‘He made good copy’ – four years on the Gallo beat

K701 shayne in victory

Shayne Gallo, celebrating his 2011 victory. (Photo: Dan Barton)

(Editor’s note: Below is what’s called a “reporter’s notebook” piece. For those unfamiliar with the term, it denotes a piece of writing where a journalist steps out from behind the usual third-person/inverted pyramid form to offer insights and perspectives in a less-regimented style.)

If one were to write an epitaph for the administration of Mayor Shayne Gallo, and one were to use the kind of rhetorical sleight of hand favored by obituary writers which renders a drunk a “bon vivant,” it might read, “He made good copy.”

Indeed, the Kingston Times experienced a steady circulation increase all four years of Gallo’s reign. I’d like to think at least some of that stemmed from some decent reporting, spot-on editing and the emergence of a more energized and informed citizenry. But it would be both ungenerous and untrue to deny that we were aided immensely by a mayor whose bullying style, mercurial decision-making and occasional bizarre pronouncements made each edition a hybrid of Wrestlemania and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. As a City Hall reporter, your bread and butter is pretty much dry toast. The city goes up a blip in its S&P bond rating, you write a story. An alderman proposes a new law to regulate cats, you write a story and crack a few jokes. The mayor orders a city dump truck parked on a working railway line. Wait…What? Seriously?


That, in a nutshell, was the Gallo administration that I spent four years documenting. It was a weird, exasperating, sometimes infuriating four years. But it was never boring.

As a reporter, you learn to play your cards close to the vest. You give people the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. You write what you can nail down to a semi-certainty, then hope the rest can be read between the lines. But with the Gallo administration coming to close, it’s time to briefly put aside objectivity in order to tell a deeper truth — one that doesn’t fit comfortably into the template of classic American newspaper journalism.

Shayne Gallo, as mayor of the City of Kingston, was a bully with a mean streak so wide it blotted out most of the good he tried to accomplish and killed his hopes for a second term. He was a mayor who, for all his talk of “transparency” and “accountability,” regarded Kingston as his personal fiefdom, the resources of which could be used to reward friends or punish enemies at his whim. He was a mayor so lacking in self-awareness that he failed to recognize the rank hypocrisy of his actions. Again and again, he would paint himself into a corner, then walk out and blame someone else for the mess.

None of this unfolded secretly. It was all right there in the mayor’s own words and actions since the day he took office. You just had to read the paper.

Gallo began his term four years ago with a mandate for reform. The son of one Kingston powerbroker and brother of another, Gallo nonetheless positioned himself as an outsider who would take a sledgehammer to the entrenched Democratic Party political elites. In a city where cronyism was taken as a given and outright corruption widely assumed if rarely proven, his was a message that resonated. At the Kingston Times, where we’d editorialized against the “institutionalized lassitude” of city government, it seemed Gallo’s promise to ride into office, wielding torch and sword, was just what the city needed.

Early on, his targets were predictable — fellow Democrats who’d backed his opponent in the primary. I soon learned that Mayor Gallo had no intention of making nice, or even pretending to, with the opposition. In long, digression-filled diatribes that I learned to recognize as his preferred speaking style, he would launch rhetorical bombs at enemies real and perceived. On the record, people like then-Common Council majority leader Tom Hoffay, were good ol’ boys driven by their sense of entitlement to help themselves and their friends at the taxpayers’ expense. Off the record, they were worse. Much, much worse. Speaking in rapid-fire monologues, Gallo would sketch out to me convoluted webs of political conspiracy. From his earliest days in office, he saw a “shadow government” stalking his every move, waiting for its moment to pounce.

