Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

In the city races, it seems to me that the lack of differentiation between the candidate’s platforms resulted in a situation where perceptions, personalities and past experience were the most important drivers.

I think the release of the draft state audit (which was published in October – surprise!) was probably the most pivotal element in the election. I also think the way the Recorder covered and editorialized the financial situation – before and after the draft audit release – did it’s part to amplify voter outrage. Even though the problems with the city’s books had been known about for years, and the Mayor and Common Council had recently implemented measures to correct the situation (such as hiring the Deputy Controller), there was something about seeing it all laid out in the state audit that was extremely jarring and disheartening. I felt it myself.

In short, the Mayor’s defense didn’t get much traction. Saying it was “all good” and referring to some emails she sent to the controller a while back came across as passing the buck rather than demonstrating proactive leadership. The audit confirmed the accounting problems were widespread and had gone on for far too many years without anyone taking any decisive action. Even though neither Republican or Democratic candidates offered any substantial ideas as to how to do things any differently than what was already being done, I believe the Republicans who won benefited greatly from the public’s perception of the Mayor’s role in the situation. And perception is reality – that’s how it’s always been.

I do want to give some credit where it’s due – I have to say that 4th Ward winner Diane Hatzenbuhler has  offered a ton of specific ideas over the years – many on this blog and on others – as to how she would solve many of Amsterdam’s problems. I personally don’t agree with some of those ideas, and I think other ideas lack key details (like how to pay for them). But if she is able to implement even a handful of them I think the city could benefit. Many candidates have given lip-service to the idea of increased code enforcement. But if Diane is able to really apply herself to this issue, maybe we could get somewhere.

I also think the example she has set by coming back twice now after two election defeats is an object lesson in dedication. She has shown that if you truly care about something, you don’t give up. I think some of the losing candidates this year would do well to follow her example.

It will be interesting to see how things play out now that the Common Council will have a veto-proof Republican majority. They will clearly be in the city’s driver’s seat for the next two years and so any success or failure will completely reflect on them in the next election.

I genuinely hope that the new council does well. The state audit and numbers from the state controller’s office show we need get our books and debt under control. Balancing the budget and reducing our debt will require the council to make some tough budget decisions. I think some fiscal conservatism is probably what is needed right now to get things back under control.

However, given many local Republican’s (and not a few Democrat’s) bent toward the idea of regional consolidation, it would not surprise me if instead of working hard to cut expenses and increase revenues, that the idea of declaring bankruptcy or turning over our finances to the state were seriously explored. After all, the population has already been “primed” for this idea anyway. This would essentially amount to giving up being an independent city and would pave the way to creating one BIG regional government. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.

If a religious leader wrote an article for the paper during an election season stating that their religion was the “only answer” and then implied that not all candidates were as strong believers of the faith as others, I have no doubt there would be a public outcry admonishing this leader to keep religion out of politics. Beyond that, it wouldn’t be surprising if the IRS and ACLU trained their sights on the leader’s organization as a result.

So does anyone else think it’s inappropriate for FMCC President Dustin Swanger to essentially do the exact same thing? In his article published on October 26th in the Amsterdam Recorder, he asserts that the “only answer” for economic growth is through “regional thinking/cooperation” (aka consolidation) and then all but asks us to vote for those who subscribe to that ideology. Of course he carefully hedges and stops short of endorsing any specific candidates, but overall, the message is clear: vote for the “true believers”.

Non-profit organizations risk their tax-exempt status when they endorse political candidates. I’m not sure if FMCC is technically subject to the same restriction. But the college president is a taxpayer-funded, non-elected position. I think Swanger comes very close to overstepping his bounds by using his position (and the visibility that position gives him) to promote a political point of view.

Make no mistake, the latest article from Swanger does not use the term “consolidation” however the idea of combining all localities into a single regional government has been clearly articulated and advocated for in past articles. He’s just using different terminology now.

And also make no mistake that just like all other consolidation proponents, Swanger has yet to show any solid plan or actual numbers that might indicate that municipal consolidation would deliver any tax relief, help restore our downtowns, or revive our economy.  The small scale consolidation plans that I have seen that do work, fall apart once you take out the financial handouts from NY State which is our tax money that is apparently being held in reserve for communities who consolidate.  Consolidation proponents have yet to show how their ideas do anything other than replace more accountable, small governments, with less accountable, big government.

