For almost 10 years — the second-longest mayoral tenure in city history — Democrat Jim Sottile has been the chief executive. Is the city better or worse for his service? The answers from the outgoing mayor are, yes, yes and maybe.
Interviewed last week, 24 days prior to his leaving office, Sottile, 54, talked about a public service career that began with his election as alderman-at-large with then-alderman T.R. Gallo in 1993. The two formed a partnership that ended with the sudden death of Gallo at 41 in January 2002. Sottile, as alderman-at-large, succeeded Gallo and was twice elected mayor — in 2003 and 2007 — his own right.
While Gallo and Sottile worked closely on most issues, Sottile said T.R. did not share certain things with him, like specifics on city finances. The way Sottile tells it, he was in for a rude awakening when he got his first true look at Kingston’s books.
“I inherited a financial catastrophe,” Sottile said last week. “I had no idea the city was running a million-dollar fund balance deficit. We had properties on the books, like the brickyard, (on the river) as assets when in fact they were liabilities.”
One of his first orders of business, according to Sottile, was to get the city’s financial house in order. That entailed several trips to bankruptcy court in Manhattan (on the brickyard case), selling city interests in a Midtown medical center off Pine Street and raising taxes well above the rate of inflation during his first half-dozen years in office. His aim, he said was to restore the fund balance. It stood at $5.5 million before being tapped for $1 million this month to mitigate a property tax increase for 2012.
Sottile also moved aggressively to have the city reassessed in 2006 — Kingston’s first revaluation in 20 years. Refusal by previous administrations to address outdated property values was “the very essence of dysfunctional,” Sottile said. He allows that reassessing the city at the height of the real estate market — just before its crash — has created other issues, like sharply higher tax bills from the school district and county. But the mayor contends the city is better off overall; several million dollars worth of previously unassisted property was picked up during the reval, contended Sottile.
Sottile also moved to systematically repair the city’s aging sewer system, “rather than continually attempting to manage crises.” He advises incoming mayor Shayne Gallo to continue that course. Gallo, 52, is the late mayor’s older brother.
Sottile, who announced he would not be seeking a third term last spring, steered clear of politics during the intense campaigning that stretched from nominating conventions in June to Gallo’s landslide victory over Republican Alderman Ron Polacco in November.
Slideshow image: Mayor Sottile presents his 2012 budget. (Photo by Dan Barton.)