Gallo is hardly the only elected official to subscribe to the paranoid school of political relations. While his relentless focus on those who opposed his candidacy seemed both overblown and counterproductive, it fit snugly into a familiar category of smash-mouth governance. Less understandable were the fights he began picking with nonprofits, businesses, individual citizens — anyone, it seemed, who offered the slightest disagreement or resistance to his agenda. About a year into his term, stories had begun to creep out of City Hall and the nightlife circuit. Tales of savage public dressings-down of employees for petty or nonexistent infractions. Threats to send in the cops or the building department or a legal injunction to deal with someone who had pissed him off. In early 2013, I received word from a source I considered both well-placed and credible that Gallo had even made threats against me and my employer. In a private rant, the story goes, Gallo had suggested he might deploy building inspectors to ticket-blitz the offices of Ulster Publishing. More ominously, the source said, he’d hinted that he might instruct police to make trouble for me at my side job tending bar in a late-night dive. I’d already witnessed Gallo openly threaten a naked abuse of power — denying permits to County Executive Mike Hein’s proposal for a SUNY Ulster campus at a shuttered city elementary school — and had no reason to think he’d stop short of mobilizing city resources against the paper. That revelation gave me a few anxious nights staring past the neon onto North Front Street waiting for the posse until some cop sources assured me that no such order had been given and, anyway, nobody in the department was inclined to grant the mayor that kind of favor.

It was around that time that we went to press with a scathing story bearing the memorable headline “Neither politicians nor public safe from Gallo’s rages.” The story came in the wake of Gallo’s well-publicized on-tape eruption at onetime campaign worker-turned-parking enforcement officer Jeremy Blaber. At the time, Gallo’s supporters brushed off the profanity and threats of arrest and physical violence as a one-off incident stemming from a sense of betrayal. It wasn’t. In the story I was able to document a series of very public temper tantrums. I left out the part about the profane tirade he unleashed over the phone at Daily Freeman Managing Editor Tony Adamis while my then-10-year-old daughter stood a few feet away. I left out half a dozen or more anecdotes that I was unable to get on the record because people sincerely believed that if they talked openly about their experience, the mayor would use his office to go after them, their loved one and their livelihoods.

After that story, Gallo didn’t talk to me for a long time. I was relieved to have a break, but it wouldn’t last. Eventually, he and I returned to a regular routine of phone interviews that usually left me depressed that the person I’d just spoken to was a mayor — and relieved he wasn’t my mayor. The stories of bizarre behavior grew less frequent, but stories of petty vengeance and blustery threats remained steady. I wrote them when I could nail them down and let them go when I couldn’t. As far as I was concerned, Gallo’s toddler-like tantrums were now a matter of record and people could do with the information what they pleased. Gallo’s vindictive nature went well beyond the confines of his duties as mayor or any perceived need to be tough in service of the public good. When his personal relationship with a former Kingston Times writer ended badly, he took to calling my boss demanding that she be fired, or else he would stop responding to requests for interviews. The campaign of harassment ended only when the woman sent him a formal cease-and-desist letter.

One thing I learned reporting on Gallo is that he hides very little and what he does hide he hides poorly. It was perhaps a redeeming quality. He would engage in atrocious behavior so brazenly that it was clear he believed right was — always — on his side. My personal favorite Gallo technique, if only because it was relatively low on the collateral-damage scale, was what came to be known in the newsroom as “The Spontaneous Demonstration.” The maneuver would involve rallying a small corps of supporters, feeding them talking points and then turning them loose at public meetings to parrot them, often line for line. The effect he hoped to create was an impression of a groundswell of popular support for whatever he was pushing or, more often, popular condemnation for whatever he opposed. He would prime me for these puppet shows by solemnly warning me that “a lot of people are really upset about this and you’re going to see that at the meeting tonight.” Usually “a lot of people” would be his secretary’s husband or a handful of hardcore Gallo-istas.

There are 23 comments

  1. gberke

    Well and good. And lengthy. And a bit revealing. You got a lot off your chest.

    This coverers a 4 year term and a reader might wonder if the mayor actually did any work, had department meetings, met with businesspeople and there were people that absolutely opposed Mr Gallo from the start… “just because you’re paranoid does not mean they are not picking on you”.
    Personally, I saw a lot of that behavior. And I also saw a man devoted to the city and putting out plans and ideas that met with little opposition and certainly no competing programs: your editor was at several of the Comprehensive Plan meetings and could see for himself, and did see, poorly done work.
    The notion that Gallo sent out people that supported his view? I counted two: his secretary and her husband… there might have been someone else..
    I surely wish the Times had actually written about the transgressions it witnessed, chapter and verse. Early on, the Times had an excellent opportunity to weigh in on the firing of Jennifer Fuentes. And separated that from actual reporting about the city government.
    I’m lot less concerned, however, with whatever treatment you hit the mayor with but rather the damage you did to Kingston…

    Again, you have written a personality piece. You have not written anything like that about the work done in this city.

