Jay Towne: What do you think was your greatest achievement as mayor?
Mayor Ann Thane: I think that it was holding the line on increasing taxes over the years. Because we only increased taxes about 1.3% property taxes [on average] over an eight year period, and that was during the time when there was a global economic downturn, and there was the mandated caps on revenues. I’d say that was pretty huge. I would also say that it is infrastructure improvements that we made around the city including the waste water systems, including the storm system. The wastewater treatment plant had a $3 million upgrade, the water filtration system had a million-dollar upgrade, the solar installation up at the water filtration plant, we have all new fire hydrants on Market Street Hill. That’s why it is disappointing to me that people don’t seem to be terribly informed about what we have done. People don’t understand how proactive my administration was, and how successful we were in advancing the interests of the taxpayers.
Towne: What would you like to have done or finished?
Thane: I would like to have been at the completion of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, because I have been working on [waterfront development] for 15 years…the MVGO is a key component to the development of the waterfront heritage area. So we have done a lot of advancing what was identified in the comprehensive plan, parts of which were the expanding Riverlink Park, putting the bridge in, fixing Bridge Street, and working on the train station relocation project, and I wanted to continue to be part of that. But, such is life.
Towne: I walked the bridge the other day with a friend of mine and I see what is being done is spectacular.
Thane: It’s heartbreaking not to be involved in that any longer in this capacity. But I will be continue to be involved with the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation.
Towne: Tell me about your involvement with city Democrats.
Thane: After the last election Ken Mazur stepped down as chair and that resulted in a vacancy. So, in this immediate interval I will be city chair. I’d like to continue to focus the council members on the priorities that had been established in my time in office, which are revitalizing downtown around the new urban core, and taking care of blight proactively.
Towne: It was a contentious election, as all elections are. I heard someone say that this was the worst election they had ever seen.
Thane: I don’t think so. Actually I don’t think it was very contentious at all, really. I don’t think [Mayor-elect Michael Villa] and I had very much back and forth at all. Maybe that was the perception outside of it. All I was saying was, “What is his plan? What is his plan?” I felt it was very important that he tell us specifically what you are going to do, which he never did. And the voters didn’t seem to care. And it galls me that we still don’t know what he’s going to do.
Towne: So, do you regret anything you or your staff did during the election?
Thane: No, no, I don’t. My staff meaning who? Because I didn’t have much staff. I think there’s a huge difference in that my campaign was just myself and a handful of friends and the Republicans had hired a firm from Binghamton, a professional campaign organization, paid for by money from the state Republicans and local donors. I think we were outspent three to one, easily, just looking at the number of mailers that went out. They had the organization and we didn’t, and that’s unfortunate.
Towne: How much of a difference did that make in the election?
Thane: I think it made a huge difference. He never went into specifics, he just kept repeating. And that is what marketing is all about: repeat your message, repeat your message. He was able to do that more effectively because he had more money and he settled on a very simple message, whereas my message and my list of accomplishments is much more complex and difficult for people to understand and they were really just not interested in knowing specifics. So when [the Villa campaign] put out the message that the mayor screwed up the finances, the people just ran with it or “We’re going to manage blight.” The constituency just bought that. Never thinking how to manage blight.
[I] started the land bank…knocked down buildings…started grant initiatives. I worked with demolitions [using] small city grants. But [the constituency never asked] about that or [insisted] on detail. What are you gonna do? It is what it is. We increased code enforcement. We’ve been working with the City of Schenectady to come up with code enforcement software program that the Secretary of State thinks is so innovative that he held a just held a workshop on it a week ago in Albany.
Towne: So, do you think there were any other factors that contributed to you losing the election, or was that the bulk of it?
Thane: I think that was the bulk of it.
Towne: Do you want to name names, come on?
Thane: Another thing did come into play. The local newspaper was very biased, and it is. They can say that they aren’t but they are. And the people that read newspapers and listen to WCSS, which is also very biased, are all the seniors, and it’s unfortunate that all young people were more in tune with what my administration has done and weren’t engaged in the election process. It’s very disappointing.
