In an emotional farewell Tuesday evening, Common Council President James Noble marked his final meeting presiding over the body where he has served as a behind-the-scenes guiding hand and mentor for generations of neophyte politicos.
Noble, who has served on the council since 1997 and as its president and the city’s second-ranking elected official since 2002, opted not to seek another four-year term.
The 70-year-old plumber by trade was known for his low-key style and encyclopedic knowledge of city government and local lore. Supporters say he put those traits to good use in the role of council president who, under the City Charter, may only vote to break a tie on the nine-member body.
“He didn’t tell us what to do, he just in his own subtle way guided us,” said Alderman Bill Carey (D-Ward 5), who’s also stepping down after eight years on the council. “He created an atmosphere where we could learn and grow and that is going to have an impact for years.”
Noble’s time on the council extended over four mayoral administrations, including that of his nephew, current Mayor Steve Noble. On Tuesday, Steve Noble credited his uncle with awakening his own interest in public service with his tales of the machinations of city government at family gatherings. Noble’s early years as council president also coincided with a contentious period in Kingston as the city sought to guide itself out of the economic devastation wrought by IBM’s departure from the city and a vocal Republican minority sought to aggressively assert their viewpoint on the council floor. Noble said earlier this year that he felt comfortable stepping down largely because the battles of the first decades of the 21st century had been fought and he believed Kingston is on the right track.
“It was wild,” said Noble, recalling his efforts to keep control of council meetings that devolved into near-fistfights. “I must say, it’s a lot more subdued now, but a lot more is getting done.”
Next month, Andrea Shaut will take over as council president, the first woman in city history to hold the post. Shaut, a classically trained pianist and professional musician entered politics in 2017 when she was elected to the council’s Ward 9 seat. She was tapped by the Kingston Democratic Committee for the council president’s job and ran without opposition.