    I’ve written about this before: everything that happens in the city, every shop that opens, street repaired, park upgrade, the energy bills, the garbage, the schools, library, fire department, shop closings, rental housing, city properties, etc… doesn’t even matter what he inherited… it’s his. Whether he supported it and failed, opposed it and lost, the citizens deserve more than entertainment from the paper: they deserve to know about the government and services they paid for.

    What do you think the condition of the city of Kingston is as it is picked up by Steve Noble?
    I see no reason not to anticipate a delightful term of service in this new administration, looking forward to some real communication as he outlined in his pre election meetings: simply outstanding and I think he demonstrated a real ability to speak clearly, authoritatively and with real understanding…

    It’s late for you to do the hard work of writing about the departments, the quality of the work done, the various grants prepared and funded… still, you could try: match the column length of you editorial on the personal failings of Gallo against the work he actually did. And list, if you will, the real shortcomings you find…

    One more thing:I’m familiar with several of the more contentious events in the administration that you bring up… there are other sides to that presentation, but that would make the people you’ve brought up pawns in the game.

    1. Hokeystuff

      “He made good copy”,but he also made a helluva good civics lesson. How did someone that was not only unqualified, but unworthy of being a mayor get elected? Why was he not seen for what he was by the press and community leaders during his tenure and not called out for his behavior? Someone once said that ‘you get the government that you deserve’ and whole heartedly agree. If we, as citizens, don’t demand more from the people we elect, we’ll never get it.
      Everyone excused his behavior as being ‘passionate’, or just ‘hot-headed’, when it was pretty obvious that he was far beyond either of those. The ‘Blaber incident’ was a clear indication to anyone with a functioning brain that we had a mayor that was unfit for office, and the public never reacted. And yes, I do fault the media for not tying all of the incidents of his paranoia and vindictiveness together and exposing this mayor for what he was. I guess we need to figure out how to demand more from our media as well as our government.
      I’m pretty sure sanity has been restored to some degree in City Hall, but if the cadre of candidates that are running for election right now doesn’t scare the beJesus out of everyone, we’re in store for a disastrous fate at the national level.

  2. Frank Dart

    A well written piece of journalism. Actually, you gave Gallo more credit than he deserves. Berkes comments are his normal rhetoric from from next to Attila the Hun. Berke should run for office and see what reality is. Gallo will go down in history as the worst mayor in Kingston history!!!!

    1. nopolitics

      Man, you seem to reflect the reputation you earned with this post. Characterizing Gerald Berke as “Attila The Hun”? (Maybe he is off base, but “Attila the Hun”??!!) You have the perceptual acuity of Jim Sottile after 20 drinks. Perhaps you should go off and form your own fire department with him. One of you can fight fires–that would be you– and one(that would be Jimmy boy) run into the building hoping to be a hero and get some press out of it. LOL P.S. Do you happen to know who Atila the Hun was, by any chance, or how that person relates to Gerald Berke? Oh…I can see it now…a political debate….and you make this claim….and my response is:”I knew Atila the Hun…Atila the Hun was a friend of mine….man, Gerald Berke is NO Atila the Hun!!”

      1. gerald berke

        I’m very pleased that several Kingstonians stuck to the facts… this bodes well for a better and better Kingston.
        “we must all hang together or we shall surely hang separately…”