I would definitely recommend that readers take a look at Swanger’s take on the role of community colleges in local politics. He presents a lot of ideas that I think are both good and essential. I think that local colleges providing leadership in the area of economic development is a great idea. But what baffles me is how Swanger’s narrative in the local paper over the years seems contradictory to the ideals he espouses in his thesis.

He affirms that small and medium-sized businesses are essential to revitalizing the economy, but promotes “regional cooperation” which primarily benefits big businesses as the “only answer”.

He talks about the importance of livable communities and neighborhoods and the importance of building up a “sense of community” but then proposes that towns, villages and cities are somehow archaic ideas that need to be done away with.

He talks about community planning as a “resurgence of order” but fails to address how reliance on big businesses (like the type that Mike Mullis works with) have disrupted that order over the past decades.

He quotes from “Rise of The Creative Class” by Richard Florida, which focuses on the ability of cities to attract creative professionals as a key economic driver, but on the other hand would discourage local cities like Johnstown, Gloversville and Amsterdam from trying to do this on their own.

Finally, let’s call this article out for what it most likely is – a recommendation against voting for Johnstown mayoral candidate Michael Julius who has been outspokenly resistant to the idea of consolidation between the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville.

And that’s kinda funny because in my view Johnstown is one of the best examples in the Fulton/Montgomery area of the type of livable community that Swanger claims to be in favor of. Is it any wonder that city residents and leaders might want to preserve that?

I have to say, the interviews of the various candidates for common council that have appeared so far in the local media have been nearly to useless to me. I have no doubt the editorial response to the recent State Audit will be scathing. But when it comes to the candidate’s interviews, I’m reading softball answers to softball questions. Amsterdam’s financial difficulties have been well known for years now and have been underscored by the recent release of the State Audit. But I’ve read precious few details about how any of the candidates plan to cut expenses or raise revenue. Whether online or in print, I’m hearing a lot of rhetoric, vague ideas and finger pointing, but no solid proposals.

Please note, I’ve revised the table I had here before based on the advice from some of my commentors. I’ve posted the new table with an explanation here.
The pie charts are still good though!

The fact is the city has outspent it’s revenues in every fiscal year since 2000. Here’s the stats compiled from the NY State Controller’s website

Over the past 12 years, on average the city has overspent by 3.2 million dollars per year.

I think voters need to task our local leaders with a simple and achievable  target that will get us back on track financially. I think that target should be to reduce expenditures and/or increase revenues by a total of at least $4M (or by about 11% of 2011’s expenditures) per year.

We’ve only got about a week left before the elections, but I believe that candidates (as well as the Mayor) need to provide some solid answers to the $4M question. Where do we cut? And where do we find new revenue? How do we bridge that $4M gap? Here’s the pie charts that show where the money comes from and where it gets spent. Tell me where we should slice or where we can increase…

City Expenses 2011
City Expenses 2011
City Revenues 2011
City Revenues 2011

It’s not like the data isn’t out there for candidates to do their homework. The current budget is available online. The state controller’s office also has a wealth of stats that document our finances over the years (h/t to Flippin for guiding me to this resource). You can also view the finances of every other city in NY for comparison.

I understand politicians don’t like to stake specific objectives – lest they be held accountable if they fail to reach them. But frankly, I don’t think we should continue to accept that.

Stipulation: I don’t accept a candidate pointing out a few minor expenses and then claiming “it all adds up.” If you’re sure it all adds up, show your math. Then I’ll believe you.

If you agree, feel free to share this challenge with your favorite (or least favorite) candidate.

thirdwardThere’s a primary coming up this Tuesday for the Republican candidate for 3rd Ward Alderman. Running are Anthony Leggerio and Ron Barone. As is usual with our local elections, I’m searching high and low for an actual platform, rather than rhetoric for either of these candidates.

The Recorder ran an article on the candidates on September 3rd, 2013 from which I gleaned a few scraps of information.

I had to laugh because “high taxes” is the very first thing mentioned for both candidates – (Flippin called it). So both candidates are obviously concerned about it, as are we all.

