Over the past three years, Mayor Shayne Gallo has often inveighed against “party elites” and other perceived political enemies he’s variously dubbed “the Politburo” or “the shadow government.” On Saturday, March 7, in a packed room at Tony’s Pizzeria on Broadway, it appeared that his fulminations had come to fruition as a steady stream of well-wishers arrived to support Steve Noble, a city employee and nephew of Common Council President James Noble, who had just announced that he would challenge Gallo for the Democratic Party nomination and the mayor’s office.
There was former Common Council majority leader Tom Hoffay, a frequent target of Gallo’s ire during the mayor’s first two years in office, and Hoffay’s successor, Matt Dunn, who Gallo has accused of leading a bloc on the council to thwart his policies. There was Kingston Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Donaldson, who Gallo believes is maneuvering to pack the committee with opponents and deny him the party’s endorsement for re-election. There was Jennifer Fuentes, who played a key role in Gallo’s 2011 election campaign and served as his director of community development — until she was abruptly fired in 2013. On hand also was Rebecca Martin of the community action group KingstonCitizens.org, who clashed with the mayor after he moved to block funding for a school play area.
They had all come together around a true rarity in Kingston electoral politics — a primary challenge from within an incumbent mayor’s own party. But if Noble planned to act as the point man in an intra-party factional feud, you wouldn’t know it from his remarks. The 32-year-old Kingston native kicked off his campaign with a six-minute speech that did not mention Gallo by name and veiled criticism of the administration behind rhetoric expressing ideal qualities for Kingston’s next mayor. Reading between the lines, however, it was easy to discern an appeal based on the perception by opponents that Gallo is autocratic and quick to freeze out individuals and groups who register any disagreement with his agenda.
“We need a leader first and foremost who is willing to work with everyone, despite differences,” said Noble. “Open communication with constituents needs to be done consistently, professionally and respectfully.”
Speaking to the Kingston Times this week, Noble expanded on those remarks, saying that he had heard from some individuals and groups who had a “great relationship” with the current administration while others did not.
“My question is why? Because everyone should be trying to have a great relationship with city government,” said Noble. “We have to extend an olive branch to all of these different groups.”
If Noble is hedging on outright criticism of the incumbent, it may be because Gallo is his boss. Noble has worked for the city for the past 10 years as an environmental educator and environmental programs operations manager. In that role he has done everything from running education programs at the Forsyth Nature Center to overseeing major renovation projects in city parks and administering grants for environmentally friendly infrastructure projects. Noble’s wife, Julie Noble, works as an environmental educator on the city payroll and chairs the city’s volunteer Conservation Advisory Council. The couple lives on Wilson Avenue in Roosevelt Park.
Noble said his roots in the city, and his experience in city government, leave him well suited for the job. He cited infrastructure as a pressing issue that needed more creative solutions than what’s been offered so far.
“There have been some small steps taken,” said Noble, referring to a capital plan developed to prioritize infrastructure upgrades. “But mending it all together needs to be a priority and the current funding mechanisms either aren’t there or aren’t working.”
Noble said if elected he would also address the basic structure of city government by forming a charter commission. Noble noted that the current “strong mayor” system was enacted hastily 20 years ago when Mayor T.R. Gallo (the incumbent’s late brother) orchestrated a rapid about-face from a proposed city manager system which would have left day-to-day operations in the hands of a professional hired by elected council members. Noble said a charter commission could carefully examine city government and the checks and balances in play between the mayor’s office and the Common Council.
“I think its time to have a conversation about what the role of the mayor should be in a community of our size, with our problems and our resources,” said Noble.
Noble also returned to the theme of communication. He said that information from city hall was not getting out widely or quickly enough. Residents, he said, complained about meeting agendas posted shortly before the event and erratic communication on social media and the city website. Some members of the Common Council — including Noble’s uncle — have long complained that Gallo is unwilling to share information or communicate with those who are not in his good graces. James Noble, in fact, has said that he has not had a substantive conversation with Gallo in years.
“There is really not a lot of good quality information coming out of city government,” said Noble. “There needs to be a culture of open accessible communication with City Hall and I have gotten the sense from folks that that’s not happening.”