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Republicans in Albany, Schenectady hope to revive moribund local parties

Alicia Purdy
Dave Lucas
Alicia Purdy says after more than a century of Democratic rule, Albany is in need of some serious Republican leadership.

In recent years the Republican Party has been hard pressed to make a dent in the cities of Albany and Schenectady. Now, officials are hoping new chairs can revitalize the local GOP.

A New York State Assembly candidate who unsuccessfully challenged Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan in a three-way race last year has been selected to lead the city’s Republican committee. Alicia Purdy says after more than a century of Democratic rule, Albany is in need of some serious Republican leadership.

"The vision really is not a whole lot different than it's been in the past, in that we are here to fight back and we're here to make something better for the people of Albany," said Purdy. "I mean, obviously, 100 years has been a complete and utter fail in the leadership in Albany. Crime is bigger than ever we've got and it's getting worse. The blight is terrible, all those kinds of things. And so one of the things I learned running for mayor is that people are much more inclined to be to cross lines when their everyday livability matters."

Purdy is challenging Democratic state Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district.

Schenectady re-energized its city Republican Committee earlier this year under new chair Matt Nelligan, who says the GOP has become a full player in city politics, something not seen since the early 2000s.

"We reformed the party in February of this year," said Nelligan. "Since then, we've done a number of things. We've gone from zero members of our committee in terms of official committeemen, to over 30, which is the most we've had here in a decade. We involved ourselves and endorsed two school board candidates, Vivian Parsons, and Cathy Lewis in the school board elections. Both were successful, both won actually by wide margins over their opponents who were really coming at it from a more far left perspective."

For years, Democrats have dominated elected citywide positions in both municipalities, where the current City Councils are all-Democratic. In Albany County, voter enrollment records show nearly 107,000 registered Democrats and 38,000 registered Republicans.

Schenectady County figures show about 42,000 Democrats versus 24,000 Republicans.

Albany's last Republican mayor was James Watt, who left office in 1921. In Schenectady Al Jurczynski served from 1996 to 2003.

Nelligan says Schenectady Republicans have built a strong base, advancing a platform called "Schenectady Renaissance" focusing on quality of life issues. Democratic Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy recently announced his intent to run for an unprecedented fourth term. Nelligan believes McCarthy can be defeated.

"Gary is an extremely weak incumbent, to go back to his first election in 2011 against Roger Hull, the former president of Union College around the Republican line," Nelligan said. "Gary barely survived that election by about 100 or so votes. And a recount, he barely survived, by the skin of his teeth. And a primary the last cycle around against Thearse McCalmon. We believe that extremely, we can come in, and he's got a, you know, frankly, a bad record here in the city. And so we hope to take advantage of that, not just by calling out his failures, but by pointing out the ways in which we would be more successful."

Purdy adds locally, the Grand Old Party is shedding its Grand Old Image.

"We've got a lot of people who are, you know, very off put by sort of the, the classic, you know, white patriarchy, an old, stodgy old man cigar and brandy image that the Republican Party has had," Purdy said. "But that is about to change. And really, we're on the cusp of something new, because the number of people who were mobilized and energized not only in Albany through my campaign, but there was a lot of other elections in that cycle, that people began to see we need a greater infrastructure at the grassroots level, and they were willing to step up and do something."

Citing a "new level of diversity," Purdy and Nelligan argue today's GOP looks very different. Both are confident the new push will help bring more voters to the polls on election day.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.