So what are their ideas to lower taxes? ………………………………………………………………………  Buehler?   Other than the standard catch phrases all politicians use, I found no actionable plans put forth for either of them.

Barone has served for many years  as 3rd Ward Montgomery County Supervisor and currently serves on the AIDA board. So he’s got a long track record of government experience. While nothing especially stands out to me about his record, he strikes me as a pragmatic person, the most recent example of which is how he is trying to handle the current mural preservation controversy in a diplomatic fashion.

Leggerio is currently a DPW foreman and has worked for the city for 25 years. He has also previously served on the GASD Board of Education. My impression of Leggerio comes mostly from his outspoken comments on blogs and on Facebook and such. And from that I know he clearly has a long-standing grudge with Mayor Ann Thane. Several years ago he boycotted a veteran’s event citing Mayor Thane’s attendance as a reason. Every other post on his FB page seems directed at the Mayor personally. This might be a strategy, but to me it comes across as borderline obsessive.

Leggerio also cites his service in Air Force. I have tremendous respect for those who serve in the armed forces. However when someone scans their certificates of merit and posts them in a photo album titled “Pull Head Out Of Ass Ann” (and creates similarly themed captions for every single photo) that causes some concern for me.

I want someone on the Common Council who can constructively challenge the Mayor when needed. But I also want a council that respects each other and is functional.

Looking ahead to the general election, we have Debra Baranello running on the Democratic line. I like the positive approach that Debra takes on her FB page. I also know that she tends to support the Mayor’s vision. But again, I’m still searching for some specific ideas or initiatives she will bring to the council. I’m also wondering how she would handle taking a position that opposed that of the Mayor.

So based on my impressions, I would say  if elected, Barone would “get along” with the Mayor, Leggerio would “fight with” the Mayor, Baranello would “support” the Mayor.

What’s your take? Put it in the comments section. And as they say up north, remember to keep your stick on the ice!

Voting times and locations can be found here.

Update 9/9: Well obviously Ron’s off to bad start as far a getting along with Mayor. However, I would still maintain he would get along with her better than Tony.

Thoughts on the Mayoral Debate

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Elections

Well, unfortunately I wasn’t able to listen to the debate live on the radio the other day. I’m going to try to catch the re-broadcast this Sunday at 12 noon. But for now, I’m reading accounts from the Mohawk Valley Independent and The Recorder and here are some of my initial opinions and impressions.

Selling City Hall

The quote that struck me the most was Joe Emanuele’s response to the issue of whether to sell the Sanford Mansion and move City Hall to another location –

“For the right price, anything is worth selling”

I wish I could have heard the tone of voice with which he said this. Because if he said it with a smile or in a “Groucho Marx” voice or something, maybe I could write it off as flippancy. But if it was said with a straight face, what does that say about the candidate’s integrity? Emanuele followed up by saying he does not think it’s the “right time” to move City Hall, but this wording clearly leaves the door open to the possibility in the future. If Emanuele believes “anything” is worth selling, then if he is elected, should we also expect him to auction off other public assets like our parks and other public lands to the highest bidder? Being willing to sell off “anything” at the right price is not the mark of a savvy business person. Rather, it indicates that he does not understand the value of our history and culture, and how that relates to the overall ability of Amsterdam to attract new home owners and businesses. I think Ann Thane gave the right response by saying “There is no right price we can put on our heritage,”

Budget and Finances

Emanuele claimed to have left the city with a 3 million dollar fund balance, as compared to a current reported 600K balance. Thane countered by saying that the 3 million dollar figure was inaccurate as it did not reflect a 500K accounting error and 800K in taxes that were not collected. So far I have not heard anyone refute Thane’s assertions. Emanuele said “”I think the fund balance is a show of strength to a budget.” All things being equal, I might agree with this sentiment. Except that the economic climate in 2007 when Emanuele stepped down was vastly different from what we have experienced from 2008 until today. These graphs clearly show how cities all over the nation began to experience extreme difficulties as the economy began to collapse in 2008. Given the reports of many cities now facing bankruptcy, I think we are fortunate, all things considered, to even have a fund balance right now.

