Four years ago, Shayne Gallo stood in front a vacant King’s Inn to kick off his campaign for mayor, in which he promised to revitalize a long-neglected Broadway corridor and reconnect the people of Kingston with their city government.
On Monday, March 23, Mayor Gallo returned to the vacant lot where the notorious welfare motel once stood — it was demolished by his predecessor James Sottile in late 2011 — to make the case that much had been accomplished in his first term and much more remained to be done. “Working in a partnership of inclusivity where government is transparent, fair and accessible to all,” said the mayor, Kingston would move forward in a second Gallo term.
More than a hundred turned out in the unseasonable cold to hear Gallo, a Democrat, make official what has been clear for months: he intends to seek a second term in office. Gallo has frequently decried alleged “elites” in the city’s political life and pronounced himself the candidate of what he calls “Lunchbucket Kingston.” In his remarks Monday, he invoked nine groups who, he said, reflected the core of Kingston — seniors, veterans, clergy, African-Americans, Latinos, business owners, professionals, the not-for-profit sector and the trades. He had, he said, spent his first term building a coalition of those groups that was reflected in the turnout for his campaign kickoff.
“What you saw there was a reflection of the diversity not just of the Democratic Party base,” said Gallo after the event, “but of the City of Kingston as a whole.”
In his speech, Gallo ticked off a familiar list of accomplishments in his first term with a heavy emphasis on what he called a revitalization of the Broadway corridor. Gallo said there had been $2 million in new private investment along the stretch of Broadway between the railroad overpass and Col. Chandler Drive during his administration. Another $4 million, in the form of state grant money, would, he said, transform the Broadway streetscape with new curbs, sidewalks, lighting and traffic controls. Three of 14 Midtown buildings condemned under a revamped unsafe buildings law had already been demolished and more, Gallo said, would follow.
Arts, quality of life
Early in his term, Gallo identified the arts as a key component of the Midtown revitalization scheme. In his speech, Gallo referenced the emergence of an “arts district” in the neighborhood, the imminent completion of RUPCO’s Lace Factory artists’ housing project and the creation of a an advisory council for the arts as concrete steps towards that goal.
“Art is a catalyst for economic development,” said Gallo. “It doesn’t just provide quality of life, it provides jobs.”
To illustrate advances in public safety and quality of life, Gallo gestured towards the corner of Broadway and Henry Street to note the absence of the squad of drug dealers that once staked out turf there. Their absence, Gallo said, reflected an increased emphasis on maintaining quality of life in the heart of Midtown.
Gallo’s struggled with a cascade of infrastructure problems, from the going-on-4-year-old Washington Avenue sinkhole to the recent water main break that left the city perilously close to drought. On Monday, he said he would work in conjunction with state and federal officials to fund infrastructure repairs and upgrades. In particular, the mayor said he would seek funding to extend a bulkhead on the Rondout Creek to protect low-lying neighborhoods from flooding and upgrade a levy that protects Kingston Plaza from Esopus Creek floodwaters.
Gallo faces a rare obstacle for an incumbent Kingston mayor — a primary challenge. City Environmental Project’s Manager Steve Noble has announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination for the seat. No Republican has entered the race so far.
Facebook flub, or electioneering pitfalls of the Social Media age
Meanwhile, a posting on an official city Facebook page this week caused an early stir in the mayoral race — and highlighted new issues in electioneering in the age of social media.
The controversy, largely confined to the social media accounts of various local political types, arose after the Facebook page for the city’s Office of Economic Development and Strategic Partnerships posted a link to a Daily Freeman story on Gallo’s re-election campaign kickoff announcement Monday. The link was accompanied by the message [sic] “Ok, so great speech, all true. Great stuff happening in Kingston let’s keep it going strong.” It is unclear who posted the link or wrote the message; the Office of Economic Development is run by city employee Gregg Swanzey.
The morning after the initial post, after comments questioning the propriety of a partisan message appearing on an official city platform started to pop up on social media, the message accompanying the link was edited to read, [sic] “Great stuff happening in Kingston. Lets keep it going strong.”
Campaign law and the city’s own ethics code generally restrict partisan political use of city resources or electioneering by city employees on the job. Candidates cannot, for example, send out campaign announcements on city letterhead or solicit donations using city e-mail accounts. Gallo’s opponent in the race for the Democratic part’s mayoral nomination, city Environmental Projects Manager Steve Noble, has said that the rules as he understands them prevents him from answering reporters’ questions about the campaign unless he was on his lunch break or off duty.
Gallo, who has shown in the past a tentative-at-best grasp of social media and generally delegates its use to subordinates, said that he was unaware of the posting until informed by a reporter. A short time after he was questioned about the posting, the link was removed.