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Frank Duci, Schenectady's longest-serving mayor, dies at 97

Frank Duci, Schenectady's longest-serving mayor, dies at 97

'I love the people,' he said in 2016
Frank Duci, Schenectady's longest-serving mayor, dies at 97
Frank Duci stands on the front porch of his former Schenectady home on Avenue A in 2009.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY - Frank Duci, Schenectady's longest-serving mayor and first Italian-American mayor, has passed away at the age of 97, officials confirmed Sunday.

Duci served as mayor from 1972 to 1983 and again from 1992 to 1995 and was involved in local Schenectady politics for more than four decades.

He passed away Sunday morning in Florida, his Corporation Counsel during his second stint as mayor, Michael Cuevas, confirmed Sunday evening. 

"I think he made an indelible mark on the city, " Cuevas said Sunday evening. "Frank was a man of the people. He was more a populist than anything else and he sort of gritty, tough people that we have here."

Duci was remembered by others Sunday evening as the "quintessential public servant" and a "political warhorse."

He is best known for spearheading the purchase of the former Hotel Van Curler as a home for Schenectady County Community College, building a new county library, and fighting a proposal to build a four-lane extension of Nott Street.

Duci also led the push for shifting Schenectady’s executive power from a city manager to mayoral control.

Upon his 95th birthday in 2016, Duci recalled his public service fondly.

"The 42 years I served in elective capacity, I loved every minute of it," Duci told The Daily Gazette then. "The people were so nice, whether they agreed with me or not."

Throughout the interview then Duci repeated, "I love the people."

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Duci also worked at General Electric and served in the Navy. He first entered politics in 1947 as part of his love for working with people and he wanted to fight for the issues they cared about, he said in 2016.

After losing his re-election in 1984 to Karen Johnson, he re-entered politics the next year and won a council seat. He later won election to his second stint as mayor in 1992. 

Through his long career, he mentored many in local politics, among them longtime friend Nick Barber and current City Councilman Vince Riggi, they recalled Sunday.

Barber recalled campaigning for County Legislature in 1979 and it was Duci who showed Barber around the ward. Duci soon became a dear friend, Barber said.

"He was a quintessential public servant, always open to the people," Barber said. "He was very passionate about what he did in government and passionate about issues that affected the people."

"He was an excellent mayor. He was a good man. And he served the public well," Barber said. "And he was a good friend."

Riggi Sunday evening recalled Duci as the "ultimate warhorse, political warhorse."

Riggi said Duci made it a point to be accessible to his constituents, even on the weekend. 

"Mayor's office, Mayor Duci speaking," Riggi recalled Duci saying as he answered the phone. Or, maybe Duci would skip the formalities and simply say, "Frank speaking."

"He was from the old school, no question," Riggi said. "At times he could be controversial, but one thing you could always be assured of, Frank's heart was always in the right place and he always had the best interests of Schenectady at the forefront."

The man who succeeded Duci's second stint as mayor, Al Jurczynski, praised Duci Sunday evening as "an amazing person."

"I learned a lot from him," Jurczynski said. "I'm not gonna paint a picture like it was all peaches and cream with him. It wasn't, He was a hard-charging kind of guy, but whether you agreed with him or not, there was no doubt he loved Schenectady."

"Most of the time we saw eye-to-eye," Jurczynski added later, "but at times he got frustrated with me and I got frustrated with him at times. But he was a great guy to have on your side. It was fun watching him give the other side conniptions."

Current Mayor Gary McCarthy said he expected to put out a more formal statement on Duci's passing Monday morning. But he extended his condolences Sunday evening.

"He was a potent political force in the community," McCarthy said of Duci.

McCarthy also noted Duci's push for a strong mayor over a city manager form of government. McCarthy once disagreed with Duci on that, but McCarthy said he appreciates that now.

State Senator James Tedisco issued a statement Sunday evening calling Duci "one of the City of Schenectady's finest-ever public servants." Tedisco served on Schenectady's City Council during the later part of Duci's first stint as mayor and then worked with Duci as assemblyman when Duci returned as mayor.

"Mayor Duci was a public servant dynamo and a juggernaut in and of himself when it came to standing up for what he believed was in the best interest of those he represented in his many years of dedicated public service," Tedisco said.

Duci grew up on Green Street in the Stockade and later moved to Avenue A in Goose Hill. 

Duci said in 2016 being mayor wasn’t easy and that he always had an uphill battle with the City Council, which was Republican-controlled during his first four years in office but led by Democrats the following 12 years.

In his inaugural address after first being sworn in in January 1972, Duci described himself to supporters and well-wishers as "nervous as the day I was married," as recorded in The Gazette then.

He also described his wish for how his administration would be seen when all was done.

His wish, he said then, was "that when historians write about this stage in the development of Schenectady they will say that this administration cared about the people, and the people had confidence in it and supported it."

Gazette reporters Bill Buell and Jeff Wilkin contributed to this article.

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