  3. gerald berke

    Mr Smith et al are shaking their might fists at the back of a departing train. That poorly serves the community.
    It might show the importance of print media, and what happens when it’s not there.
    Mr Hokeystuff says Gallo wan’t qualified? You couldn’t say that based on his resume, education, work experience, or indeed his successful negotiation as mayor.
    Others will continue with ad hominem tantrums… and hinge it all on one really really stupid event with Blaber while corporation counsel was present… that is breathtaking.
    I have a lot less of a problem with venality than incompetence, lack of involvement and a failure to stop up to a perceived problem.
    4 years? Is this the earliest it could have been written? What purpose can it serve now: more like the petulant complainers in Oregon occupying an empty Nature Preserve in off season.
    I recall a bit of a dustup between Tynan and Capote, over “In Cold Blood” and a very angry note from Capote, Mr Tynan wrote “Capote seems to have invented yet another art form: after the non-fiction novel, the semi-documentary tantrum.”
    The train has left. Mr Smith has shown up 4 years late for the job: he’ll get no points from me on that.
    But it is not enough that the Times write and fume about personality. There was work to be done…
    BEAT that made a big splash and disappeared, a Police Station that was to be relocated and there was no movement in 4 years, a 1 mile joint venture of $4million for a pathway along the Hudson with AVR, a BBB plan that seemed to miss some seriously concerned “stakeholders”, a Comprehensive Plan that was really late and gets very very little play so much as to be completely ignored by Rupco…
    Meantime, fabulous work on the Greenline, a very much improved police department with a professional presence in social media…
    Are Hoffay and Donaldson the paragons of open civic leadership?
    Where was Gallo on the fabulous farm work to the YMCA? For that matter, where were the aldermen? The Times?
    Did the Times approve of the changes to the web presence for the city? Was more needed? Did Mr Green not do a fine job with tourism for Kingston? After 4 years, does Broadway look different? Happy with the 11th hour fix of the Uptown Parking lot.
    All this too reminds me of an editorial about some dog poop that the time wrote: the editor has walk past it for a week and nobody had picked it up! (How many editors does it take to pick up a bag of dog poop?) Why do something when you can write about it?
    OK. Trains gone. Move along, nothing to see here.

    1. Hokeystuff

      I’d call the lack of any management experience of any kind a definite lack of qualifications. The fact that he won the nomination when his opponent actually HAD those qualifications and many more is what REALLY needs to come into question. What role did the Democratic Party leadership have in allowing that to happen? What were the Democrats that voted in the primary thinking? Seriously, did the name ‘Gallo’ have that much clout that people were blind to rational thinking?

      This is not an indictment of this media outlet specifically but about the state of journalism in general. The media in general has ceased to be the watchdog for the public that it once was and we are no longer an ‘informed public’ which is a death knell for a democracy. Consequently, the lack of trusted information is what leads to the polarization that we see in our political environment today. With such a lack of information, people fill in the blanks with whatever they want that supports their own belief systems. How else can you explain the lunatic fringe of the GOP party?

      I wish I could propose a specific solution, but the bottom line is that people have to take it upon themselves to be more informed and to be openminded enough to think objectively and not get sucked in to supporting people or issues without asking some tough questions and demanding answers.

  4. rainier parade

    Finally being rid of Gallo is one of the best things that has happened to this city in recent years. The man was a walking disaster. Is there a constituency that he didn’t make enemies of? As the article states, even his most ardent supporters were embarrassed. And now we have a new mayor, who, despite his tender years, knows that you have to reach out and build bridges, not burn them, if you want to get things done. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to Gallo’s take-no-prisoners style. Let’s hope this is the last we see of Shayne Gallo as an elected official. He clearly doesn’t have the temperament for this type of work.

  5. TheRedDogParty

    As I recall, the Kingston Times endorsed Mr. Gallo. Stories (true or untrue) were circulating about him at the time, and this was the reason he was not endorsed by the Democratic Party.

    On a number of occasions, as I walked past your uptown office, the employee you reference in your article who had a personal relationship with the Mayor was on the phone. I tried not to listen to her private conversation being conducted in a public space. The gist of what I could not help from hearing? “I can get the Mayor to (do this or that)”, pardon me for leaving out the specifics. This is a conflict of interest, the staff member should have, at the very least, been put on leave. I know your publisher was aware of this because I told him. His lame excuse was that she was not involved in any reporting at City Hall. How much longer was she on the payroll?

    My conclusion: you share some of the responsibility for not reporting the truth, and the whole truth at the time. Your ‘tell all’ article is a bit disingenuous.

