On Thursday, Sept. 10, incumbent Mayor Shayne Gallo will face Steve Noble in the city’s Democratic Party primary. With 4,942 members, Democrats represent the city’s largest voting bloc, making the winner of next week’s contest the odds-on favorite in November when they’ll face Republican Ron Polacco in the general election.
The primary will also mark the culmination, if not conclusion, of a civil war within the Democratic Party that’s been brewing since 2011 when Gallo won the party line by a seven-vote margin over Hayes Clement, who ran with the backing of the Kingston Democratic Committee. Since then, Gallo has inveighed against alleged “party elites” and accused fellow elected officials — including Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, Common Council President James Noble, former council majority leader Tom Hoffay and current Council Majority Leader Matt Dunn — of forming a “shadow government” to thwart his policies and eventually unseat him.
The struggle for control of the city party is playing out not just in the mayor’s race, where Noble (James Noble’s nephew) is running with the endorsement of the Democratic Committee, but in ward races (and one county legislature race) across the city.
The intra-party feud has made for a contentious election season with Gallo accusing Noble of incompetence in his city job and Noble calling Gallo’s attacks an abuse of power and a taxpayer-funded smear campaign. Gallo has also taken umbrage at Noble for running along with his uncle, who is seeking a fourth term as alderman-at-large.
Steve Noble, meanwhile, has repeatedly drawn attention to Gallo’s frequent clashes with fellow elected officials, non-profit groups and citizens as evidence of a lack of a “civil and respectful” tone coming from City Hall.
Noble, 33, has spent a decade working for the city as an environmental educator in the Parks & Recreation Department. In October, he was promoted and given wider responsibility for seeking and administering grants. His wife Julie also works as an environmental educator at Parks and Rec and chairs the city’s Conservation Advisory Committee. Noble is also a co-founder and former chairman of the Kingston Land Trust. In that capacity, he helped develop the concept of the Kingston Greenline, a walking and biking trail through the city in the process of being constructed. Noble also played a key role in implementing new recycling and waste disposal policies which, he said, saved the city money in tipping fees.
Throughout the campaign, Noble has sought to cast himself as the more progressive, forward-thinking candidate. He has also sought to contrast his more conciliatory style with Gallo’s combative, and at times seemingly erratic, approach to the job. Noble has called for the development of concrete goals for each city department and regular progress reviews to determine if they are meeting them. By way of example, Noble said, the city could allocate a set number of tax breaks to draw new business to the city, then check to see if they were actually generating quality jobs and tax revenue.
“The question is what have we accomplished and what have we spent our tax dollars on,” said Noble. “That’s what I want to know.”
Noble and his supporters have pointed to a series of high-profile incidents to make the case that’s Gallo’s decisions are too often knee-jerk and poorly thought out. Noble has repeatedly invoked the three-and-half-year legal battle waged by Gallo to dismiss former fire chief Chris Rea as an example. Gallo suspended Rea early in 2012 term, but could not officially fire him until October 2014. Meanwhile, the city still owes the former firefighter over $200,000 in back pay. Noble also pointed to Gallo’s decision to create a new post for a bilingual code enforcement officer using community development funds in 2014, then eliminating the position the next year even as he touted the accomplishment in a state of the city address as evidence of inconsistent decision-making.
Gallo has also leveled public criticism — and at times denied the use of city resources — to non-profit groups including Family of Woodstock, the Queens Galley Soup Kitchen, and a church group that ran a free store at the Everette Hodge Center until Gallo ordered them out.
“We have to approach decision-making with accurate factual information and we have to get everyone’s input,” said Noble. “As someone who works in partnerships every day, I know that we have to have a City Hall where everyone’s opinions are valued whether they agree with you or not and that’s not happening now.”
Noble said he wants to set a steadier course by implementing plans — like a county-funded study of Uptown traffic — that have been developed over the years but never carried out. Noble is also a string proponent of a new comprehensive plan recently completed by a committee headed by his uncle/running mate. The plan, four years in development, calls for an overhauled zoning code and other changes to modernize the city’s approach to planning.
“These are achievable and implementable and they come with goals that we can track,” said Noble. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Gallo, meanwhile, is hoping the primary voters will embrace what he calls a “reinvention” of city government. The 55-year-old attorney came into office in 2012 with a promise to bring in people and organizations which had long been frozen out of city affairs by an entitled elite. He called it a “partnership of inclusiveness” and, he says, it has brought real change and progress to the city.
“All I’m asking of voters is that they ask themselves if the city is better off than it was four years ago,” said Gallo. “I think the answer is obvious.”
Gallo took office with a vision that included placing the arts and quality of life at the center of a revitalization effort for the long-neglected Broadway corridor. Gallo’s “BEAT” (Business, Education, Arts and Technology) plan calls for transforming Midtown into an arts center where local residents, including some in the city’s poorest census tracts, can receive training to work in the arts and tech sectors. To fund it, he’s relied on the city’s annual Community Development Block Grant allocations, reforming a distribution process that was largely ad-hoc and placing nearly all of the funds in service of his own plan. Gallo, through the efforts of city economic development chief Gregg Swanzey, also obtained some $8 million in state and federal funding for projects including overhauling the Broadway streetscape and creating a network of walking and biking trails built along old disused rail lines.
Under Gallo’s tenure, Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti has instituted a community policing effort that emphasized closer ties with area residents and increased focus on high-crime areas in Midtown.
Other Gallo campaign promises, though, have never come to fruition. A proposal to convert a former bank building at the corner of Broadway and Henry Street into a new police headquarters, touted as a centerpiece of his Midtown revitalization plan, fell though due to lack of funding. Meanwhile, high-profile empty lots at the site of the former King’s Inn motel in Midtown and a municipal parking garage in the Stockade District remain empty. Also, a project to fix massive Washington Avenue Sinkhole, which opened in March 2011 and has closed one of the city’s busiest streets since then, is just now getting under way.