A standoff between Democratic rivals in the mayoral race over when and where to debate means that the pair may never discuss the issues face-to-face in advance of the Sept. 10 primary.
Incumbent Mayor Shayne Gallo and city Parks & Recreation Department employee Steve Noble are engaged in an increasingly bitter race for the Democratic Party nomination. Last week, after Gallo accused one of the sponsoring organizations of backing his opponent, a coalition of citizen’s groups pulled the plug on a proposed City Hall debate. Now, attention has turned to a proposed face-to-face forum in the editorial offices of the Daily Freeman. The forum, which was to be live-streamed on the Internet was initially proposed for one of several daytime slots in the last week of August. According to e-mails published by the Daily Freeman Gallo agreed to meet Noble at the paper’s offices on Monday, Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. Noble, however, demurred, saying he could not take time off from work during the busy summer season. In an e-mailed response, Gallo suggested that Noble have someone else at Parks & Rec cover for him while he attended the debate.
“Unlike the mayor’s position, there are other qualified personnel at the Recreation Department who can assist for a couple of hours with any programs we have scheduled for our children on the day of the debate,” Gallo wrote in an Aug. 3 e-mail.
Noble responded by accusing Gallo of improperly engaging in politics with city resources by using a city e-mail address to discuss the debate with the paper. Noble claimed that Gallo had “blurred the lines between city business and political intimidation tactics” by advising him to use personal vacation time to attend the debate.
“While [Gallo] is comfortable to illegally campaign on city taxpayer time, I am not and will not,” Noble wrote in response.
Noble told the Kingston Times that he wanted to schedule an evening debate not only out of reluctance to leave work to campaign, but because he felt the mid-morning time slot was inconvenient for working people. Noble added that he would prefer to debate in a public forum rather than in a closed office.
“I want to talk about the issues,” said Noble. “That’s why we should be debating at 6:30 p.m. in a publicly accessible building.”
Gallo did not return a call seeking comment before deadline Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor caught in a lie?
The debate controversy comes one week after a coalition of citizens groups canceled a proposed evening public debate. KingstonCitizens.org, Citizen Action of New York and Go Beyond Greatness had initially planned to host a debate at City Hall on Sept. 8 — two days before the primary. Gallo, Noble and Republican candidate Ron Polacco were all invited to the forum and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters had signed on to moderate. The proposed forum would have included questions submitted by citizens and vetted by a committee of sponsoring organizations intended to reflect various constituencies in the city.
Rebecca Martin of KingstonCitizens.org and Kat Fisher of Citizen Action said Gallo had simply denied them the use of the Common Council chambers to squelch the debate. Gallo said last week he never meant to deny the sponsors use of Common Council chambers for the forum, but merely to inform them that he would not attend. Gallo said he objected to the debate’s timing and the involvement of KingstonCitizens.org, a group he believed was backing his opponent.
But e-mails provided to the Kingston Times contradict Gallo’s claim that the sponsors had never been told they could not use the council chambers. The e-mail, from Gallo’s confidential secretary Ellen DiFalco in response to Fisher’s invitation to the debate, reads, “Sorry, but this request was not approved for your organization to host a debate at City Hall for mayoral candidates.”
After debate organizers agreed to move the proposed debate to an earlier date Gallo, through DiFalco, responded that he would be amenable, but only if the League of Women Voters both sponsored and moderated the forum.
“KingstonCitizens.org and Citizens Action clearly are supporters of my opponent,” the e-mail reads. “And to engage in a debate facilitated by them would not foster transparency, objectivity, fairness and knowledge of the real issues the voters must consider.”
At that point, Martin said, the sponsoring groups opted to pull the plug. Martin said the League of Women Voters had already indicated that they would moderate, but not sponsor, the debate. The issues around the forum, she said, had grown too complicated to continue.
“These groups that were involved were not involved for any reason except to hold a public event and provide a service to the community,” said Martin. “It was not for the mayor and I to get into a debate in the newspaper.”