We’ve got something good and something bad to discuss in the city, both taking place within six hours of each other last Tuesday.
First, the good: U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer deserves a round of applause for showing up to the Washington Avenue sinkhole, along with Mayor Gallo and County Exec Hein, on a cold, nasty and rainy Tuesday to announce that he would urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency to change its rules so it can help the city pay for the estimated $7-plus million repair costs. While it would be easy to snarkily and in a facile manner dismiss this as grandstanding by politicians, two of which are facing election in the fall (one wag asked, “What’s he gonna do, throw a penny in the sinkhole and make a wish?”) I will, on behalf of the taxpayers of Kingston, express gratitude and hope. Schumer’s a city guy, but his assiduousness in making appearances all over the state, when he could easily win election after election by mostly sticking around the five boroughs, is admirable. There’s reason to be hopeful — Schumer’s got clout as it is and stands to become one of the most powerful people in the country if he indeed becomes the top Democrat in either a Senate minority or majority in 2016. FEMA decision-makers could very conceivably decide to make the senator happy by helping Kingston out. (Another wag suggested that Schumer make sinkhole coverage a condition of his support of an Iran nuclear deal, but that might be taking it a tad too far. The sinkhole’s caused enough problems as it is; no need for it to become an obstacle to world peace.)
In my 25 years of covering local governments in one place or another, I’ve noticed that the best of them do two things well. The first is to manage municipal affairs in an efficient manner so tax increases don’t sprout painful year-to-year spikes. The second is to do good job of recapturing tax money paid up the line to the county, state and feds through effective grant-writing, cajoling of member items/pork from lawmakers and otherwise attracting help from the outside. Let’s hope Schumer at the sinkhole will make it rain in the figurative sense. (It certainly did in the literal sense.)
And big ups to Tommy Keegan, who crashed the presser to present Schumer a 12-pack of his finest to mark National Beer Day. “Suds diplomacy” works too.
Now, to the bad — the second example we’ve seen so far this spring of an official city Facebook page being used for partisan purposes. The first was a virtual fist-bump for the mayor after his campaign kickoff at King’s Inn last month. This one popped up Tuesday night, taking a shot at Common Council Majority Leader Matt Dunn over rail vs. trail stuff after Dunn made his state of the city speech. (See photo.)
While the recent abuse got pulled down after people posted objections, it should have never been there in the first place. The government and its property, workers and Facebook pages do not — I repeat, in all-caps, DO NOT — belong to that government’s chief executive. It’s clearly unethical (and kinda illegal) for public property to be used for partisan political aims. (It’s bad enough that under the Gallo administration, the corporation counsel, who’s supposed to represent both the mayor and aldermen, is consistently quoted in the papers dissing council members. The council can hardly be blamed for, under these circumstances, trying to hire its own lawyer.) I don’t know if it’s the mayor himself who’s doing this or a city worker on his instructions or a city worker doing it to curry favor, but it needs to stop.
It’s too soon to tell what the tenor of the mayor’s race is going to be. The Democratic challenger seems to be taking the high road so far, a road which is admirable to walk but often leads to loss. A Republican with a reputation for being a bit of a button-pusher and screw-turner is showing interest in running. The incumbent, whose reputation precedes him, is expected to make a vigorous defense and advocacy of his first term. No one should begrudge him that, but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed and if they do get crossed, we’ll be here to point it out. Gallo’s got his own Facebook page to malign Matt Dunn on, and he should keep electioneering there.