    1. admin

      Hi Steve – almost three years ago, you raised a similar question, and almost three years ago, this was my response, which still stands. “Hey, this is Dan Barton, editor of the Kingston Times. Since I do speak for the paper, I would like to address The Red Dog Party’s post. Carrie never wrote about politics much prior to her relationship with Mayor Gallo and after she disclosed to us that she was having that relationship (immediately after it began) it was resolved – and held to – that she not cover stories having to do with politics or Shayne Gallo.
      As far as whether having the mayor’s girlfriend on our staff has made us take it easy on the mayor or has resulted in preferential treatment from the mayor, I will say this: you can judge a straight shooter by the straightness of the shots. Looking back on our coverage, I am not seeing any evidence of tilting things to make Gallo look better. (If anything, it made us more mindful of keeping our coverage above board.) If this were not true, perhaps the mayor back in March would not have called me up and – after expressing his extreme discontent with a story Jesse wrote about a firefighter suing the city – say he was never speaking to the Kingston Times again. (This is not the first time he has asserted – and then retracted – his unwillingness to participate in our stories.) I offered him a letter to the editor to rebut Jesse’s story, the accuracy of which we stand by, but the offer was never taken up and we did not hear from the mayor or Andy Zweben for a solid month, until they wanted their side of the story in our piece about the track-blocking dumptruck. If this is preferential treatment, I would hate to find out what happens when he gets angry at us.”
      We did find that out; Jesse’s piece breaks it down very well. And yes, we did endorse him back in 2011. I thought he had a lot of potential, and didn’t actually know anything about his rep for poor anger management, etc. In general, I look at Shayne Gallo’s mayorality as a wasted opportunity and a tragic level of squandered potential. – Dan the editor.

      1. Gerald Berke

        Steve has it right. And any communications and offers to the mayor ought to have been done in the open, in public, in the editorial page. If the mayor complained, if he contacted you, and if you made offers to him, that was the subject for a simple and short article. Simple and short. And the paper could have reasonably asked questions about governance, policy, communication, the paper could have submitted questions to the mayor in writing if you were too scared to be hollered at, and you could publish and comment on the answers.
        If you had done anything like that, there would be no reason for the Kingston Times to be hurling brick bats at a guy who isn’t even the mayor.
        Come on Dan, that’s silly. This is just circle the wagons stuff: you guys did not do a good job. I think Geddy would weigh in on this. I suppose he’s going to be compelled to back his troops now… The staffs writing was nowhere up to the quality of the stuff that Geddy himself wrote, stuff of substance.
        As to the employee in question: did anyone suggest that that employees behavior was inappropriate and ought not to be done at the Times offices with Times equipment and within casual earshot? Were you all sitting around soothing hurt feelings, commiserating what a bad boyfriend the mayor was.

        Do you need this stuff to be submitted for print? That’s easily done.
        Steve is right, and looks like Jesse was working with Barton’s full approval..
        Let’s here from Geddy.
        Over and out.

  6. Susan

    Isn’t it time to move on Boys? Stop whipping a dead horse. This rag is part of the problem with small town politics and you have thoroughly trashed Gallo. Satisfied?

    1. admin

      Thanks for reading, Susan. Were we a rag when we ran that feature story about your art, or did we become one after? – Dan the editor

      1. Susan

        Dan, why are you continually beating a “dead horse” by printing article after article about the same political infighting nonsense that brought Noble down and has plagued this town forever. Let it go! Let’s move on. Most of us are aware that you didn’t like him and the KT supported Steve Noble. You made your point. Kingston has worked to do. Susan

        1. admin

          Part of what journalists do is shed light on the inner workings of government and politics so citizens can understand why what happens happens. If we didn’t do this, public officials would get away with even more than they do now; a look at any number of countries around the world without a free press acting as a “watchdog” bears out that thesis. There’s also a function of journalism being the “first draft of history” which is something we take seriously as well. – Dan

