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Election season starts early in Schenectady with GOP challenger emerging to three-term Democratic mayor

Schenectady GOP Chair Matt Nelligan has stepped forward in a bid to end Democratic Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy's long tenure.
Composite image by Dave Lucas
Schenectady GOP Chair Matt Nelligan has stepped forward in a bid to end Democratic Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy's long tenure.

In what is typically a quiet time of year in local politics, the leader of Schenectady’s revived Republican Party announced a campaign for mayor this week.

A challenger has stepped forward in a bid to end Democratic Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy's long tenure.

Matt Nelligan became chair of the city’s jumpstarted GOP committee in February. McCarthy has served since 2011. While he hasn’t formally announced a bid for a fourth term, McCarthy expects to run again.

Nelligan says the city is ready for a change.

"I'm looking back over the last year and see a mayor who approved a budget that cut police funding in the midst of a 20% spike in crime," Nelligan said. "Someone who continues to pour money into expensive downtown restaurants and lost, at the expense of our neighborhoods. And somebody who really isn't, frankly, taking the threats of climate change seriously enough. We have a couple of, we have a solar array, we have some electric cars, we don’t have charging stations throughout the city, we don't have solar panels on every building, which is city building, which we ought to have. He plays a lot of lip service to that as a challenge, but does very little about it.”

McCarthy says Nelligan’s policies would be a step back for Schenectady.

"His position last fall on things where he supported Zeldin for governor and the Trump faction of the Republican Party was there should be no ARPA money," McCarthy said. "So we would have had to, absent that assistance from Congress, we would have had to lay off police officers, reduce firefighters and make drastic cuts in municipal services.”

Nelligan insists he could better deal with crime, the economy and the environment. McCarthy isn't fazed by the challenger.

"He's got a tough job leading the Republican Party, the organization that once had some stature, has been really ineffective for over two decades, hasn't elected anybody," said McCarthy. "And some of the issues they've taken just aren't in tune with what I believe the community wants or needs. The whole, you know, with the last race, he was active at the state level trying to get Zeldin on the Independence Party. That's under investigation in Albany where they took the petitions and just Xeroxed some of them to try and get the required number in place and the Republican leadership they are part of that. His tactic has to be take the good message and the good record that's happening in Schenectady and somehow twist it and put a negative spin on it.”

Nelligan said he would focus on issues of crime, inflation, housing costs, high taxes, and school performance.

“The mayor keeps saying things are really good here and that all people want to focus on the negative," said Nelligan. "But I would say it's time for the mayor to take off his rose colored glasses and start looking at the city as it is, instead of looking out his window from his office and looking at downtown bars and restaurants and concluding that therefore the city is healthy. The city is not healthy. The city needs a lot of help.”

McCarthy has often touted the revival of the city’s downtown, anchored by the construction of the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, as well as neighborhood investment.

“The $30 million upgrade to our wastewater system, both our pump stations, North Ferry Street and the wastewater treatment plant on Anthony Street, benefits everybody in the city of Schenectady and surrounding communities," McCarthy said. "It was a major investment we’re still doing some of the final touches on that. But that is something that impacts everybody daily. It positions the city for sustainability. And it allows for expansion of the commercial base when businesses, where you look at other places around the country, they don't have the water resources that Schenectady has. And that's part of our strength.”

McCarthy says he’ll make a formal announcement about seeking a fourth term in January.

“I look forward to taking my record to the people and having a good robust discussion,” McCarthy said.

The last Republican mayor of the Electric City was Al Jurczynski two decades ago, but Nelligan contends McCarthy is a weak incumbent.

“The city has passed the buck, said residents should fix their own sidewalks, which I think is a cop out. I would start with that," said Nelligan. "The second thing I would do is immediately hire additional police officers and create a bonus program to attract more police officers and certainly support our police officers more directly than the current administration does. Because you can't fight crime without more without more police on the streets. So I would do that. Third thing I would do on public safety is I would implement and ask the state legislature to give us speed cameras for every single school intersection, we've got a speeding epidemic in the city.”

Both candidates say they are open to debates or public forums. It’s not clear if McCarthy will face a Democratic opponent.

According to the Schenectady County Board of Elections, there are 33,439 registered voters in the city. Democrats outnumber Republicans 16,668 to 4,938. 623 voters are registered Conservatives, 388 are with the Working Families Party, and 10,822 are not registered with any political party.

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.