 King narrowly beat a primary challenge from Republican Michael Ponticello, current chair of the Gloversville Housing Authority board, with 455 votes to Ponticello’s 426 (Handy also ran as a Republican in that year’s primary but only garnered 148 votes).
Rowback’s announcement comes at a time of tense relations between the fire department and the city. King and the Common Council are pushing the department to cut a minimum of $300,000 annually from their payroll budget, most of which would translate to a loss of overtime in 2018 and beyond.
King and the council have threatened to put the matter to a November referendum if the fire department doesn’t make the cuts itself. The referendum, King has previously said, would include language that, if passed, would convert the fire department from a career department to a mixture of volunteer and career members — and would almost certainly involve layoffs.
Rowback said after his speech that King’s push to downsize the fire department’s staffing budget had nothing to do with his decision to run for mayor.
“I wouldn’t retire just because I want to save jobs at the fire department,” said Rowback.
In his speech, Rowback said the city wouldn’t be talking about budget cuts if the current administration was doing its job to bring economic growth to Gloversville. He later softened that statement, and said “I’m not in [King’s] shoes right now.”
“What he’s doing right now, and in past administrations, is doing what they thought was best,” he said.
Rowback further said that if elected he would hire a labor lawyer to review all contracts with public employees, and that in those negotiations, particularly with the fire department, he could separate his duty as mayor from his history as a city firefighter.
“I’m the mayor, I’m not a firefighter. I will split myself from the fire department because now I have a job to do,” he said, noting that his job as a firefighter was to protect and serve the city. “As mayor the best thing that I have to do is make sure I bring manufacturing and retail in here and bring the pride back to Gloversville.”
He did not rule out cuts to the fire department or any department if elected, “if that’s what needed to be done.”
Rowback said he doesn’t think Gloversville residents would pass a referendum converting the fire department into a hybrid paid and volunteer department. He did leave the door open to the possibility of the fire department lowering its minimum staffing levels, which currently stand at seven firefighters on duty at all times and mandatory replacement of any firefighter who calls out on a given day — what’s known as a “seven and seven.”
The city’s proposal, and one that King and the Common Council said will go a long way to hitting that $300,000 savings number, is for the department to stay at a minimum staffing level of seven firefighters on duty, but only begin calling replacement firefighters in when more than two members call out on any given day. This means that there would be times when only five firefighters are on duty.
“We’ve always given the city a little back, or a lot back, to save the city but also the membership,” Rowback said of the city’s firefighters union, Local 719. “If we have to go to seven and five, I don’t see why we can’t go to that.”
According to the Fulton County Board of Elections, a Republican mayoral contender would need 157 signatures on a petition to get on the county’s GOP ticket. Fulton County BOE Deputy Commissioner Theresa Dugan said that number is subject to change based on enrollment reporting that occurs at the end of March, but that it won’t fluctuate too much.
Rowback said if elected he would retire at the end of the year from the fire department and be a full time mayor.
City Finance Commissioner Tammie Weiterschan said Rowback’s pension would amount to 50 percent of his three highest paid years, but that it could be limited based on his position as mayor.
Rowback’s pay last year with overtime and other benefits was $68,000, according to figures provided by the finance department. The mayor of Gloversville is paid $43,000 annually.