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In final days before primary, Troy council president candidate alleges unfair treatment

Troy City Council Chambers
Dave Lucas
Troy City Council Chambers

A citywide primary is set for Tuesday in Troy where Democratic voters will chose a candidate for city council president. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, the contentious primary is between two sitting members of the city council.

Unlike the other six members of the city council, Troy’s city council president is elected in a citywide vote.

The Democratic line this November will come down to either Sue Steele or Emily Menn.

Now in her second term, Steele, of District 3, chairs the city council’s Democratic caucus. Menn, of District 4, is in her first term on the council.

On the eve of early voting, the race got a jolt earlier this month when the Times Union detailed more than $200,000 in unpaid property taxes and fees from Menn’s business.

Menn, a landlord whose company manages 10 properties, told WAMC her business took a significant hit due to unpaid rents during the pandemic.

“Have I gone through hard times? Absolutely. I'm not alone. But I'm not afraid. I can solve that problem. And I'm not afraid to help my community and serve my community. And I'm not afraid of having a primary and they are losing their minds,” said Menn.

Steele told WAMC the unpaid fees make Menn unfit for office.

“I think the voters will make the decision and the right decision that she is not qualified, that her own personal fiscal mismanagement makes her not trustworthy with city finances,” said Steele.

Steele says Menn “changed her mind” on a bid for council president after Menn first told city Democrats she would remain in District 4.

Menn tells WAMC she informed Steele and the city Democratic committee about the tax debt before announcing that she would run for council president.

“She knew. I told her that. So the fact that she's acting all shocked and surprised, is to me theater,” said Menn.

Menn added that she did not specify the amount that she owes, but said she had a plan to sell a building and use the money to pay the back taxes.

In the June 14th Times Union story, Steele called the back taxes “appalling and astounding.” The District 3 Democrat told WAMC she thought Menn owed far less.

"I'm told when she was interviewed by the Democratic committee, she disclosed that she owed $29,000, and that she intended to pay it. That's not the case, as we see now. She owes considerably more than that.”

Menn thinks she’s being attacked by the city’s Democratic committee chair, James Quinn. In a text message exchange with Menn on March 1st, Quinn, who accused Menn of f-ing “over the party,” asks Menn:

“Am I telling [the Times Union] about your tax debt or are you?”

Quinn did not respond to multiple messages left by WAMC. Menn also alleges favoritism by the Rensselaer County Board of Elections.

Menn shared with WAMC an email exchange with Democratic BOE Commissioner Mary Sweeney. In the conversation also dated March 1st, three days before the committee made its endorsements, Menn asked if the BOE would assist candidates with elections paperwork. The city councilor wrote:

“For Saturday, will all candidates who have submitted applications have printed petitions for distribution since the City Committee has not yet voted on endorsements?” wrote Menn.

Sweeney responded first, explaining that petitions handed out on March 4th would be for endorsed candidates and that those not getting the endorsement from the party’s committee would “have to get their own petitions made up.”

In a follow-up message, Sweeney wrote:

“The BOE has always made up the petitions for party endorsed candidates. If an independent candidate wants to petition, they will have to get their petitions made,” wrote Sweeney.

Menn says that practice is unfair.

“What bothered me was if you're preparing materials that has a dollar value associated, it may not be a lot, but it's time, it's staff time. It's money. It's expertise. And if you're preparing materials for some candidates, why aren't you doing it for all candidates?” said Menn.

Multiple messages were also left for Commissioner Sweeney. Steele said she could not speak for the BOE, but added:

“All I can say is that they've been very cooperative for the decades that I've ever had to deal with them. And I think they would be equally offended at the insinuation that they are playing favorites,” said Steele.

Republican Brad Lewis is also running for city council president. Current city council president Carmella Mantello is running on the GOP line for mayor this November. Democratic Mayor Patrick Madden is leaving office after the limit of two terms.

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