Back in January, Kingston City Hall played host to a raucous public hearing as the Common Council debated a resolution to codify the Kingston Police Department’s longstanding unwritten policy of not inquiring about immigration status during routine interactions with the public. The resolution, proposed by city religious leaders and pushed by Mayor Steve Noble, thrust the city into the nationwide debate on “sanctuary cities” prompted by Donald Trump’s call for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.
As a few hundred supporters of the resolution, many from out of town, marched into the council chambers chanting, “Love, not hate, makes America great!” a smaller group sat stone-faced wearing bright red hats provided by Kingston Republican Committee Chairman Joe Ingarra reading “Make Kingston Great Again.” In the crowd that night was Vincent Rua, a 64-year-old Kingston native who had recently returned to the city after a career in corporate accounting and operating a chain of menswear stores.
“I was like, ‘Wow what is going on here’” recalls Rua of the 6-3 vote to pass the resolution. “I spoke to people I knew and they said, ‘Well, that’s Kingston, a very liberal city where nothing gets done.’”
In response, Rua, a Kingston GOP committeeman, came up with the tag line “Restore Kingston Pride.” On the city committee, Rua started a “Restore Kingston Pride panel that recruited a slate of candidates to run in November’s elections for Common Council and three county legislative seats representing Kingston. The candidates themselves come from across the political spectrum, including registered Democrats and Independence Party members, as well as non-affiliated voters. But they share a core message: Fiscal conservatism, wariness about tax breaks for developers and skepticism about plans to build more low-income housing in Kingston.
“Restore Kingston Pride is a movement that looks to highlight the fiscal responsibility of our elected officials as well as many other issues,” wrote three-term Alderwoman Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) in an emailed statement. “By supporting Restore Kingston Pride you are supporting qualified public servants who are eager to serve their neighbors, not the special interest of ‘connected’ individuals.”
While Rua and others play up the movement’s non-partisan nature, Restore Kingston Pride has emerged as a potentially potent conservative counterweight to Mayor Steve Noble’s progressive “One Kingston” agenda. Hatched in the midst of the sanctuary city debate, Restore Kingston Pride gained strength on the coattails of another hot-button issue, the proposal by housing nonprofit RUPCO to convert the county-owned former city alms house on Flatbush Avenue into supportive low-income housing.
Rua said under Noble’s leadership the city’s identity had been hijacked by “a small vocal minority,” while elected officials had done nothing to slow the growth of low income housing in a community which, he believes, has already taken on more than its fair share.
“I feel that gradually the governance of the City of Kingston is leading us away from prosperity and wealth to being a run-down city,” said Rua.
What happened in Ward 7?
The potential strength of the backlash against both Noble and the RUPCO project was on display in Restore Kingston Pride’s first electoral victory in the Sept. 12 primary election. In Ward 7, where incumbent Maryann Mills is not seeking a third term in office, Democrat Bryant Drew Andrews faced what should have been an easy path to the nomination. His opponent, Kingston City School District teacher Patrick O’Reilly, was competing as a write-in “opportunity to ballot” candidate for both the Democratic and Republican ballot lines. Despite being the only name on the Democratic primary ballot, Andrews, who spoke in favor of the alms house plan, lost to O’Reilly, who opposed it, 71-92. O’Reilly also secured the Republican line with 47 votes. In November, O’Reilly will appear on both major party lines as well as the Conservative and Independence Party lines. Andrews will appear on just one, representing the Working Families Party.
Ingarra said O’Reilly’s victory primary as a write-in against a candidate with backing from a party committee might be a first in Kingston political history.
Restore Kingston Pride made another strong showing in Ward 5 where Teryl Mickens, running a write-in campaign for the Democratic Party line against Council Majority Leader Bill Carey, garnered 30 votes to Carey’s 52.
The Kingston Republican Committee, which has long struggled to fill committee seats and field strong — or in some cases, any — candidates is showing other signs of strength. Ingarra said the committee had added about 10 new members over the past year. Committee members do much of the on-the ground campaigning and serve as a recruiting pool for candidates.
In fundraising, meanwhile, the GOP committee has seen a major surge. State records show that the committee raised $13,567 in the first half of 2017, compared to just $3,000 in 2015 during the run-up to the last round of council elections. The money has already been put to use, including $750 spent on “social media engagement” to support Mickens, O’Reilly and other Restore Kingston Pride candidates. By contrast, the Kingston Democratic Committee raised just over $4,000 in the same period.
“It’s definitely a more energized committee than has been for awhile,” said Ingarra. “We’re hopeful we can take back the council.”