SCHENECTADY — Schenectady mayoral candidate Thearse McCalmon has taken her campaign to a national audience with a recent appearance on "The Young Turks," the progressive online political program.
McCalmon largely stuck to her stump speech during the 11-minute segment on “The Conversation” last Thursday, criticizing rising housing costs and gentrification as evidence that recent economic developments in the city have largely skirted lower-income city residents.
“Schenectady is suffering from economic disunity,” McCalmon said.
McCalmon, a teacher and activist, is waging a Democratic primary campaign against two-term Mayor Gary McCarthy on June 25.
The appearance on the left-leaning program, which airs on YouTube, marks her most high-profile event to date since launching her campaign Feb. 18.
McCalmon also contended economic benefits from Rivers Casino & Resort haven't trickled down to city residents.
City officials should have forged an agreement for fixed payments and not a percentage based upon casino revenues, a fluctuating number McCalmon claims results in fiscal unpredictability.
“Now we have this casino and we’re literally betting on that success to pay our bills,” McCalmon said.
She criticized the lack of a defined community benefits package that would have mandated that a sizable portion of union jobs would have to be filled by Schenectady residents.
McCalmon, a former director of programs at the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, also wants Schenectady to become a sanctuary city, a designation which would allow the city to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement actions.
Undocumented residents are less likely to report crimes due to fear of being deported, she said.
“Not only will it make them safer, but make the rest of the city safer,” McCalmon said.
McCalmon also contended McCarthy is too cozy with the real estate crowd, criticizing past campaign contributions from limited liability corporations.
Legal at the time, unlimited contributions from LLCs are now outlawed after the state Legislature closed the loophole in January.
McCalmon called on McCarthy to donate $38,975 in LLC donations to charity.
The mayor has said he won’t return the contributions, noting he was proud of his support and their legality at the time.
The clip, which the network named "Mayoral Candidate on Battling Gentrification," has since been posted online and has garnered 7,198 views.
TOWN HALL PLANNED
McCarthy, who has been endorsed by the city Democratic Committee, officially launched his campaign for a third term last month.
He cited efforts to bring city-owned distressed properties under control and the ongoing expansion of affordable housing projects in low-income neighborhoods as key accomplishments during his tenure.
The mayor pointed at $100 million in active downtown projects and $150 million in investments in city neighborhoods as evidence of an equitable economic development strategy.
He has previously pushed back against McCalmon's casino criticisms, questioning why she would criticize newly-created unionized jobs for city residents.
If elected to a third term in November, he said, he would make implementation of the Smart Cities initiative a key priority.
The Working Families Party voted to support McCalmon, but McCarthy has left the door open to waging a write-in primary campaign — angering party officials in the process.
McCalmon’s campaign said to expect a people-powered effort with extensive community outreach, attending farmers markets, local events and house parties, among other events.
A town hall has been scheduled for May 16 at the Schenectady Public Library, with two additional events in the planning process.
While her campaign has not yet released fundraising totals, McCalmon has received several high-profile endorsements recently, including from former President Barack Obama's half-sister, Dr. Maya Soetoro-ng, co-founder of Ceeds of Peace and director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii.
And she was endorsed by Dr. Steven A. Leibo, Spector professor of international history & politics at The Sage Colleges, on Wednesday, who called her "an extraordinarily socially conscious person who would represent Schenectady well as its leader."
The contest has been relatively muted so far.
But McCalmon has recently been spotted attending City Council meetings and has sought to inject herself into the public discussion.
Following news coverage of poorly-maintained city-owned properties — including the trash-strewn front yard of a dilapidated home on Francis Avenue — McCalmon went and cleaned up the yard with campaign staff and one of her children.
McCalmon said properties wouldn’t be left to deteriorate if they were located in more affluent neighborhoods.
“These are peppered all around the city,” she said.
McCarthy criticized McCalmon's clean-up effort as needlessly duplicative, noting that property is slated for demolition.
“That’s like putting Band-Aid on cancer,” he said.
SCHENECTADY IN SPOTLIGHT
"The Young Turks" network is a popular jumping off point for progressive hopefuls.
Past candidates who have appeared on the network have included Dylan Ratigan and Patrick Nelson, Democrats who unsuccessfully sought the 2018 Democratic nomination to take on Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, in New York’s 21st Congressional District.
But McCalmon’s appearance wasn’t a slam dunk.
The candidate’s microphone was spotty and often cut out during the appearance, and viewers appeared to lose interest:
A counter displayed 4,670 people were watching at the beginning of the segment compared to 3,574 at its conclusion.
The previous segment, in which hosts discussed Democratic presidential candidate (and Schenectady native) Andrew Yang challenging fellow candidate Beto O’Rourke to a skateboard contest, was watched by about 8,200 viewers.
The network as a whole has 4.3 million subscribers.
The program also introduced Schenectady’s unusual spelling and pronunciation to a nationwide audience.
“Her city sounds like a medical procedure,” wrote a viewer in the online chatroom.
Another wrote: “Took me ten minutes to try and find the spelling.”
Host Brooke Thomas said she practiced the city's pronunciation before the program.
“We have Thearse McCalmon running for mayor, and please bear with me, of Schenectady. Did I get that right?”
McCalmon said she did.
“I practiced and you still have a moment when you blank,” Thomas said.