Interview with Ann Thane, candidate for mayor of Amsterdam

“I really feel this is a calling for me. I enjoy the job,” said Mayor Ann Thane when asked why she is running for a third term as mayor. “It allows me to use my talents and time for something that I feel very passionately about.”

Thane said she believes the city is just beginning to see the benefits of her work and that greater success is just around the corner.

“It’s been eight years, I’ve learned so much,” said Thane. “Change is slow and change is incremental and its strategic and it’s multi-faceted. And it takes a long time.”

Thane pointed to the progress made during her two terms as mayor in the waterfront and downtown areas of the city, including the improvements to the streets and sidewalks on Bridge Street, completion of phase 2 of the River Link Park construction, and the beginning of the construction of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge.

She also listed progress made under her administration in maintaining the city’s infrastructure, citing a $10 million upgrade to the water filtration plant, a $3 million upgrade to the waste water plant, and continuing work to separate the sewer and drainage system, as well as repairs to the city’s fire hydrants.

Thane said that when she first came into office in 2008, she was given a list of 75 fire hydrants that were out-of-order. Today, she said the list was down to six.

“I think that’s a huge improvement,” said Thane.

Keeping the city financially stable is another area where Thane said the city has improved under her administration. Thane cited her renegotiation of the city’s share of county tax revenues, up from 10% to 18% of the total amount allocated to municipalities, as well as negotiating a revenue sharing deal between the city and the surrounding towns who utilize the city’s water and sewer system to fuel their economic development.

She also cited negotiating a revenue sharing deal with GAVAC earlier in her term, reworking sewer and water rates, as well as more recently, negotiating a cost saving deal with Madison County to process the city’s sludge, and deals with solar energy companies to offset energy costs.

Thane also pointed to over 90 demolitions with another 14 being planned, as proof of her administration’s contribution to fighting the city’s problem of blight.

However, Thane said, “I don’t relish demolition. I would much rather see us preserve the historic character of our neighborhoods. That’s what makes us unique.”

“I come from a community where it was very suburban,” said Thane. “We didn’t have the same charm that Amsterdam has. And people that have lived here forever don’t recognize it I think.”

“It’s a beautiful place. And I’d say 90% of our neighborhoods are beautiful,” said Thane. “The focus on the ‘warts’ as I say, is a disservice to the city.”

Thane explained how she sees blight as a symptom of the lack of of economic development.

“We have to focus on economic development drivers that will attract people here so that there is more money going into the system. And then people are attracted to buying some of these structures and rehabbing them,” said Thane.

“I don’t think you can focus your economic development effort on managing blight. Because that is not economic development.”

When asked if she thought that blight keeps developers away from the city, Thane said, “No. It may keep some people away from certain areas. Every municipality in the United States probably has blight. I don’t think the blight is keeping people away from Schenectady, I don’t think it’s kept people away from Saratoga. And Saratoga has blight.”

“Even if you demoed every abandoned building in the city of Amsterdam. You’re not going to draw people here for that,” she added.

Thane said the solution is to “focus on quality of life amenities that will increase the value of your properties.”

Giving examples of the city’s historic sites, museums, parks and restaurants, Thane said, “You want to develop an experience that people visiting here will value…then that people who want to live here would say yeah, this is a wonderful community and I want to be part of it.”

Thane also said the creation of the Capital Region Land Bank, of which Amsterdam is a part of, is another important tool for mitigating the spread of blight and pointed out the approximately $500,000 in funding that the land bank recently received from NY State that will be used to demolish or rehabilitate properties in the city. She also cited the inter-municipal agreement that the city recently entered into that will allow several neighboring cities to share codes information in order to track chronic absentee landlords.

In regards to crime issues, Thane said hopes to continue to nurture and grow the neighborhood watch program and also cited recent efforts to coordinate with Mohawk Valley Crimestoppers.

“It’s been very disappointing to see my opponent use crime as… a tool toward a political end,” said Thane, referring to candidate Michael Villa. “Because we are one of the safest communities statistically. And this crime myth in Amsterdam that he is perpetrating has been debunked.”

“It’s a huge disservice to the community,” said Thane. “As well as talking about Amsterdam as though it is only blight. It is not. It’s beautiful, it’s attractive, it’s affordable.”

