With Republicans failing to field a candidate for the city’s second-highest elected office, the race for alderman-at-large will come down, at the Democratic primary on Thursday, Sept. 10, to a pair of veteran Kingston Democrats on opposite sides of the party’s factional split.
Jim Noble, 65, has served on the Common Council for 18 years. In 2002 he was elevated from Ward 6 alderman to council president/alderman-at-large upon the death of then-mayor T.R. Gallo. Since then, he has won re-election three times, most recently in 2011.
His opponent in the Sept. 10 primary, Jeanette Provenzano, has her own, equally lengthy political resume. She was first elected to the county legislature in 1986 and has served a total of 26 years there. Along the way, she’s been both the legislature’s minority and majority leader and helped implement charter reform and the current county executive form of governance. Provenzano is running alongside incumbent Mayor Shayne Gallo, while Noble is running with his nephew, mayoral challenger Steve Noble.
Provenzano describes herself as a longtime ally of the man she’s now trying to unseat. She said she’s had her eye on the alderman-at-large job since 2011, when Democratic incumbent James Sottile announced that he would not seek a third term as mayor. Provenzano said she expected Jim Noble to run for mayor, clearing the way for her to seek the number-two spot. When he didn’t, she said, she stayed out of the race out of respect.
Four years later, it’s a different story. “After watching the last year, year and a half with no line of communication [between Jim Noble and Shayne Gallo], the constant turmoil, I said, ‘Enough,’” said Provenzano. “I understand the need for debate and sharing ideas but you need to compromise and you don’t do that by fighting on the front page of the Freeman.”
Provenzano praised Gallo for his work on replacing aging infrastructure and welcoming new business and initiatives in the city “with open arms.” She also criticized Noble and the Kingston Democratic Committee, accusing them of working to undermine Gallo’s plans. Like Gallo, Provenzano was harshly critical of Noble’s decision two years in a row to let Democratic Committee Chair Joe Donaldson cast the deciding vote for council majority leader, rather than breaking the tie himself. Donaldson cast his vote for Gallo opponent Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1).
“There have been plans laid out for almost a year [by city Democrats] to unseat Mayor Shayne Gallo,” said Provenzano. “It’s distressing and it’s not right.”
Noble: Shayne’s shut me out
Noble readily admits a lack of communication with the mayor’s office, but said that the fault is entirely Shayne Gallo’s. Noble notes that he had a close working relationship with Gallo’s brother and Sottile, but said that that ended after he supported Gallo’s opponent in the 2011 mayoral primary, Hayes Clement. Since taking office, Noble said, Gallo has consistently refused to meet with him share information or even return phone calls. Noble said their relationship reached a nadir in October 2013 the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. When the storm hit, Gallo was out of the country on vacation. Noble headed up the city’s response to the disaster. When Gallo returned, he called a meeting of department heads and other city officials to discuss lessons learned and possible changes to the city’s disaster response protocols. Noble was not invited.
“From the very beginning it’s been very hard to have any communications with him,” said Noble. “He doesn’t want independence. He wants people to do whatever he says.”
Frozen out of the mayor’s office, Noble said he has continued to work, largely behind the scenes, keeping the council running. The council president is in charge of directing proposed legislation to the appropriate committee and helping follow lawmakers craft proposals and chairing council meetings.
For the past four years, Noble has also been charged with leading the city’s Comprehensive Plan committee. The resulting plan lays out an ambitious blueprint for the future of Kingston which encompasses everything from easing traffic flow to overhauling the zoning code and creating simpler, more predictable planning guidelines. Noble said that with the plan complete, it would take political will and close attention to actually bring the proposals to fruition.
“We have all of these recommendations,” said Noble. “I don’t want to see them sit on a shelf. I want them to become real and meaningful.”
While Noble is staking his re-election bid entirely on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, Provenzano has a backup in the form of the Independence Party endorsement. If she loses the Democratic race, she could carry the Independence banner in November. Provenzano said that she did not know if she would continue to campaign if she lost the primary.