Shawn Morse, the Democratic mayor of Cohoes, New York, marked the beginning of his third year in office Thursday night with a State of the City address. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, Morse focused on the positives in the small upstate city.
Mayor Shawn Morse repeated a few phrases in his 2018 State of the City address to characterize his community: “excited,” “alive and well,” and the slogan adopted by his administration, “Cohoes Proud.”
After a moment of silence for the victims of Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida, Morse spoke to the packed council chambers.
Morse called no attention to a series of reports in the Albany Times-Union, and an explosive follow-up interview on WAMC, detailing domestic violence allegations against him going back decades – he denied the allegations before the council in December. And he made no mention of the fact that council member Randy Koniowka, who announced he would not attend the address earlier Thursday and has called for Morse’s resignation over the scandal, was not in the audience.
Morse instead thanked every member of the city council, as well as several city employees and community players, by name, and launched into the biggest topic of his speech: economic development.
“Lookit, there’s no secret that I have said it a thousand times and I will say it a thousand more: economic development is the key to our success,” said Morse. “We will no longer be the old, booming, manufacturing, mill town that people reminisce about every day when I talk to them. But instead, what we are gonna be, and we are quickly becoming, is that new, thriving mill town that has been re-energized, re-vitalized, and is well on its way to getting that designation once again to be an All-America City. And that’s where we’re going to be in a very short time.”
Cohoes was last named an All-America City in 1966, a designation given to 10 communities annually by the National Civic League.
The award is given to communities that “leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness, and innovation to successfully address local issues.”
A cheery Morse drew applause after mentioning several new businesses that opened up in town,their owners seated in the audience and recognized. The upstate river city is drawing investment, growing in population, and is seeing numerous new apartment buildings and redevelopment projects.
“It is now $80 million of development in our community. Who would ever believe in two years we could bring $80 million of development into our community? I did. The council did. I think each and every one of you did.”
Morse announced the Mosaic Village, an apartment building for those with special needs, would be a reality. He also mentioned that Phase Two of the luxury apartments at the Lexington Hills development would be completed.
Morse and the city council have done much over the past two years to improve the image of Cohoes. New street and entranceway signs have been well-received. The city is focused on replacing sidewalks downtown and making the corridor along Interstate 787 safer with roadway and pedestrian improvements.
A particular favorite project of Morse’s was the completion of a Veterans Park, and he spent plenty of time thanking the Department of Public Works and the veterans and supporters who made the park possible.
“We’re gonna buy the first set of flags to those people who made the park possible so when you go up there…and you will see those flags every year because they will never come down.”
Near the end of his hour-long speech, Morse reflected on the November 30th fire that tore through Remsen Street in the city’s downtown.
But Morse, a firefighter of 27 years, didn’t focus on the damage, but on the outpouring of support from the community in the days that followed.
“And I never seen a display like that in my life,” said Morse. “And I got goosebumps. And I spent hours and hours and hours down at that fire. And there wasn’t a day that went by that somebody from some walk of life, be it Cohoes or somebody calling me from a city -- I didn’t even know how to pronounce the name – wanting to do something to help the people of this city.
“You know the world is really a great place. You know, you hear all the tragedies that go on? You don’t really get to see the good stuff? Well, here in Cohoes you get to see the good stuff – first hand.”
And Morse ended his speech on another note of community pride.
“I hope you are proud of your city, I hope you are Cohoes Proud. I say thank you for this opportunity. It is a blessing. I have never been more proud that requires 97 hours a week, 40 cents an hour, and all the headaches you could ever ask for, but I am proud to be your mayor and I hope you are as proud to us as we are to you.”