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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Reviewing the Year 2023: Growing Tensions Among Officials in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs

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EDITOR’S NOTE: As 2023 comes to a close, we’re looking back at a variety of the year’s defining stories in our region.

SCHENECTADY — In a year of political turmoil in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy was elected to a fourth term in office after fending off an intra-party primary challenge, while Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim was defeated in November after serving just one term.

McCarthy secured the Democratic nomination in contest against City Council President Marion Porterfield in the June 27 primary by a 1,469-to-1,194 margin, but the race may have had lingering effects in the pair’s relationship. The council and mayor subsequently had a bruising three-month battle over the 2024 budget which was finally resolved on Dec. 21 — days after McCarthy threatened to sue the council over its inability to pass a spending plan by the Nov. 1 deadline.

The day before a budget was finally agreed upon, Schenectady Republican Party Chair Tom Kennedy leaked a November email from Porterfield to McCarthy that depicted a fraught relationship between the two top city officials, with Porterfield contending that the mayor was dividing the City Council along racial lines.

Following his close victory over Porterfield, McCarthy fielded attacks throughout the summer from GOP mayoral candidate Matt Nelligan, whose combative campaign criticized the incumbent for failing to deal with quality-of-life issues such as roads, sidewalks and noise complaints.

After a pugnacious campaign, McCarthy secured a comfortable victory over Nelligan, receiving 63% of votes cast against a challenger attempting to become the city’s first Republican mayor since Albert Jurczynski left office in January 2004.

McCarthy became the first mayor in the city’s history to be elected to four consecutive terms.

The City Council also remained a stronghold for Schenectady Democrats as incumbents Doreen Ditoro, Carmel Partick and Carl Williams each secured new terms and Democratic newcomer Joseph Mancini won the seat vacated by outgoing Councilman John Polimeni.

All seven council seats remain in Democratic hands. No Republican has been on the council since Cathy Lewis lost a re-election bid in 2005.

Ended in defeat

What was once a friendly relationship between outgoing mayor Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino devolved into discord over several months this year, ending with both losing their bids for re-election. 

After just one term in office, Kim lost to Republican challenger John Safford. Montagnino lost to Tim Coll, a registered Democrat who secured the backing of the Republican party.

Tensions between Kim and Montagnino really began to arise after Montagnino decided to file a complaint against Saratoga Black Lives Matter co-founder Chandler Hickenbottom, who refused to cede the microphone during public comment at a February City Council meeting. 

The council in turn denounced Montagnino’s actions, setting up months of infighting between the elected officials. Kim called Montagnino’s actions against Hickenbottom and, as well as similar actions against her brother and fellow Saratoga BLM co-founder Lexis Figuereo, racist. 

Skidmore College associate political science professor Bob Turner said the actions that followed the February meetings “fundamentally ruptured” the two once-aligned officials. 

In the months that followed, a fiery vulgar exchange between the mayor, the public safety commissioner and the deputy public safety commissioner took place and was later released by police following a number of Freedom of Information Law requests. 

Council meetings over the last several months of 2023 were filled with squabbles between Montagnino and the rest of the City Council. In September, the rest of the entirely Democratic council opted to endorse third-party candidate Kristen Dart for Public Safety Commissioner instead of Montagnino. 

Montagnino in turn threw his support behind Safford for mayor.

In October, Montangino and Kim butt heads once again. That time over who was at fault for the city’s insurance company dropping them, with Montagnino blaming Kim and Kim blaming the prior administration and Montagnino’s actions. 

Things really came to a head the day before the Nov. 7 election when the city Democratic Party renounced Montagnino, following what they deemed a racist mailer on his part. 

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Kiara Thomas
Kiara Thomas
I uncover quirky and compelling stories. Always on the lookout for the 'why' behind the 'what'.
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1 COMMENT

  1. Disagree. Political tensions are no surprise, especially in turbulent times. Let’s hope Schenectady and Saratoga Springs officials find common ground for the greater good in 2024.

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