  7. Jesse J. Smith

    Susan’s comments are part of the counter-narrative that this story was intended- in part- to combat. Some Gallo supporters have consistently sought to characterize his actions as part of some ongoing and unremarkable “political infighting.” Describing the actors as “Kids in a sandbox” who can’t get along all equally responsible for the uncivil tone of civic discourse. But a cursory review of Gallo’s record shows something different. Namely, people- many with no connection to politics- who say they were bullied and intimidated into silence by someone who routinely threatened to use his power to hurt them in very serious, very specific ways. That is not politics as usual.It’s not kids in the sandbox and any effort to portray it that way is simply an effort to sweep the exceptional ugliness of the Gallo administration under the rug. Since this story ran I have received an outpouring of input from citizens, business owners and city employees validating its key points and its news value. Meanwhile, even Gallo’s staunchest supporters have not come forward on social media or anywhere else to argue that the story was in any way inaccurate in its details.As for beating a dead horse- I think the record shows that we beat this particular horse while he was very much alive and kicking. My reporter’s notebook was simply an attempt to sum it all up and try to make some sense of a very weird four years.

  8. Runon

    Susan, why don’t you move on from your frenetic posting? The election was a while ago. Move on from your constant tut tutting.

  9. Jode Blampett

    Wow, we’ve only been rid of him for 10 days Susan. Everyone was completely terrified while he was in office, and so would you have suggested we had this conversation while he could still sic the cops,meter readers amd the building inspectors on us, have our cars booted or all the other wonderful things that he was known to do?

    Great article Jessie. Thank you.

  10. TheRedDogParty

    Thank you, Jesse, for your explanation, and I accept it. (I continue to have a very strong belief in that “appearance of conflict of interest = conflict of interest”.)

    I believe in continuing to evaluate how our institutions operate and our own behavior. Otherwise, we will be held captive by our past deeds.

    In my opinion, you did a service for our community by writing your column in such a straight-forward way. This is borne out by the responses you’ve received above.

  11. Brian Woltman

    Gosh, talk about flogging a dead horse!!

    While the content of this piece may very well be accurate; there are also two very troubling things about this article.
    First, clearly Jesse Smith has worked on this for awhile, so it should’ve been published a week or two earlier.
    Second, basic journalism 101: an article of this type should have given the subject an opportunity to comment on it.

    I expect better.

  12. nopolitics

    This is all a bunch of bickering reflective of the fact there is no focus in this town on what really matters– and evidently never will be.
    The most glaring issue here is not how the local press treated or responded to Shayne Gallo–but instead, where the local press was(???) when his predecessor was behaving in much the same fashion–if not worse in some instances– and for far longer than one term(I would say “AWOL” and deliberately din of ear). Are we in the public to discern that the frustration was building, and conveniently dropped as it accumulated– in relatively late fashion— ALL upon Shayne Gallo? Perhaps that is NOT the ENTIRE story here…but I daresay certainly a BIG PART of the real psychodynamic here. Mr. Dan excoriated me for proclaiming this, proclaiming me “paranoid” as well, but unlike such knee-jerk journalism, I have facts to bolster my views. I have also, I might point out, never gotten out of my car to excoriate someone who ran a stop sign, much as I might have wanted to at some time or other. “For the record.”
    The Reynolds story has it that Sottile was seen “singing “Happy Days Are Here Again'” upon leaving city hall on Inauguration Day. That is interesting, and formed a concern of those of us who felt that of “the two so called evils”–ie, Sottile and Gallo–Sottile was worse–which started in the last primary campaign with the nonsense of his sending a letter to Democrats pushing Noble as if he–Sottile–deserved a lick of a listen on anything after his “rather interesting behavior and performance” on many levels. Those of us who felt that way have not changed our minds. The anticipation remains of what role Sottile wants in this new administration. As does the trepidation over the notion that he wants something substantial…and thus this entire “New Kingston” concept isn’t quite as all-encompassing as those with their heads in the clouds now seem to think it will be.
    So those who prefer not to think so may wish to order a drink(speaking of a “drunk who is called a bon vivant”), if not toss it into someone’s face. Happy New Year everyone!!! LOL

  13. Clinton Plaza

    Whew! The more catholic males, from st. joseph’s, we are exposed to, the more “those stories” about what was going on up there are obviously fully VERIFIED! What a dysfunctional mess of psychotic, self important, know it all, oxygen wasters! Kingston deserves EVERY one of them as they are a perfect fir for it’s “environment.”

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