AMSTERDAM — The Michael Cinquanti era in Amsterdam began Wednesday in front of a standing-room only crowd inside City Hall.
Cinquanti was sworn in as mayor by Montgomery County Court Judge Felix Catena, who also administered the oath of office for the newly elected members of the Common Council.
Cinquanti began his inaugural speech with a story from his family's history in the city. He said 80 years ago his grandfather used to walk to work from a broom factory located at the corner of West Main and Pine streets, and he used to stop at a West Main Street bakery owned by Catena's grandfather.
"My family ate Catena's bread for fifty years, unfortunately, when I stand sideways you can still see it," he joked. "What an honor it is for me to be sworn in today by the grandson of that bread maker. I feel pretty confident, Felix, that our grandfathers and our dads are smiling down upon us today."
Cinquanti, a Democrat endorsed by multiple minor parties, including the Conservative Party, takes over the city government in Amsterdam during a time when the state Comptroller's Office has declared it the most fiscally stressed city in New York state. The city has an estimated $8.4 million accumulated budget deficit, built up over the past decade, a time during which the city had chaotic and inaccurate bookkeeping practices until changes made by under Cinquanti's predecessor as mayor, Michael Villa, and current City Controller Matthew Agresta.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, introduced Cinquanti. He said he first became aware of Cinquanti when Cinquanti was serving on the Greater Amsterdam School Board.
"I've known Mike as a tremendous activist in our community," Tonko said. "Wherever he goes he leaves his imprint, one of compassion, of concern, and one that wants to make an even better community ... so as we go forward, whether it's waterfront development, the innovation economy, the expression of the neighborhoods of this great community, the building of the opportunity for work and workforce training — he will be there, and he will work with the city council to make it all happen."
Waterfront development has been a controversial issue in Amsterdam in December. In the final month of Villa's tenure, the fate of the 3.3-acre southside Mohawk Riverfront site of the former Chalmers Knitting Mill was one of the most hotly debated issues in the city. For two years Villa, along with Deputy Mayor James Martuscello, who serves as alderman for the 5th Ward, had led unanimous bipartisan support for a proposed $34 million 120-unit affordable housing project with a 300-person banquet facility to be built by KCG Development and its local development partner, Saratoga Springs-based DEW Ventures.
The project had been stalled, waiting for New York state to grant the developers $18 million in affordable housing tax credits that would require rent controls — keyed to what is deemed affordable for households making $58,000 per year — for 80 percent of the rental units over a 30-year period.
In May, KCG Development was denied the tax credits in a competitive process, and it asked the Common Council in December to extend the company's purchase option to enable it to apply again for another round of credits, expected to be awarded in March.
Martuscello, who represents the area where the project would be built, balked at another in what has been more than a year's worth of extensions with the city waiving most of the extension fees. Without Democrat Martuscello, only Republican 2nd Ward Alderman Paul Ochal maintained his support.
KCG Development indicated it would likely end its pursuit of the project if the city wouldn't extend its purchase option, but then reversed course and wired the city $297,000 Tuesday morning to buy the site.
The Common Council's organizational meeting was held following the swearing-in ceremony. During the meeting Cinquanti asked Agresta to compile a full report on all of the money KCG has paid to the city so far over the course of the multiyear development contract, which the independently elected Republican controller agreed to do.
Agresta said KCG Development had paid the city $8,000 previously before the lump payment toward the agreed-to property price of $300,0000.
Martuscello had cited a perceived lack of support from Tonko, Cinquanti and others as among his reasons for dropping support for continued extensions for KCG, although he said he is glad the company has purchased the property.
Tonko confirmed he has not written any letters in support of KCG Development's application for the federal affordable housing tax credits and he is skeptical of some aspects of the project. He said the property should be viewed as the most valuable in the city due in part to its proximity to the nationally award-winning Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge.
"I just think there's a better project that should be put at that site," Tonko said. "There are many empty nesters that want to relocate to the waterfront whose homes would then be tremendous assets to be purchased to build the community. I think the whole format should be in keeping with the comprehensive plan for the waterfront that was developed through much outreach and facility through community forums — that really shared a vision."
Cinquanti said KCG owns the property now, so all that remains to be seen is whether they will obtain the tax credits for the current project. He said he isn't sure yet at what value the two parcels involved in the purchase will be assessed for tax purposes.
The apartment project has a 30-year tax Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement with the city, Montgomery County and the Greater Amsterdam School District, but the PILOT kicks in only if the project is built.
Cinquanti said if the affordable housing project does not come to fruition he'd like to work with KCG to come up with a different project for the location.
Newly sworn-in Republican 4th Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula said although he gave a speech in defense of the KCG proposal at the Dec. 17 Common Council meeting, he now wants to take a more cautious approach.
"I was surprised when they came in at the last minute and paid the money," he said. "Since I wrote my speech, I researched the project a little more, and I want something there, but I just don't want to jump into anything."
NEW COUNCIL BUSINESS
The new Common Council unanimously approved reappointing all of the city department heads appointed by Villa in the final six months of his term, including Stefanie Lenkowicz as city clerk and Michael Clark as city engineer. Each was reappointed to a term "co-terminus with the mayor."
Clark had previously served as city engineer under Republican Mayor Joseph Emanuelle III. He did not attend the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
"He's on vacation," Cinquanti said during the meeting, when someone inquired where he was.
The seat normally reserved for the corporation counsel, the city's municipal lawyer, was empty during the meeting Wednesday.
Cinquanti said William Lorman is no longer being retained as corporation counsel. He said he's working on what he thinks will be a better solution for the city than hiring one city attorney.
"I want to make sure we're covered in terms of time and expertise, so I'm looking at creating something a little different, and I haven't been able to put the finishing touches on it," he said. "When I do, I think we'll have a more robust corporation counsel in the city. It will be more than one person, and hopefully that will work out better."
The council unanimously reappointed Martuscello as deputy mayor.
The council also approved a resolution stating, "all agreements entered into by the City of Amsterdam with various banking institutions for the purpose of depositing City Funds are confirmed and shall [sic] remained in full force and effect until rescinded or revoked by this council." The resolution did not reference specific banks.
Third Ward Alderwoman Irene Collins, a Democrat, asked Agresta about the banking resolution.
Agresta said most of the city's accounts are in Keybank, but not all of them.
"When I had first gotten here, besides Keybank, we had ... they had money within [First Niagara Bank], which was $160,000 spread out over seven or eight different accounts, the majority of that was taken out, but I left all of the accounts open in the event that we actually had the ability to utilize them, so there is still $5,000 total within those accounts, but that's it," he said.
Cinquanti promised the Common Council that he will be more up-front with information. Some members of the council at times during Villa's term complained of insufficient information and hastily called special and emergency meetings of the council.
"I'm going to get you information like you've never gotten before, so when you make a decision, you'll have the information you need before you, and if you don't, my door is always open," he said.