Citing fund balance numbers misses the point. If you took a peek at my own checkbook, depending on what date you looked at the balance, and depending on when I get paid and when the bills are due, you might come to the conclusion that I was either filthy rich or dirt poor. It seems to me that this is similar to what is happening here. What matters more to me is how each candidate is going to hold down expenses and generate new income.

Emanuele points to pay increases for unionized city employees as one place that he would cut. This is one area where I agree. For taxpayers to give pay raises to union members while the rest of the population is enduring layoffs, pay cuts and loss of benefits, is simply not fair. Deferring raises could have saved the city approximately 300K1.

Thane pointed to the 700K savings on health insurance that was found during her administration and also mentioned shared services as way to save costs going further. Emanuele, I believe, has mentioned shared services as well.

For ideas on income, Emanuele sites our water supply as our “greatest asset”. I agree that expanding our water supply to surrounding areas is a logical move, and Thane also includes this idea in her platform. However, this seems to be about all the revenue ideas Emanuele has. To me, the water supply is just one of our assets, with the most important being our neighborhoods and community. Thane has consistently supported a wide-ranging, comprehensive plan for marketing our community to attract new home owners and businesses in order to improve our revenue and that is what I believe is the best route rather than betting all our money on a single horse.

Marketing & Business Development

In response to the question as to whether the mayor should be responsible for marketing, Emanuele said he believes “the city needs a manager not a marketer.” It’s hard for me to understand why he thinks these two roles are mutually exclusive. Quite simply, we need a mayor who does both. Thane responded by explaining how she personally had to take over the marketing effort because of the elimination of her confidential aide. This is an issue all to itself, but I found it strange that she did not address the larger issue, which is not so much whether the mayor should be responsible for marketing, but rather if the city should be responsible for it’s own marketing, as opposed to allowing the county to take the lead in this area.

Regardless, I know full well that Thane supports city marketing, and that Emanuele does not. To me, this is a crucial issue because it relates to the larger question as to whether Amsterdam moves forward as an independent city with it’s own identity and economy or not. Right now, the city competes with other areas for tax dollars. I’m a capitalist. I think competition is a good thing. It’s very strange for me to hear other Republicans state otherwise. Healthy competition doesn’t mean we have to play dirty or run interference (like Johnstown did with the Walmart deal). It just means that Amsterdam needs to take the initiative rather than waiting around for someone else to do it. Frankly, given how Montgomery County has slashed their funding for the MCIDA,  I really don’t think that putting our marketing eggs in the county basket is such a smart option.

There are few more areas to cover, but I will leave them for another post in a few days, hopefully after I’ve had a chance to listen to the debate for myself.

1 “City may ask unions to defer pay increases” – Jessica Maher, Amsterdam Recorder, April 09, 2010

Pandering Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Elections

Inspired by Jerry Skrocki’s creative use of photoshopped imagery as commentary on local politics, I decided to try my own hand at it. I had originally thought about writing a response to Jerry’s post on the recent neighborhood meeting in the East End. However, I think the subject has been fairly well covered on Flippin Amsterdam and on Upstream Zine (which seems to have been temporarily renamed “Lapdog with Teeth” ).  So to avoid rehashing the subject myself, I offer my first ever cartoon to sum up my thoughts on the subject. 

Please do not ask me how many otherwise productive work hours were wasted creating this! And yes I snagged Jerry’s photo from his site, but I am sure he won’t mind because it’s fair use, and as compensation I’lll admit that Jerry is probably better at Photoshop than me.

‘Tis but a scratch!

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Elections

So Bill Wills is going to continue to campaign as a write in candidate for mayor. A few thoughts on this…

Unless you have good confidence that you have significant support from the other party (ie like Joe Lieberman), a candidate running against someone on their own party runs a high risk of taking away votes from that party’s candidate. We saw this happen back in the 2009 Ward 3 Alderperson’s race.

I think it will be highly unlikely that a write-in candidate will win in this election. If his name was on the ballot, I would say he might have a chance.  Given Will’s popularity, I think he will certainly get a good number of write in votes. The question is, will he take more votes from Ann Thane or from Joe Emanuele? I would guess he would take more from Thane, but I’m not 100% sure in this scenario. Thoughts?

