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New ideas vs. experience in Schenectady County legislature race

New ideas vs. experience in Schenectady County legislature race

Omar McGill to face off against Margaret “Peggy” King
New ideas vs. experience in Schenectady County legislature race
Peggy King, left, and Omar Sterling McGill.
Photographer: Marc Schultz (left); Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — City voters have a choice next week between new ideas and road-tested experience when selecting a county legislator for District 1. 

Newcomer Omar Sterling McGill is squaring off against incumbent Margaret "Peggy" King for the seat, which covers the city’s Stockade, Goose Hill, Bellevue and GE Realty Plot neighborhoods, as well as parts of downtown and Mont Pleasant.

Both candidates are Democrats, but McGill is running on the Working Families Party line after failing to get the nomination from the city Democratic Committee; King was ultimately appointed to the seat following the death of incumbent lawmaker Karen Johnson in June. 

The two are running to fill the unexpired two years of the veteran public servant’s term. 

The general election is Nov. 5. 

DIVERSITY V. EXPERIENCE

McGill, 29, works in the state Senate as a clerk. 

He pointed at his youth, community ties and experience working in the state Legislature as assets.

McGill, who is black, believes the 15-member county Legislature suffers from a lack of diversity — both ethnically and generationally — that hampers the body from fully connecting with the community. 

Blind spots arise, he said, when it comes to making informed decisions impacting millennials and small businesses. 

“You can’t be fully informed if not everyone is at that table,” McGill said. 

The Democratic-controlled Legislature includes three women, and the only black member is Legislator Philip Fields. 

King, 75, has decades of experience in local politics, having served on the City Council for 16 years and numerous nonprofit boards, including Habitat of Schenectady County, the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation.

She retired from SUNY Schenectady County Community College in 2010 after working there for nearly three decades.

King said she initially had no plans to return to public office, but was asked to reconsider by party officials after Johnson’s death. 

“I had the greatest respect for Karen,” King said. “She was a terrific person and so committed.”

King acknowledged the county Legislature could be more diverse, but also said it doesn’t affect policy-making. 

“I think diversity is something to always keep in mind,” King said. “But I think that experience is also valuable.”

Vote 2019: Your guide to Tuesday's elections

King said her decades of experience in public service have strengthened her role as a consensus-builder. 

“I listen well, I talk to people — I’m a consensus builder if I need to be, and I believe as working as a team,” King said.

The candidate said she doesn’t have a marquee concept underpinning her campaign, but wants to help continue the positive trajectory of the county’s economic revitalization and rebuilding neighborhoods in the city.

“I think [cooperation] has been so key and things are turning around for the city and county,” she said. “People working together.”

McGill, who graduated from Morehouse College and founded a nonprofit in college designed to bolster youth programming, acknowledged he lacks the institutional experience of his opponent.

But he’s had a seat at the table when a recent slate of progressive legislation was drafted and passed in the state Legislature, including laws to increase the state’s minimum wage, legalize upstate ride sharing and chisel away at the opioid epidemic.

“I may not have been the person voting ‘yes,’ but I was the person behind the scenes putting legislation together,” McGill said. “The fact that [King] has experience is great, but people want young people to get involved because we’re the next generation, and we’ve got to pave the way for the next generation.” 

ON THE ROAD

When it comes to policy-making, both agree the economic development that has buoyed downtown should be continued into the city’s neighborhoods. 

The candidates also agreed the county should explore savings by sharing services whenever possible, and be mindful of keeping property taxes low. 

McGill contends the spate of affordable housing being erected citywide may price some vulnerable residents out (and the definition of “affordable” itself, he said, could use some more clarity).

King said new units should be built citywide, not just clustered in one neighborhood.

“We’ve got a lot in Hamilton Hill with recent developments,” King said. “It may be a challenge to spread them about in different parts of the city.”

McGill said he will also push for full participation in the Complete Count Committees program ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census.

Participation will be critical in ensuring continued funding, including allocations for public school funding, he said. 

“It’s critical that everyone be counted so communities receive their fare share,” McGill said.

Despite the intra-party rift, McGill stressed his campaign isn’t about opposition.

“It’s not about tearing the party apart, and not about opposition,” he said. “It’s about opportunity.”

Both candidates have spent the past week going door-to-door and speaking with voters.

McGill has been getting a dose of firepower from City Councilman Vince Riggi, who canvassed with him last week in the city lawmaker’s home turf of Bellevue. 

“This is a good man,” Riggi told voter Elaine Pickett. “That’s why I’m going door to door with him.”

King canvassed on Saturday with Democrat incumbents Richard Ruzzo and Richard Patierne, both of whom are running unopposed for their District 1 seats.

At one point, the group ran into Working Families Party members campaigning for McGill moving in the opposite direction on Glenwood Boulevard. 

The group exchanged awkward small talk about early voting, which began that morning, and the future of fusion voting, or the ability of candidates to run on multiple ballot lines at once, which may be scrapped depending on the results of a state-convened panel studying public campaign finance reform. 

Both King and McGill will appear Thursday at 7 p.m. at a candidates forum at Steinmetz Park’s multi-purpose room sponsored by the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association.

A previous event sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Hon. Karen B. Johnson Schenectady County Public Library earlier this month allowed the candidates to outline their campaigns, but facilitated no direct engagement between the two. 

IN OTHER DISTRICTS

The city of Schenectady has six seats on the county Legislature. 

In addition to Ruzzo and Patierne, Democrats Gary Hughes and Jeffrey McDonald are running unopposed in District 2. 

In District 3, which covers Glenville, Scotia and Niskayuna, Democratic incumbents Thomas Constantine and Michelle Ostrelich, who was appointed to the seat after the death of Jim Buhrmaster in July, are up for re-election. 

Republican Juliano Febo is seeking that seat.

Vote 2019: Your guide to Tuesday's elections

Incumbent Sara Mae Pratt, a Democrat, is running against Republican Richard Fritz to fill an unexpired two-year term left open with the resignation of Rory Fluman to become county manager. Incumbent Democrat Tom Constantine is also up for re-election.

In District 4, which encompasses Duanesburg, Delanson, Princetown and Rotterdam, board chairman Anthony Jasenski Sr., a Democrat, and Brian McCarry, the board’s sole Republican, are seeking additional four-year terms. 

Republican Eric Hess and Matthew Martin, who is running on the Democratic and Conservative Party lines, are challenging them for the seats.

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