No one would ever describe Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy as flashy.
When asked to articulate his vision for the city, he frames his accomplishments in terms of the sale of distressed properties and return on the dollar and leveraging public dollars and fund balances and annual tax reductions and investment in downtown and the neighborhoods.
He touts the benefits of better data collection on managing properties, saying that record-keeping is still flawed.
There’s a perceptible uplift in his voice when he’s asked about the Smart Cities program, which sends him into a lengthy recitation of the proposals and the potential benefits of expanding technology to the city of Schenectady.
If you ask him where he wants the city to be in four years, he says he wants to see signs of improvement in the same areas he’s been working on the past eight years. No grand plans. Just steady progress.
In baseball parlance, he’s the guy who bunts for a single, steals second, takes third on a passed ball and scores on a sacrifice fly.
Leave the home runs to the other guys. This is a long game, and McCarthy is taking it one base at a time.
Politicians often get blamed for the status of their communities when things go bad. So if one looks at where Schenectady was when McCarthy took office eight years ago compared with where it is now, he should get at least some of the credit for the revival.
He didn’t bring the Mohawk Harbor project and casino to the scarred former Alco site. But he led the government that facilitated the development, and he’s pushed for legislation to keep it successful.
He alone didn’t revitalize downtown. But he’s worked closely with the City Council, Metroplex and private developers to facilitate the growth.
He’s slowly been taking on the city’s challenges, steadily addressing the problem of blighted properties, working to bring down the crime rate and addressing the problems with the building and codes offices by restructuring the way properties are inspected and cited.
Not everyone is enamored with him, of course.
Progress in the city hasn’t proceeded at a pace that many believe it should.
And while the downtown has seen revitalization, those improvements have been slower to find the neighborhoods outside the heart of the city.
Taxes have come down lately, but Schenectady residents are still more heavily taxed compared with many of their neighbors.
Not everyone loved the job he did helping bring the casino here, believing the city could have gotten a better benefits package. But it’s here and the tax benefits are helping the city.
And under McCarthy, the city has been scrutinized heavily by state officials for its lax code-enforcement over the years, which has shown recent improvements following the fatal Jay Street fire.
But the overall body of work speaks to someone who’s steadily chipping away at the city’s problems.
His opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary is newcomer Thearse McCalmon, a BOCES teacher, mother of four and activist with a Horatio Alger life story and a big heart for people in need.
She believes she can be an agent of change, particularly for people most in need.
But running a municipality like Schenectady isn’t the same as running a family. And while coming in as an outsider, and therefore not having developed bad habits, can be an asset, so too can experience working in government, managing budgets, negotiating contracts and dealing with developers, state officials and residents on a daily basis.
McCalmon hasn’t nearly the experience McCarthy brought to the job eight years ago, much less the experience he’s gained in seven years as mayor.
Rather than serve the city as mayor, McCalmon could better serve as an advocate for the homeless and disadvantaged, run for City Council or serve on another municipal board, and bring her infectious energy and personal experiences to bear on making the improvements she seeks.
When Democrats go to the polls on Tuesday to pick their candidate for mayor in November, they should stick with the person with the most experience and the steady record of success.
That’s Mayor Gary McCarthy.