Sottile announced in January that he would not seek another term in office, closing out a nine-year administration and setting the stage for the first open-seat mayoral election since 1989. The prospect of a shot at City Hall without having to battle an incumbent Mayor has attracted interest from a small army of would-be candidates, ranging from well-known political names to candidates whose odds would best be described by the term “quixotic.”
But the race has picked up steam with official announcements by aldermen Hayes Clement (D-Ward 9), Ron Polacco (R-Ward 6), as well as former Ward 6 Republican alderman and 2007 mayoral candidate Richard Cahill Jr. and city Assistant Corporation Counsel Shayne Gallo, a Democrat. Former school board president and onetime city GOP committee chair Jean Jacobs announced that she would seek the mayor’s office in a Jan. 7 press release, and Kingston Trolley Museum director Steve Ladin announced his bid on Jan. 26.
The announcements by the major-party candidates set the stage for a eight-month debate over the direction of the city as a shrinking tax base, deep cuts in municipal services and shrinking state aid has many Kingston residents wondering what, if anything, can be done to stop the slide which began with the 2008 financial crisis.
Cahill, who ran unsuccessfully against Sottile in 2007, is early off the mark this time. On Feb. 25, the 39-year-old attorney and former chair of the Kingston Republican Committee formally announced his candidacy on WKNY radio. Cahill is the only candidate in the race who has run for citywide office. He said that he’s learned from his mistakes in the 2007 campaign when he ran on a platform that focused heavily on the perceived shortcomings of his opponent.
“I did a great job telling people what was wrong with the city,” said Cahill. “I did not do as well explaining what I would do differently and what my program would be. This time I will be focusing exclusively on that.”
To that end, Cahill has put forth a platform that calls for the creation of an economic recovery team headed by the alderman at large, which would tap local talent to find new sources of economic development. Cahill also promised to even out the skewed homestead/non-homestead tax rate which places an outsize share of the city’s tax rate on commercial property owners. Cahill said that he would introduce a plan to level the rate over a period of years to avoid causing a sudden spike in residential tax rates. Cahill’s program also includes seeking more state and federal grants to help fight crime, an internal review of all city departments to maximize efficiency and looking for ways to streamline the approval process for developers who want to invest in Kingston.
“I have a plan,” said Cahill. “So far the most I’ve heard (from other candidates) are platitudes about wanting to cut taxes and cut crime.”
Cahill’s potential opponent in a Republican primary, Ron Polacco, is serving his second term as Ward 6 Alderman. During his tenure, Polacco has consistently voted against budgets containing tax increases. But, unlike his fellow Republican council member Majority Leader Andi Turco-Levin (R-Ward 1), Polacco did not put forth detailed budget-cutting proposals during the debate on city spending. In a March 2 speech kicking off his campaign, Polacco did offer one concrete measure to rein in spending with a call for zero-based budgeting. Under Polacco’s plan, department heads would start from scratch annually justifying every dollar of spending. Polacco said that the system would force department heads to look for efficiency right from the start.
“Creating a new budget from scratch as opposed to … using last year’s budget as a starting point and adding from there … department heads will focus on cutting their budget rather than protecting the fat they have hidden in their budget,” said Polacco.
Polacco has also opposed reform of the homestead/non-homestead tax rate, a position that he touted in his first campaign speech.
Jacobs, a familiar presence at community groups ranging from the Kingston school board to the Guardian Angels, announced her candidacy in a January press release but has not made a formal public announcement since. Jacobs, who’s running on a platform which stresses public safety and fiscal restraint, fought a bruising battle with Cahill and other members of the Kingston Republican Committee after she was ousted as chairwoman and replaced by veteran Republican politician Tony Sinagra.
In an unusual move, Jacobs, Polacco and Cahill announced their candidacy in advance of a meeting by the Kingston Republican Committee’s nominating committee, which is set to make a formal recommendation later this month. The committee will make their recommendation based on interviews held late last year with Polacco, Cahill, Jacobs and Turco-Levin, who has expressed interest in the race but has not made a formal announcement. That could set up a GOP primary battle in September. Polacco was non-committal when asked whether he was prepared to fight a primary in the event that he did not receive the committee’s endorsement or the party nomination at its June convention. But Cahill said that he hoped that the city’s outnumbered Republicans would present a united front in November.
“I hope that when all is said and done, people won’t go on to primaries just because they don’t like who the party picks,” said Cahill. “This is a true opportunity for change and it would be a shame to lose it because somebody decided that their own ego was more important than the future of the City of Kingston.”
Old Kingston vs. New Kingston
For Democrats, the race shaping up between Clement and Gallo offers a study in contrasts, in terms of background if not platform. Clement, a Georgia-born former magazine publisher and media executive was a relative newcomer to Kingston (he moved here in 2005) and government when he was elected Ward 9 Alderman in 2009. Gallo, meanwhile, is a Kingston native — brother of the late mayor T.R. Gallo and cut his teeth in municipal government while serving as the city’s director of civil service and personnel in the mid-1980s. He has also served as a labor relations attorney for municipal unions and, as assistant corporation counsel, written legislation and prosecuted code violations under the Sottile administration.
Both men are touting their background as an asset in their quest to become the next mayor. In his campaign kickoff speech on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon, Clement said that he would put his business and marketing skills to good use to expand Kingston’s tax base.
“I am the only candidate in the race who has actual, firsthand experience creating jobs and selling things to businesses,” said Clement.
In his remarks, Clement laid out four key goals; cracking down on crime and blight in Midtown, cutting taxes by reining in spending, investing in quality of life enhancements like a citywide rail trail network to make the city more attractive to new residents and businesses, and establishing a economic development team focused on attracting small businesses and entrepreneurs as well as large-scale development.
“We need to make sure that no one who’s thinking about starting a business here will get back on the Thruway without having every question and every possible objection they have to the City of Kingston worked out to the best of City Hall’s ability,” said Clement.
Along with his resume, Clement said that he would run based on strong support from fellow members of the council’s Democratic caucus. With the exception of Alderman-at-Large Jim Noble, who has remained neutral in the race so far, all of the council’s Democrats either turned out for the campaign kickoff or expressed support for his candidacy.
Gallo has not made a formal campaign announcement yet because, he said, he was waiting to see whether Noble would enter the race. But, following Noble’s announcement that he would seek another term as alderman-at-large Gallo said that he was definitely in.
“I’m running because I feel that I have more experience and understanding of municipal government than anyone else in this race,” said Gallo. “Everything that I have done in government over the years lends itself to the job.”