“I chose to live here,” added Thane. “I didn’t grow up here. I chose this place for its qualities. So stop telling me that it’s something that it’s not.”

“I do understand that we have work to do. I do understand that there is crime. I do understand that there is blight…there is always more work to do. But do not say that we are, you know, the pits,” she said.

In coming years, Thane said she hopes to tackle several different projects including building a recreation center, creating a city-run ambulance service, continuing the planning process for moving the train station to downtown, updating the city’s comprehensive plan, and continuing the two Brownfield Opportunity Act projects currently under way. Additionally, she hopes to look at the possibility of rehabilitating the old FGI building or some of the old buildings on the west end for residential apartments.

Thane said she was concerned about the expansion of parking lots for St. Mary’s hospital in the west end. “We cannot have an expanding parking lot,” said Thane. “We should be talking about a parking structure on the west end, and development along the river.”

In regards to economic development, Thane said that she continues to be in favor of keeping the city’s Community and Economic Development Director position, rather than relying solely on Montgomery County for direction.

“They have a focus that is county-wide,” said Thane in regards to Montgomery County, “They don’t have the resources to drill down on the retail level, or events, community organization…I think we’re well served by someone whose primary focus is the city.”

According to Thane, CEDD Rob von Hasseln has been successful with writing grant applications, working to find buyers for the downtown hotel building, and has worked in tandem with Montgomery County, the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency and the Urban Renewal Agency.

“We need that…the problem has been that he has been underfunded and understaffed. We don’t invest in growth here and it shows,” said Thane.

According to Thane, she only had approximately $2,000 left out of $10,000 budgeted this year for marketing the city.

“Schenectady puts $650,000 into their marketing,” said Thane. “That’s a huge disparity.”

Continuing to develop and promote the pedestrian bridge is another priority for Thane.

“I think that we don’t just ‘accept’ that we have a MVGO here. I think that is the completely wrong attitude to have. We celebrate it, we promote it,” said Thane. “We want to make sure that bridge is the most spectacular site on the Mohawk River.”

Thane also took aim at her opponent, Michael Villa, and some of his criticisms of her time in office.

“You must know where you want to go so you can steer the ship,” said Thane. “You can’t say ‘I’ll tell you when I get in there.’ That is hugely dishonest and you’re fooling yourself. You’d better know what you’re doing when you get in here.”

“I don’t think he has a plan,” said Thane. “I don’t think he has given one bit of detail as to how he is going to do the things he says he wants to do.”

“It’s one thing to say, I will control your taxes, I will fix your infrastructure, I will take care of blighted neighborhoods. How?” asked Thane.

“I feel he has no idea as to how operations run here. There is an elected controller, and there is a council and there is a mayor. And there are separations of power. And so when he says that ‘Ann Thane doubled debt.’ What are you talking about? Because the council is in charge of blessing off on borrowing. The mayor can make suggestions…the council blesses off on borrowing.”

“What would you not have bonded for? Would you not have bonded for storm recovery? Would you not have cleaned up after [hurricanes] Irene and Lee? Would you not have demoed Chalmers?..Would you not have rehabbed Bridge Street or downtown? Would you not buy the firetruck? Would you not upgrade the water filtration plant? Would you not upgrade the waste water plant? Like, what would you not have bonded for?”

“The mayor does not spend unilaterally,” said Thane.

In regards to the problems with the city’s finances, she pointed out that the mayor’s office has no direct control over how the finances are run in the controller’s office, given the office is directly elected by the voters.

“I’ve been screaming and crying for accountability in that department, and it’s documented,” said Thane.

Thane said that if elected, she will continue work on the corrective action plan which she helped create along with the controller and former council in order to address problems with the city’s financial operations.

She said she has attended “every opportunity offered” by the NY Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) to receive training on municipal finances and she sees her role in the corrective action plan as helping to ensure formal policies are documented by all city departments and that all staff members and common council members receive training on municipal finances as well.

“We’ve made prudent decisions that have brought millions of dollars into the coffers of the city of Amsterdam. And we continue to keep Amsterdam stable financially. I just want to keep doing the good job I’m doing.”

“I think that’s why I’m good for this job. Because I have an idea of where I want to go. And you have to have a plan!”

In November’s election, Thane will be on the Democratic and Rebuilding Amsterdam party lines. She will face challenger Michael Villa who is running on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence lines.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.