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Schenectady Mayoral Primary: McCarthy sees city’s revitalization as team effort

Schenectady Mayoral Primary: McCarthy sees city’s revitalization as team effort

Schenectady Mayoral Primary: McCarthy sees city’s revitalization as team effort
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy announces that he's running for a third term in City Hall on April 9.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city has reached an inflection point.

But all signs are pointing in the right direction.

“I think we’ve put in place a fairly impressive record,” said McCarthy. “We’ve stabilized the finances of the city, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in crime and there’s an unprecedented level of economic development.”

The mayor is framing his bid for a third term around three broad concepts:
An equitable economic development strategy that he said has directed hundreds of millions into downtown and the city’s neighborhoods alike; addressing the city’s glut of blighted properties and promoting home ownership through the HOMES Program, which McCarthy holds up as an innovative model for how post-industrial cities can turn around a surplus of housing stock. The third is Smart Cities, McCarthy’s effort to modernize how the city delivers services through the use of technology.

The progress marks a sharp reversal from just a decade ago, he said.

McCarthy attributes what he has called a “renaissance” to a broader coalition of team players, including the county, Schenectady City School District and Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.

Also: McCalmon eyes 'people-powered' approach in bid for City Hall, June 24, 2019

“Everybody is doing their part to create an atmosphere that urges people to look at opportunities, to look at potential return on investment and it’s actually happening,” he said.

Under his tenure, four years of consecutive tax breaks have resulted in a property tax reduction of 6.5 percent since 2015, he said. The city finished 2018 with a $1.8 million budget surplus.

SMART CITY
McCarthy, 63, has been endorsed by the City Democratic Committee and faces a Democratic primary challenge from Thearse McCalmon, an educator, on June 25.

While McCalmon has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, McCarthy is also waging a write-in campaign for that ballot line.

If McCalmon wins either line, the race will be decided on Nov. 5. If not, the race effectively ends. 
McCarthy, a former city councilman (and later president) who spent his career working as an investigator in the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, was first elected to the position in 2011 and won re-election in 2015, both times against Republican Roger Hull.

If re-elected, McCarthy would be the first mayor to win three consecutive terms since Frank Duci, a Republican first elected in 1972.

He said he will continue to prioritize economic development if afforded a third term.

The city’s day-to-day challenges, he said, include continuing to keep costs under control for some of the city’s largest departments, including police and fire.

McCarthy has made the Smart Cities initiative, which he has described as leveraging technology to offer a broad “matrix of options” in delivering government services, a centerpiece of his ambitions.

The city is currently working with National Grid to swap out as many as 4,500 traditional street lights with LED technology.

At the same time, McCarthy also wants to use the real estate on those poles for other purposes.

Officials aim to arrive at a decision on the precise technology “soon,” said McCarthy.

CODES QUESTIONS
While the mayor is presiding over an Electric City rebound, there have also been challenges to his leadership — including the fatal Jay Street fire that killed four people in 2015.

A Schenectady County grand jury report determined “numerous failures” by the city Code Enforcement office “directly contributed to the deaths and injuries.”

As a result, McCarthy brought oversight of several departments under the public safety commissioner.

But even those reforms have hit a speed bump with Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens’ abrupt retirement and reversal earlier this spring, which saw him return to the job in a pared down capacity.

Also: McCalmon eyes 'people-powered' approach in bid for City Hall, June 24, 2019

Reforms are ongoing, McCarthy acknowledged, and the city is continuing to roll out technology to update record-keeping and ensure better accountability as part of a “systemic approach” to correct deficiencies.

And while he believes his administration has taken a firm line in combating blight, McCarthy said ridding the city of derelict properties requires buy-in from the public.

Despite the good intentions of property owners, the mayor said many fail to invest in their buildings.

That lack of investment paired with limited financial resources can be problematic, particularly when they draw on city resources.

“It challenges the community, and we continue to deal with those problematic and distressed properties,” McCarthy said. “We’re doing a good job, but I know it’s something we need to continue to do more on.”

 

HIGH EXPECTATIONS
McCarthy’s administration has also been dogged by accusations of bullying, low morale and high turnover.

While he said turnover can be attributed to new employment opportunities, he doesn’t dispute that he runs a tight ship and has high expectations.

He’s fond of telling staff “we solve problems, we don’t create them.”

He categorized his management style as “a little bit removed,” giving broad discretion to department heads and bureau heads.”

Also: McCalmon eyes 'people-powered' approach in bid for City Hall, June 24, 2019

“I expect them to maintain high standards and always look for ways to do things better and more efficiently,” he said.

“What I’ve learned is we have expectations where things are going to happen quickly,” he said. “I’ve learned that to better pace expectations and goals because it is government. It’s not necessarily the most nimble. How do you manage that and still keep people focused on the prize at the end? We’re going to get there, it just may not be as quick as you would like or I would like. And it is going to happen.”

 

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BIO BOX

Gary McCarthy
Age: 63
Education: Linton High School, Class of 1974. Schenectady County Community College (A.A.) with further studies at University at Albany.
Occupation: Mayor
Family: Wife, Caroline Boardman and two cats: Misty and Captain

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