So what I wonder with Wills and the other candidates who lost their primaries and are still running is if they are running because of principle or pride? Sometimes 3rd party candidates who have a significant following but no chance of winning, run in order to bring attention to their specific issues, in hopes of influencing the platform of one or more of the major party candidates. Other times, well…it’s hard to say…

With the absentee ballots now counted for the primary races, the two close races now have official results. According to Manfred Phemister’s  facebook page, Ron Wierzbicki has edged out Phemister for the Democratic nomination for the controller’s race.  Also, according to Diane Hatzenbuler’s  facebook page, she has secured the Republican nomination for the 4th Ward Alderman’s race.

It’s tough to draw any concrete conclusions from the results, but I would say the strongest message sent was that folks were not happy at all with controller Heather Reynicke’s job performance, given her more than 2 to 1 defeat by newcomer Matthew Agresta. I believe the displeasure many people felt about her taking vacation time during the heated budget discussions earlier in the year was not forgotten.

In the Democratic primary for the mayoral race, Bill Wills had a solid showing, but lost with 44% of the vote versus Ann Thane’s 55%.  One could argue either way as far as what this means for Thane’s general election prospects. My “gut” instinct is this: I think there was probably as many people voting *for* Wills (as he has had a long political career in Amsterdam) as there were people voting *against* Ann Thane.  I believe there is a significant “anti-Thane” sentiment in the city, and for an incumbent candidate not to get an overwhelming majority in a primary, may signal that sentiment exists among Democratic voters.  I think Thane will have her work cut out for her this election.

As Charlie Kraebel used to say… “It will be interesting to see how this plays out” : )   Is anyone else missing the Venner Vox lately?

Speaking of Charlie, one has to wonder, as does Charlie in his September 18, 2011 column “Time to be a party pooper“,  whether the primaries are even necessary at all?  It’s peculiar to note that the only person who is now completely out of the race as a result of the primaries is Bill Wills, who is not seeking to run independently.  Charlie suggests doing away with the primaries and opening up the general election to anyone.  He hedges a bit by saying “one could argue that non-partisan voting could actually dilute a ballot and flood it with candidates who have no business being on one”, but I would say that if the same petition requirements were kept in place, you would have the exact same lineup you have now, with the addition of Wills on the ticket, who has shown he is a credible candidate.

I’ve always looked at the two-party situation as a necessary evil. By narrowing down the field of candidates, you end up giving voters a choice between a small number of candidates, so whoever wins usually enjoys a better than 50% vote. It’s always a concern when a candidate wins with less the 40% of the vote, as to whether that candidate can govern effectively. But it looks like our candidates are looking at the major party nominations as “nice to have” but not essential and are opting to jump on minor party lines if they don’t win.  So it seems to that candidates who want to run, are finding ways to run either way, and the primaries are hardly doing the job of narrowing the choices down at all.  So really, why bother? Can anyone else offer some defense of the current system?

Apathy in primary elections seems to be the norm in American culture.  But the lack of voter turnout in the Republican primary for 4th Ward Alderman was especially puzzling.  Doesn’t a candidate have to get at least 100 signatures to get on the ballot? Where were those supporters for the either of the candidates?

One also has to wonder at the continuous string of unopposed candidates for county supervisors.  Without any judgement on the candidates themselves, it seems given that Jeffrey Stark has technically secured the 2nd Ward position with less than 30 primary write in votes,  that these important offices are up for grabs by just about anyone who wants them. To me, this shows that Amsterdam’s political culture sees decisions made at the city level as more relevent than decisions made at the county level.  This factor is important to consider as part of the conversation on consolidation and shared services.  If our municipal services begin to be consolidated with county-wide services, does that not shift more of the important financial decision-making up to the county level? If consolidation is increased, will we see a corresponding  increase in interest in the county offices?  I’d be glad to hear other people’s take on this situation!

Primary Results Are In

Posted: September 13, 2011 in Elections


2011 Primary Elections

Posted: September 10, 2011 in Elections

The Primary elections are coming up September 13th.  Here’s a breakdown of the races, links to information, along with my wise and enlightening remarks : )

 Republican and Democratic Primaries for Controller’s Office

 Article from the Recorder summarizing the primaries for the Controller’s office

For the Republicans, I would have liked to see some sort of online presence from both Matthew Agresta and Heather Reynicke. The only solid campaign information I’ve read about both candidates so far has come from Recorder article mentioned above. There’s really no excuse for either of them not to have some sort of web presence.

