Ken Mazur, candidate for first ward alderman, was forthright in describing how he would handle specific issues differently than his incumbent opponent during an interview earlier this month at the Walter Elwood Museum.
Mazur characterized the conduct of the common council over the past two years as a “debacle,” and recounted how one resident had told him they tuned in to watch the council meetings “just to watch and laugh.”
“We just don’t need that anymore,” said Mazur. “Amsterdam has taken enough black eyes. We’ve suffered enough without a three ring circus going on. We’re too small of a place to suffer from the kind of political bickering that’s going on.”
“I’m willing to listen to what anybody from the other political party has to say. But if you can’t come up with an idea on your own, let’s at least let’s figure out something you’d be happy living with.”
When asked how the situation could be changed, he replied, “Some people gotta go.”
“My opponent just sits back and let’s things happen,” Mazur said of Ed Russo, the current alderman.
Asked how he would have handled specific cases differently, Mazur provided several.
Mazur referenced the resolution voted for by Russo and passed by the council in July 2014 which outlawed portable basketball hoops in the streets.
“You can play cops and robbers in the street, but you can’t play basketball. I mean, c’mon,” said Mazur. “I would not have voted for it.”
“Before it came to the floor, I would have had a discussion with the councilman in the first place and said ‘this is going to be embarrassing, we don’t want to go here,’” said Mazur
Given the issue was covered by capital region television news, when asked if the action put the city in a bad light, Mazur replied, “It does.”
The conduct of Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler was another issue targeted by Mazur.
“It was extremely poor judgment on the side of the Republicans to have elected [Hatzenbuhler] deputy mayor and head of the codes committee when this person has no internal sense of when to stop. So I think that was more of a political move and more of ‘we’re going to stick it to the mayor’ as opposed to who is the best choice.”
Mazur said that Russo should have pushed for removing Hatzenbuhler from the positions earlier.
“It looks like my opponent is just, you know, ‘aw shucks he’s a good guy, he’s not doing anything wrong’ – well basically the problem is in not doing anything…like not stopping this kind of stuff,” said Mazur.
Mazur characterized Russo’s approach on the council as “let the show go on the road and I’ll do whatever I’m told by my political superiors in my party…that’s how it appears to me.”
He also said the council’s action in February, which Russo voted for, to de-fund the corporation counsel’s assistant, was another bad decision that he would not have voted for.
“You can’t have the city lawyer busy filing and sending out faxes and typing letters and making copies…that makes absolutely no sense,” said Mazur. “That was another startling bad sense of understanding of how government needs to work.”
When asked what the common council could do to bring new economic development to the city, Mazur replied, “I think that right off the bat…the council not being an embarrassment to the city, in and of itself is going to make people want to look at Amsterdam.”
“We see the council pulling the rug out from underneath people who want to develop the city,” said Mazur.
Mazur pointed out how the council canceled an agreement with developer Uri Kaufman to convert the old Chalmers building into luxury apartments in 2009 as one example. A more recent example was the opposition voiced by Russo and the council to the location of a home health care services business at the site of the vacant Salvation Army building on Market Street. The owner of the business also said he intended to rent out office space to other businesses at the site.
Mazur, who lives on Highland Road, near the site in question, said he did not believe the project would have negatively impacted the area.
“I would have voted to allow the guy to put the offices in,” said Mazur.
However, Mazur said he would have addressed resident’s concerns by making sure there were legally binding stipulations to the project which would narrowly define what “office space” meant in order to make sure the residential character of the neighborhood was not affected.
In regards to whether the city should eliminate its Community and Economic Development Director position and look to Montgomery County to take the lead in the area of economic development, Mazur said, “I would be very cautious before anything like that was done. If we feel we need to be more in concert with the county regarding economic development, then that’s what we should do.”
“However, I think that eliminating that position is a first step in trying to de-charter the city of Amsterdam and I am not for that. I think that would be premature at this point,” added Mazur.
In regards to the city’s budget, Mazur said that first ward residents pay some of the highest taxes in the city. He cited the city’s transportation department’s draw of over $100,000 each year from the general fund as one reason for it.
“We’ve got to get rid of the bus system in the city…that’s got to go,” said Mazur. “It’s too much of a tax burden on the city.”
“I rode around the bus one time,” recalled Mazur. “There was just nobody riding the bus. This bus was going around the city doing nothing.”
He said he would reach out to a third-party operator such as CDTA or Brown Bus company to see if they could provide the service.
Mazur said he believes the council should be able to conduct audits of city departments to make sure they are performing efficiently. However he criticized the scrutiny that Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler has given the Recreation Department over the past two years.
“I don’t think that was an audit,” said Mazur. “I think that was a demand to ‘tell me how much it costs to cut each blade of grass at Shuttleworth.’ That’s not an audit, that’s a political b.s. thing that my opponent should have spoken up and said, ‘listen you’re being a little out of line here, sit down and we’ll talk about this so that the rest of the world doesn’t hear about this crazy idea.’”
Mazur called the city’s municipal golf course a “gem” and said he would be in favor of bonding for major improvements as recommend by the golf commission.
He also said he would conduct ward meetings before any major issue, such as approval of the city’s budget or a major bonding project came up before the council.
In regards to crime, Mazur said, “I’d like to discuss the idea of having more cops…walking the streets as opposed to in the cruisers.”
Mazur credited an increase in the police force in New York City as contributing to the improvement in conditions there.
He said he would be supportive of moving the city’s train station to the downtown area and called the idea “forward thinking.”
In regards to creating a city-run ambulance service, Mazur admitted he had a “soft spot” for GAVAC based on past experience and would be reluctant to do anything that would negatively impact the organization.
“They’re great people,” said Mazur.
Mazur said his ten years of experience working for the NY Department of Health to certify nursing homes for medicare and medicaid services would be useful on the council.
He said his job was focused on making sure that buildings are safe from a fire and life safety point of view.
“It’s what I do for a living. So I understand code enforcement,” said Mazur. “I would bring to the council some real experience about how to get some things accomplished regarding urban blight and enforcement of codes, modifications of code.”
Mazur said he would be willing to help new businesses in Amsterdam understand any applicable state and federal requirements.
“I can look at a set of codes, and I can help people navigate through them,” said Mazur.
Mazur said he was born in Amsterdam, but spent most of his childhood growing up in Tribes Hill. He moved back to the city approximately ten years ago in order to be close to family, and his job in the Albany area.
“I’ve always been one that likes to jump in and help,” said Mazur.
Mazur referenced his service on the Zoning Board of Appeals, Citizen’s Review Board, and participation in the city-wide cleanups. He also serves on the Democratic Executive Committee and is chair of the City of Amsterdam NY Democrats.
Mazur said he does not always agree with everything that Mayor Ann Thane says, but agrees with her on many issues. He said he believes that in local politics, members of one party should not automatically opposed any idea from the opposing party. “That is where my opponent has caved in.”
“If she has an idea about something, the thing about the mayor is, she challenges people to come up with something else. What do you have in mind? When people sit there and twiddle their thumbs and have nothing else to add, what else is there?”
He said he feels sometimes the enthusiasm Thane has needs to be tempered.
“But you know something, you can’t fault someone for being enthusiastic,” added Mazur.
“You want the highest official in the city to put forth an optimistic view. You have to be optimistic. I mean what do you want to say, all is lost?”
“People have to remember why Amsterdam is a good place. And I think they just have to be reminded of that,” said Mazur.
In November, Mazur will appear on the Democratic, Working Families, and Green party lines. He will face incumbent candidate Ed Russo, who is running on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, and Reform party lines.