Towne: How has the “regime change” been?
Thane: I met once with Villa and talked to him about what I perceive to be priorities, which I have already outlined some, and I have wanted to get further into detail about personnel and operations and capital projects and he canceled the second meeting and hasn’t followed up to reschedule. [Editor’s note: since this interview, Thane said that Villa had rescheduled and met with her a second time.]
Towne: What specifically do you want to impart to Mayor-elect Villa?
Thane: Well I think I just hinted about that. There’s obviously the strategy to revitalize our community through waterfront and downtown revitalization and when I brought that out he mentioned that we can’t really do that until we deal with these blighted properties, which is not an economic development strategy. I think it’s time for him to get past the campaign rhetoric because this is real and now it’s time to really focus on establishing measurable goals and asking what we can really accomplish in a year and what we can accomplish in his term as mayor.
He actually said to me that I didn’t have my goals established before I took office but that’s not true because they are still right there on my desk. They’re still there. I keep them here on my desk and I worked from them the entire time I was in office. Because that’s the kind of girl I am.
Towne: What is next for you? A new job? Relocation? Going to tip your hand?
Thane: I don’t know. I am as anxious to know as you are. (Laughs). I have had some talks with the governor’s office and I have also had some thoughts about some interesting projects that I would like to be involved with. So, I don’t really know. The door is wide open as far as possibilities go right now. So I’m just going to wait until God lets me know what the next thing is.
Some of these ideas I have are really exciting and I would love to pursue them. But at the same time the practical side of me is like “well, I should look at the state because there’s probably something fabulous there,” because I feel that I’ve got all this knowledge over eight years of local government and operations, and budgets and systems in economic development. I’d really like to go into something like housing and community renewal or economic development…I’m just going to wait on God to let me know what the next step is. Relocation probably in a few years.
Towne: Which one of your treasured memories of your time here in City Hall stands out for you?
Thane: There are a few. For instance, working with the kids on the East End. There’s a small group, I call them our tribe. They range in age from five years old to 19 years old. We had been involved with them for four years. They did the mosaic [at the Creative Arts Center] with Tammy Merendo, and Barbara Neznek helped her with that. Doing the mosaic was one of the finest experiences of my life.
So the friendships I’ve made in that way. Sitting in this office talking about policy and strategy with people that are far brighter than I has been just wonderful. And also there’s been a lot of laughter in this office, so much good humor and through all of it what you have to sustain you is so caustic because this is not an easy job. If you are doing what is truly demanded of you at this job you should be working 60 to 70 hours a week, you should be aware of what’s happening in all the departments, you should be working for the betterment of all the community with all of your resources.
Towne: Tell me about the keys to the city ceremony.
Thane: We are really fortunate in the city, and it made it very difficult to choose just 10 people to give the keys to the city to because there are just so many deserving people here. So that was very difficult. I had thought of the ceremony and actually purchased the keys at the beginning of the year…but I never got around [to getting them out] because I was so busy with all of the things I talked about. Then, as it got closer to the election I didn’t want to do it then because I didn’t want these awards to be politicized. So, now that I am going out, I’ve chosen people who have impacted the community, who were extraordinary, who have given themselves selflessly to the communities where they are. You can certainly look at someone like Dr. Rao or Tom Catena, who are just amazing, and I feel that they are saints who walk among us. But just as valuable is Barbara Neznek, who works with the little tribe on the East End and has Flash Forward and the community garden and 4H, and tutoring and works with Carmel’s diner. She is just as valuable and has had a huge impact on her community. And Sherri Bardascini, who works so hard for her community for no compensation on projects that brings 5 to 7000 people to downtown on a weekend…or when someone has a fire and she’s the first one they call and she puts together a network of people to help…Vinnie Fiorillo has been on the zoning board for 20+ years and he and his wife do the walk for suicide prevention every year. These are all people all the recipients that I’ve known for years and seen their impact personally…I chose people that I wanted to recognize before I leave and I believe that that’s my prerogative…I wanted to recognize people.