Based on the Recorder article, Agresta is coming into the race fresh out of college, not a lot of real world experience (except for working as Mayor Thane’s confidential aid), but with plenty of energy and a desire to serve. So while you have to respect his motivation, one has to consider that fact that he would probably have a huge learning curve to deal with.  Reynicke expresses a desire to continue doing what she has been doing, and suggests reducing supervisory positions. She also points out that governmental accounting is different from commercial accounting, which might be directed at her possible Democratic challenger.

In Democratic race, I’ve found two very thorough web sites by candidates Manfred Phemister and Ron Wierzbicki.  Based on the information they’ve provided, it looks to me like a choice between someone with a commercial financial background (Phemister) and someone with a governmental financial background (Wierzbicki).

Republican Primary for 4th Ward Alderman

Article from the Recorder summarizing the primary for 4th Ward Alderman

Candidates Diane Hatzenbueler and Christina Lajeunesse both have Facebook pages. Hatzenbueler lists a good number of details as to her ideas and positions on the issues. Lajeunesse gives us a few general ideas and sentiments, but I would have to say is lacking in any specifics. It would be great to see a more in-depth platform such as what Diane presents.

Democratic and Conservative Primaries for Mayor

Article from the Recorder summarizing the primaries for the office of Mayor.

In the Democratic Primary we have incumbent Mayor Ann Thane and current 4th ward Alderman Bill Wills.  Wills is also challenging former mayor Joe Emanuele  in the Conservative Party Primary.

Thane’s web site contains a well thought out list of ideas for improving Amsterdam that together give me a strong sense of what to expect from her if re-elected.

I have yet to see any solid plan or specific ideas put in writing by Emanuele. Nothing. Nada. Zip…

I’ve gotten a better sense of Wills’ thinking from his comments on this blog and also from his interview on the Grove Street Grumble.  While I like his populist approach, and he does offer a few specific ideas, I still don’t get the sense of a well thought out action plan for city revitalization.

Will’s states in his latest letter to the editor (also posted on his Facebook page), “I hope to connect with you all so that I can better understand where we, not I, should take our City for the future.”

This is a respectable approach, however, in my view, the job of an elected official is to both represent and lead. Representing involves listening and responding. All the candidates seem to have a good sense of that. However leading requires figuring out an action plan and following through with it. This is the area that I see lacking in some of these candidate’s campaigns.

I think community meetings to help establish public policy are a great idea.  Thane also includes this idea in her platform. I might suggest that it could be a winning strategy for a mayoral candidate to hold these types of meetings first,  and then develop a platform to run on containing action plans based on the ideas from those meetings. That way the candidate can put forth ideas during their campaign that they know have good public support.

The other thing I have trouble with is when Wills states on his Facebook page “I want the City to achieve greatness and prominence once again in the Capital District.”  However in his response to the question on The Grove Street Grumble, “What actions will you take to see that Amsterdam has a viable economic plan for the future,”  the end of his response is, “Explore consolidation with the Town of Amsterdam as I see that as our future if we are to survive.” To me, these statements suggest two entirely different directions.

[Edit:  My initial perception of the phrase “consolidation with the Town of Amsterdam” was that Wills was suggesting a complete merger. There are those who advocate that idea, and that’s what I attributed his statement to. But on second thought, it may be possible the he is only referring to consolidating services, which wouldn’t necessarily be in conflict with his first statement. ] 

One last item that Wills writes that I think deserves some further thought is, “My ability to work with members of the so-called opposite party also says much. No one person/Mayor can accomplish anything without the support and approval of the Council. Any accomplishments or failures of an Administration can be attributed to the cooperation or not with others.”

Although Thane has good ideas, building consensus on the Common Council has been a struggle for her. If re-elected she may or may not end up with a council that is any more agreeable with her than the last. Having good ideas is not everything. Thane will have to be able to work toward political unity on the council in order to see many of her ideas brought about. I wonder if she has any ideas on how to do that any more effectively?

Thoughts, opinions and reflections related to the primaries are welcome in the comments section. Let’s try to focus on the positives of each candidate and keep any negatives respectful and specific to the issues!