First Ward Alderman Ed Russo said during an interview last week, that although it’s been challenging, he’s enjoyed his first term on the common council.
“I like the people that are on the council,” he said. “Hopefully with elections coming up, we can get a group of people together again, and whoever’s the mayor, whoever’s the council, people can work together. We’ve got to work together.”
Russo said that he considers himself a level-headed person who can work with members of both parties. He currently works full-time as the Deputy Commissioner of Building and Grounds at Montgomery County Public Works, where he has served for 22 years. He has also served as president of the local Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) for 20 years, a position which he recently stepped down from.
He said that attacking blight will be one of his top priorities if elected for another term.
“That’s the biggest complaint I hear from my constituents,” said Russo.
Russo complimented everyone involved with the Capital Region Land Bank and the work they did to recently to rehabilitate a property on Julia Street.
“I supported that 100% from day one, and I still continue to do that because I think it’s a great idea,” said Russo.
Russo also voted with the other common council members to authorize the mayor to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with Gloversville, Schenectady, and Troy as part of a codes information sharing system. Russo said that the computer technology that will be in place with the new system should help the codes enforcement department work more efficiently.
Making sure that dilapidated buildings are demolished in a timely manner is also a priority for Russo. However he said that demolition is not the whole solution.
“It’s not putting it back on the tax roles,” said Russo.
Russo said that finding new revenue sources is important and that economic development is key, but that the city should have realistic expectations.
“I’d like to see the city come back to where it used to be, but it’ll never happen,” said Russo. “I remember the downtown, and I remember Friday nights where it was packed down town. Are you ever going to bring that back? No, it’s not going to happen I don’t think.”
However, Russo said that the city should be proactive about bringing in new small to mid-sized business as well as making every effort to get a developer to rehabilitate the downtown hotel.
Russo commended Robert von Hasseln’s work as the city’s historian, but said he would like to see better results from the Community and Economic Development department.
“I’m not trying to knock anybody, but I think he needs some help with the economic development. Is it going to be better to go to the county and try to get help? I’d have some questions about that. If [von Hasseln’s] going to do it, then we need to get him some help and somehow get moving so we get some industries in this town.”
Russo commended Montgomery County Business Development Center CEO Ken Rose, however he questioned how much attention the department could give to the city.
“Ken’s got some good ideas, he’s got a good staff, but are they going to push a lot of businesses toward Amsterdam?”
Russo suggested one option to consider might be to come up with an agreement by which the city would fund a position for an employee who would work at the county under Rose’s direction, and would concentrate on development for the city.
He said that he would be in favor of creating an economic development committee on the common council.
He also added that he believes the council has to move past arguing about minor issues.
“We’ve got to stop the negativity here, we don’t need bad press…we need to stop that baloney,” he said.
For next year’s budget, Russo said that making flat, across the board cuts is not the best approach. Rather, he wants to start working with the department heads earlier than in previous years in order to discuss their budget requests more thoroughly and look for opportunities to make cuts.
“Every department is going to have to tighten its belts,” said Russo.
He added that he does not want to see layoffs in any city department, but as a last resort, reductions by attrition may be necessary.
Russo also said he is willing to give the idea of a city-run ambulance service another look.
“It was kind of thrown on the table quick…I wasn’t too happy with that,” said Russo, referencing how the idea was announced by Mayor Ann Thane one day before her proposed budget was released.
He added that he would like to start looking at the issue again first thing in January.
When asked whether the items included in this year’s bonding resolution were essential, Russo said, “I think so, I feel comfortable with that.”
He added that the Department of Public Works equipment was especially in need of upgrades, and the equipment will help the department maintain the city better.
In the future, Russo said he would like to see the east entrance to the city improved, and wants to look at either fixing up or moving the deteriorating department of public works and transportation buildings, possibly up to a location on Edson Street.
In regards to the city finances, Russo said he is not in favor bringing in any more outside consultants, and that the current controller and deputy controller were capable of handling the job going forward.
“We’d be buried with bills,” said Russo when asked about going back to work on previous year’s financial records to get them to the point where they could be audited.
“I don’t think any money’s missing,” added Russo.
Russo said he is in favor of keeping the city’s transportation system running, but is open to the idea of transitioning to a regional system. However, he believes the city should have a central role in such a system given its long-term experience with running the service. As transportation committee chairman, he said he would like to be more involved with the discussions about the idea.
“I think we can work together and get a good group together and save us all money. But still have the services, especially for the elderly…or less fortunate, who can’t afford to have a car,” said Russo.
After visiting the Creative Arts Center earlier in his term, Russo said he was impressed with the homework club and was supportive of keeping the center open.
“It’s good, I think we need that,” said Russo.
In regards to the proposed recreation center, Russo said, “I’m leaning towards – I really don’t want it. First of all, I don’t think we can afford it. Second of all…I’m getting a lot of repercussion from where they want to put it.”
He said in regards to the possibility of locating the center at Veteran’s Field, “People don’t want the trouble up there. They’re afraid if they put a recreation center up there, there’s going to be trouble.”
However, he added it was not a “dead issue” with him and would be willing to listen to other opinions.
“I just want to see the city move forward,” said Russo. “And a lot of people say that…but we’ve got to work together…we can’t fight each other.”
He said regardless of who is elected in November, that he wants to “sit down, figure out what your plans are, what my plans are…we need to do that from day one.”
Russo said he is ready to work with either Democrats or Republicans. “I will always work with everybody. And you can hold me to that….I just vote what I feel is good for my constituents and for the taxpayers of the city.”
Russo is running on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, and Reform party lines. According to Russo, he has been endorsed by the CSEA as well as the Republican and Independence parties. In November, he will face Ken Mazur on the Democratic, Working Families, and Green party lines.