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Amsterdam Mayoral Hopefuls Meet In Debate

Challenger Michael Cinquanti defeated first-term Mayor Michael Villa
Challenger Michael Cinquanti and Mayor Michael Villa

The candidates for mayor of Amsterdam, New York debated Tuesday night for the first time. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, the focus was on the Mohawk Valley city’s dire financial situation.

Recently, the New York State Comptroller’s office listed Amsterdam as the most fiscally stressed city in the state. The budget was the main topic of conversation in the debate between Republican Mayor Mike Villa, who is seeking a second term, and challenger Michael Cinquanti, who is running on the Democratic, Green, Conservative, Working Families, and Independence lines.

In the debate hosted and broadcast by local AM station WCSS, Villa asked the audience to consider where the city is now, versus four years ago before he took office. 

“We inherited a disaster. And we effectively took action 26 days after taking office,” said Villa.

Villa spent time discussing how the city is awaiting a signature from Governor Andrew Cuomo on legislation to refinance the city’s debt. He also mentioned the $35 million in grants the city has attracted during his term, including the $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative state funding.

Cinquanti cast himself as a businessman with the managerial experience to right the city’s finances.

“There’s a lot of those improvements that need to be made in our city government. We need to run it more like a business,” said Cinquanti.

Cinquanti’s plan would be to look at each city department for potential savings.

“We would track each budget, each department’s budget on a monthly basis instead of an annual basis. I would make sure that when variances existed in those monthly budgets we attacked them at that point in time and didn’t wait until the end of the year to do it,” said Cinquanti.

Cinquanti did not give specifics on areas he thought he’d be able to cut – saying it would take “a few months” of his strategy to identify ways to trim the general fund budget.

Villa defended the tax increases the city has seen in recent years, and contends the city budget has already been cut to the bone. He said the only way to reduce the general fund budget would be to eliminate firefighters and police officers, which is he is reluctant to do.

“When you’re talking layoffs or freezes of wherever, you’re talking public safety,” said Villa.

Villa warned that without the city taking the steps it has, it could risk a state takeover.

Looking to the future, Villa said his vision of Amsterdam includes more housing for medium-income earners. He pointed to the growth of businesses along the Route 5S corridor, including 475 potential jobs coming from a Dollar General distribution center.

“We have to provide affordable workforce housing. It’s imperative it’s the way we are going to grow our base. It’s the way that Amsterdam is going to see a future,” said Villa.

Cinquanti addressed housing during a question on absentee landlords, saying he’d like to see the city take more steps to rehabilitate existing housing rather than demolition. Cinquanti has also advocated for a long-term master plan for the city.

“I’d like to set up a system where we identify all of the properties, put them in a master plan, and use different solutions for different properties,” said Cinquanti.

In addressing absentee landlords, Villa said the city is working with surrounding counties to review code violations, and that an outside attorney was hired to handle code enforcement in court.

In the end, Villa said over his first term, his administration has moved the city in the right direction. 

“The state does not give $10 million in DRI money to a city that’s going in the wrong direction. I can guarantee you that. And you do not get national recognition for the best public space in America because you’re going in the wrong direction,” said Villa.

Cinquanti cast himself as having the fiscal and managerial experience to be mayor.

“You need to be able to manage the money once it gets here. Now we got $10 million in the DRI grant. It’s going to be about $35, $40 million to complete those projects. And there’s a lot of detail. There’s going to be a lot of follow through on that. I believe I’m more qualified to do that,” said Cinquanti.

Election Day is November 5th.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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