The four Democrats running for mayor of Cohoes debated for the first time last night. The Cohoes Senior Center was filled to capacity with citizens hoping to see a spirited debate. They were not disappointed.
Cohoes City Councilman Steve Napier, former City Treasurer Pete Frangie, retired New York State Police Major Commander William Keeler and first-term Mayor Shawn Morse who faces a federal trial in July and calls to resign from the governor, are squaring off in the Democratic primary June 25th.
Two candidates were seated at tables at either side of a podium. WTEN anchor John Gray served as moderator.
On the left side of the room, there was Napier, who took every opportunity to plug his campaign pamphlet "The Napier Plan" and projected himself as the most affable candidate. Seated beside him, Frangie exuded pride: proud of Cohoes, proud of his civic involvement, proud of his Lebanese heritage.
On the right side sat Keeler, who stood to address questions in his first campaign after a career with the state police. When the crowd's attention was focused elsewhere, an onlooker might think Keeler and Morse were best friends as they grinned, chuckled and exchanged comments.
Morse was... Morse. Passionate, stubborn, insisting he alone can run the Spindle City.
And then there was the very first question, candidates asked to address "the elephant in the room"
Napier: "If I were the mayor today, and I were under indictment for seven federal charges, given the negative attention it brings to the city, and the way it would negatively impact people who might look to Cohoes to bring investment dollars, development dollars, or grant dollars, I would step aside for the good of the city."
Frangie: "Whether or not I believe I'm innocent, if I really, truly feel that the city is being hurt by this, then yes, he should — should step aside."
Keeler: "Is this mayor the role model for our children? I don't think he should be the face of the Democratic Party. I don't think he should be the face of the city of Cohoes. We're setting the bar too low when we're saying that just because our mayor hasn't been convicted, he should hang in there."
Morse: "I am the guy who should be the face of this city. I am the guy that is bringing it back to life. I am the guy who is making it 'Cohoes Proud,' investors call me every single day. The Capital Region, not Cohoes, the Capital Region voted us the first time ever a number one five city in the Capital Region. So this can't be a black cloud. There's excitement around our city. "
Gray selected a number of questions submitted by audience members prior to the debate. They included queries regarding each candidate's background, what they thought the mayor's role should be, education, city finances, the police department, and the troubled Cohoes Community Center.
Morse says as much as he would like the city to buy the building: "Fiscally it's about $2.5 million dollars worth of repairs just to get it open. I have worked with and continue to work with a developer who put a bid in on the community center. Hopefully when he goes through with the engineering and finds out the true cost of what he can do to fix it, hopefully we'll have an announcement that somebody's gonna buy the community center and bring it back to life.”
Frangie would like to see the city take ownership. "There was so much fundraising done outside of the community center for it and for its purpose, but there weren't a unified team working to work with grants and raise money, so... and the city would not burden a huge cost of owning that building. It's probably about $120,000 a year now as it functions and there's still a great deal of low-hanging fruit in that building to make it energy efficient."
Keeler said his parents were among the original donors backing the community center and it's the mayor's duty to keep it open and functioning as a community center. "It doesn't help the community if Gold's Gym or something similar comes in and opens it up as a private facility. It's not the same thing."
The center came up as the second part of a question on which Napier ran out of time. He told WAMC by phone Thursday he believes the center would best be run as a joint effort... "...owned by the city but it would require investment from the county and the state in order to make it happen. The community center is owned by a private non-profit who has put it on the market, and there is currently an offer on it. So if that offer goes through, it will be owned by a third party still and there would be no opportunity for that."
The four candidates will meet again in a public forum June 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Cohoes High School.