City voters will elect their second new mayor in four years when Republican Ron Polacco and Democrat Steve Noble face off in the Nov. 3 general election. The election will cap a busy political season, one that saw a fierce factional war inside the Democratic Party result in the unseating of incumbent Mayor Shayne Gallo in September’s primary.
Noble, a 33-year-old environmental management operations specialist with the City of Kingston’s Parks & Recreation Department, is coming off a decisive victory over his soon-to-be-ex-boss in the Democratic primary. Gallo, meanwhile, was left without a party line to run on after his campaign missed a deadline to submit forms needed to run in the Independence and Conservative party primaries. Instead, those lines went to Polacco. Noble also holds the Green Party line.
Noble holds a number of advantages in the race, not the least of which is an overwhelming Democratic enrollment advantage. There are 4,970 registered Democrats in Kingston. Republican, Independence and Conservative party enrollment, meanwhile, totals just 2,862. Non-enrolled voters account for 4,484 of the electorate.
Noble also had a head start in the race. After announcing his candidacy in April, Noble spent the spring and summer months building a campaign organization, raising money and reaching out to Democrats ahead of the Sept. 10 primary.
Finally, Noble is running with a full slate of Democratic Common Council and county legislature candidates. Republicans, by contrast, are contesting just three of nine council seats and none of the city’s three legislative districts. The imbalance means that Polacco cannot count on fellow GOP candidates to help bring Republican voters to the polls.
Polacco, however, is an experienced campaigner whose signature is relentless door-to-door efforts to meet and interact with voters. In 2011, the one-time Ward 6 alderman pulled off an upset victory over party favorite Andi Turco-Levin in the GOP mayoral primary before going on to getting trounced by Gallo in the general election.
Polacco’s supporters are also hoping that lingering bitterness from Gallo partisans will translate to Democratic votes for their candidate. Gallo himself stopped just short of endorsing Polacco in a radio appearance not long after his defeat in the primary, saying that the people supporting the Republican candidate were more trustworthy than the Noble campaign team.
Noble also took some hard shots from the Gallo campaign in the primary. Gallo accused the city employee of mishandling grants he was charged with administering and trying to steer money to his preferred community development projects at the expense of others. Gallo has also warned that with Noble as mayor and his uncle, James Noble, as alderman-at-large, the city would be firmly in the grasp of what he called “Democratic Party elites.”
Noble: Govern with intelligence
Noble has largely brushed off the criticism and run his campaign on a platform of policy ideas heavy on appeal to progressive “New Kingston” voters. In interviews and a pair of debates with Polacco, Noble laid out a vision for the city that included a heavy reliance on measurable outcomes for all city departments. Noble said that he would institute a system of quarterly reports and annual reports from departments that would then be synthesized into a report from the mayor’s office detailing exactly what each department had done over the course of the year.
“We shouldn’t just be handing a department head a million-dollar budget and telling them ‘OK, good luck,’” said Noble.
The emphasis on metrics extends to Noble’s economic development strategy. Noble said that he wanted to use the city’s economic development office to actively engage with existing businesses and seek ways to help them expand or add employees. Those efforts would then be tracked. Noble identified attracting new business — thus growing the city’s tax base — as critical to Kingston’s success.
But Noble has also talked about attracting “the right kind” of businesses — ones that pay a living wage and fit in with the city’s needs. Noble said he planned to emphasize development around existing business “clusters” like food production, the arts and film that play well to the region’s existing strengths. To do that, he plans to rely heavily on a new comprehensive, or “master,” plan expected to be officially adopted by the Common Council next year. The plan, he said, would offer prospective investors a clear sense of what the city was looking for and where it wanted it to go, while creating a more easily understandable planning and zoning process.
“That way developers can see what we’re looking for here before they spend a dime on design and planning,” said Noble. “It’s much fairer to developers.”
Noble said that he would also seek a more predictable and well-thought-out approach to the city’s vexing infrastructure issues. Noble said he would support creating a timetable and financial plan to replace aging infrastructure before it breaks creating crisis conditions which drive up project costs.
“It’s a lot cheaper to do this work when you plan for it and plan ahead,” said Noble. “That’s better than waiting until you have a problem.”
Polacco: The taxes are too high
While Noble has offered up a number of detailed policy proposals, Polacco has focused his message on a simple anti-tax theme. Polacco invokes his experience growing up in the city in the ’70s and ’80’s before returning in 1992 to care for his ailing parents.
“The city I grew up, the city I loved had changed,” said Polacco. “And not for the better.”
Polacco lays the blame for those changes, including a lack of jobs and dirty streets, on two decades of Democratic administrations turning to tax increases as the solution to the city’s problems. Polacco said that his administration would convene a council of local business leaders to seek “outside the box” solutions to the city’s economic woes.