In a public apology issued a few days after a recording surfaced of him unleashing a torrent of verbal abuse and threats against a city employee, Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo called the outburst a product of his “passionate” nature, a result of his near-familial relationship with now-suspended parking enforcement officer Jeremy Blaber. In a series of interviews conducted before and after the recording became public, however, more than a dozen people, many speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, paint a far darker picture.
According to these accounts, the behavior exhibited on the recording is part of a larger pattern of bullying, intimidation and explosive tantrums directed by Gallo at city employees, fellow politicians and members of the general public alike.
Gallo has his strong supporters. One of them is Ulster Town Supervisor James Quigley III. Not once, said Quigley, had the mayor’s personality impeded their working relationship. Quigley said he had partnered with Gallo on a number of projects, including obtaining a $1.2-million state grant for a promenade along the Hudson. There has been stepped-up cooperation between the town and city police departments and a coordinated response to last summer’s drought emergency.
“If we have disagreements, we agree to disagree, we move on and we maintain a professional relationship,” explained Quigley. “We keep it professional, we keep it non-political and we work out the issues.”
Mike Madsen, a onetime alderman and county lawmaker, worked on Gallo’s campaign and in January 2012 followed him into City Hall as a housing rehabilitation specialist in the city’s Office of Community Development. He was fired in October of that year for insubordination. The mayor, according to accounts in the local media, had accused him of incompetence. Madsen said that he was already familiar with Gallo’s mercurial temperament — laughing and joking one moment, in a purple-faced rage the next — from his work on the campaign.
“There were times during the campaign when we had to hide him, practically sit on him during low points,” said Madsen. “There were days when he just wasn’t public-ready.”
Blaber, Madsen and other current and former city employees or officials said that the fits of temper continued once Gallo assumed office. Employees, they agreed, were frequently subjected to sudden tirades criticizing everything from their appearance to their work habits. The shouting, they recall, would often echo through the building from the mayor’s second-floor office.
Did the mayor’s conduct violate the city’s discrimination harassment policy? The policy had been updated in the wake of a successful lawsuit by two female Department of Public Works employees who claimed that during the administration of former mayor James Sottile and former DPW head Steve Gorsline they were subjected to inappropriate remarks and behavior. A section of the policy titled “Employee Conduct” prohibits behavior which may not rise to the level of unlawful discrimination or harassment, but “creates a degree of hostility, embarrassment, or intimidation that adversely affects the work environment.”
The policy, which applies to all city employees and officials, including the mayor, defines bullying as “repeated health-harming mistreatment” of an individual. Bullying behavior is defined in the policy as verbal abuse, threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior and work interference.
Several City Hall sources, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, claim to have witnessed firsthand conduct by Gallo which they believe violated the bullying policy. Had city Human Rights Director Tawana Washington, who is charged with administering the policy, ever personally witnessed behavior by the mayor that might have violated the city’s discrimination, harassment or workplace violence prevention policies? Washington declined comment.
A few hours later, city Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben, the city’s top lawyer who has become Gallo’s unofficial spokesman of late, called to say that Washington had declined comment based on a policy that bars employees from speaking to the press without prior authorization. Zweben added that Washington told him that she had never received a formal complaint regarding Gallo.
Asked whether the mayor frequently shouted or used profanity when talking to city employees, Zweben declined to characterize the mayor’s behavior, saying it would be unfair to do so. Zweben said he had worked at City Hall virtually every weekday for over a year and had never witnessed behavior by the mayor that he believed violated a city policy or would otherwise be legally “actionable.”
Many of Gallo’s outbursts have included political overtones. Gallo took office after a hard-fought primary campaign that saw many of the city’s Democratic Party stalwarts, including Common Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay, line up behind his opponent, then-alderman Hayes Clement. Since then, Gallo has frequently fulminated against “Democratic Party elites” in league with Clement and former mayor Sottile to thwart his efforts to bring “transparent, accountable” governance to the city.
They done him wrong
Early in his administration Gallo singled out Common Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay and fellow council members Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1) and Elisa Ball (D-Ward 6) as working to undermine his agenda. Since then, Gallo has rarely missed on opportunity to ascribe political motives to virtually every action taken by the three.
In April, Gallo was quoted in a local newspaper as saying a “multi-ward meeting” intended to bring information to residents (and which turned out to contain no overt electioneering whatsoever) put on by Dunn, Ball, Ward 5 Alderman Bill Carey and Hoffay, was merely election-year politicking. Council members, he said, should concern themselves only with what was happening in their individual wards. Citywide affairs should be left to him. Last year, Gallo attacked an ethics bill put forth by Dunn and Hoffay as a clear attempt to deny him re-election by placing limits on elected officials and senior employees holding office in political parties or soliciting donations.
Since taking office, Gallo has leveled similar allegations against a wide range of elected officials. When County Executive Mike Hein announced a plan in July 2012 to turn the shuttered Sophie Finn Elementary School into an Ulster County Community College satellite campus without informing Gallo in advance, the mayor’s response was swift and furious. Gallo vowed to oppose the plan and implied that he would use his position to block the county from getting the necessary permits. One day later, Gallo emerged from a meeting with Hein as an enthusiastic backer of the plan. At a City Hall press conference earlier this year to announce the results of a state comptroller’s office audit of the Kingston Fire Department, Gallo opened with a rambling criticism of the comptroller for failing to give him advance notice of the report’s release.
“He’s very quick to make things personal, and he never lets it go,” said Hoffay. “Jimmy [Sottile] had a temper. He’d come screaming at you, but he didn’t know how to hold a grudge. With [Gallo] one disagreement and that’s it, you’re done.”
Just ask Frank Dart. Dart, a retired firefighter and veteran of the county legislature, ran afoul of Gallo’s temper and suspicion in November 2012. He was abruptly terminated from the city’s Board of Fire Commissioners. According to Dart, the firing came in response to what he described as some offhand advice to a city firefighter who believed he was performing duties above his pay grade. Dart said he advised the firefighter to file a grievance if he thought there had been a contract violation.
At the next meeting of the fire commissioners, Dart said, Gallo erupted in a profanity-laced tirade accusing him of backing Clement and trying to undermine his agenda. Gallo’s outburst grew so heated, Dart recalled, that another member of the commission stood up to get between him them. Gallo, Dart said, then threatened to call Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti and have Dart removed from the building if he did not leave immediately. Dart said that the level of anger was similar to what he had heard on the recording of Gallo’s outburst at Blaber.
“Change the name from Jeremy to Frank and the same thing took place,” said Dart. “Gallo was in my face waving his finger, spit flying all over the place in a rage, screaming at me.”
Regular people, too
Gallo’s outbursts are not confined only to city employees and officials. On at least two occasions in the past year, run-ins with Gallo have left ordinary citizens alarmed enough to call police. In those instances, Gallo, witnesses said, flew into a rage prompted by real or perceived infractions of the law or his own edicts.