County executive race: Daniel McCoy runs on his record

Daniel McCoy

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy beat his challenger in September’s Democratic primary with 60 percent of the vote. In the weeks before the Nov. 3 general election, he is urging county residents to vote, just vote — no matter for whom.

“I served in Iraq,” said McCoy, an active member of the New York National Guard, “so they could have the right to vote, and some people here don’t even exercise that right.”

With nearly half the registered voters in Albany County enrolled as Democrats — about a fifth are Republicans and another fifth are unaffiliated — McCoy has no doubts he’ll win.

“After November 3,” said McCoy, “you represent everybody...I work for 310,000 people.”

The reason for his victory, McCoy said on the day after the primary is, “I turned the finances around, grew the programs for youth, and dealt with the nursing home...I just delivered back-to-back budgets with zero tax increase. There are no budget gimmicks and services increased.”

McCoy, 46, a retired Albany city firefighter who lives with his family in Albany, was unopposed in his first run for county executive four years ago. He had served in the county legislature for 12 years, ending his tenure as the majority leader.

This week, McCoy responded, through The Enterprise, to some barbs launched by his Republican opponent, Francis J. Vitollo, who said McCoy had done “next to nothing” with the Industrial Development Agency and instead relied on towns to move business forward.

“Our IDA is controlled by the legislature,” said McCoy. “The reality is, I have to lobby like anyone else. I don’t control it. I brought all eight IDAs into one room to work together.”

He also said, “The legislature gives first refusal to towns...It’s not good for me to go into Bethlehem or Guilderland to tell them what should be there. We work together on projects.”

In response to Vitollo’s charge that McCoy “has the unions in his pocket but...hasn’t done anything for them,” McCoy said, “When I took over as county executive, 10 out of 145 bargaining units hadn’t had contracts since ’08. I settled every contract. I’m proud of that.”

McCoy also said he is proud of working across party lines. “Our state and Congress should pay attention,” he said.  “At the end of the day, we represent everyone.”

Before the primary, McCoy responded to a half-dozen issues raised by The Enterprise. This week, he expanded on those comments as well as stating his views on a number of newly raised issues.

McCoy’s response to stemming the heroin epidemic is to educate. Referring to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, he said, “Sheriff Apple’s been out in front with my office doing education. We’re trying to get the health department to step it up.”

He referenced a program to equip police departments and others with Narcan kits, containing an opiate antidote, which can save the life of someone who has overdosed on heroin.

McCoy also said the county has gotten involved with the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program. “We signed on with the district attorney and the sheriff. It gives officers the opportunity, instead of arresting someone, they can be put in a program to get help, instead of locking them up.”

This week, McCoy added that he fully supported the sheriff’s new pilot program, helping addicted inmates at the county jail. “He’s using seizure funds,” he said. McCoy approves of using the money taken from drug dealers to help addicts kick their habits.

“The majority get out of jail and go right back to bad habits...We need to get more proactive,” he said. McCoy also said, “A batch of bad drugs is coming our way again; it’s so cheap to buy...people die.”

He concluded of the sheriff’s program, “I commend him.”

Mccoy also said that a lot of homeless people have “mental issues.”

“Without their meds, they misbehave, and are jailed...We release them and they fall right back into depression. We have to be proactive with organizations” that do rehabilitation, he said. “This is an approach we need to give a foundation for a better future....Without it, they end up on public assistance for the rest of their life or they end up dying.”

McCoy said that an all-volunteer program with incarcerated veterans at Albany County’s jail has been successful. “I sat down with Sheriff Apple and we identified veterans to go to a different tier.” The veterans are mentored by volunteers from the Soldier On program who “work with them on changing their lifestyle,” said McCoy, “so, when they leave jail, they have a crutch.”

Asked about the progress with a Soldier On facility in Colonie, McCoy said that the county is working in “partnership with the Shaker Society,” which has land and historic but rundown buildings.

The Ann Lee Home, formerly used for the county’s nursing home, will house veterans.

“Delaware Engineering is doing a study of the property,” said McCoy. The plan is to have 150 apartments. “We hope by November to get a shovel in the ground.

The money for the project, said McCoy was raised through federal grants, a benefit concert, and local veterans’ posts.

On suburban poverty, McCoy said before the primary, “People are embarrassed to use services and they shouldn’t be.”

At a time when municipalities are cutting budgets to stay under the state-set tax-levy limit, recreational programs for kids have been cut.

“We’ve launched an AAU program,” said McCoy of the Amateur Athletic Union. “We’re going out to the Hilltowns. The sports, which include flag football and karate, “give kids a foundation,” said McCoy.

He went on, “It’s free for kids. It’s not just about sports; 99.9 percent will never play pro sports... but we can make them great citizens.” Also, he said, “We can help them with food programs.”

McCoy said the county is also using court programs to “help kids who get into trouble.”

“The justice system has to help poor and rich equally,” McCoy said. “Project Growth helps them find a job. Then they pay back their own restitution.”

Another help in suburban and rural areas, McCoy said, is public transportation. “The CDTA cancelled their bus in the Hilltowns,” McCoy said of the Capital District Transportation Authority. He went on, referring to the Berne supervisor, Kevin Crosier, “We got a bus back up there, run by volunteers.”

McCoy continued, “We brought food to the Father Young site so seniors could get a hot meal once a day.”

Another program to reach out was to have probation officers visit at parolees’ homes rather than having them come to the Clarksville station. That service wasn’t very popular. “People don’t want people to know,” said McCoy.

Finally, he noted that Lawson Lake was “open to all the kids in the county.”

On consolidation, McCoy said, “The only positive thing I take away from the 2-percent property tax cap is it has forced towns, cities, and villages to do things they haven’t done,” referring to municipalities sharing resources.

He cited the example of a shared emergency 9-1-1 system , saving Cohoes $460,000 annually; Watervliet, $139,000, and Green Island, $32,000 a year.

“We’ve shared salt sheds and maintenance buildings in the Hilltowns,” said McCoy, splitting payment for light and electricity according to use.

McCoy said that, when he took office four years ago, county finances were in bad shape and the nursing home was losing a million dollars a month.

“We’ve been debating that nursing-home topic since 1990,” said McCoy. “We took a $15 million deficit and knocked it down to $4 million.”

He also said the county along with Albany Medical Center has applied for a state grant to create a medical facility in the nursing home that would serve residents not living in the facility.

Responding before the primary to accusations made by his challenger, Daniel Egan, about  the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program, McCoy said, “EISEP is not for medical care. You don’t deal with a person. It’s for doing laundry, cleaning house, preparing food. It’s basically for people that don’t meet the poverty level for Medicaid.

“Counties are supposed to match 20 percent. We’re the most generous in the Capital Region. My predecessor froze it,” he said, referring to Michael Breslin. The county was “in the hole for $18 million. I re-opened it at the end of 2013. I was getting my sea legs,” McCoy said of taking on the leadership role in the county.

“I’m in support of raising the minimum wage,” said McCoy. “I’m in support of this governor — the first time I’ve said this — the Senate and the Assembly to set a statewide rate.”

If the rate were to be set on a county-by-county basis, McCoy said, “We could lose potential growth...It could be a ripple around the state.” Businesses might leave Albany County, he said, for a county with a different minimum wage.

Asked what dollar amount he’d recommend for a minimum wage, McCoy said, “We’re just getting out of the Great Recession. People are still having a hard time.”

When he became executive, McCoy said, the unemployment rate in Albany County was 7.5 percent; now it is 4.8 percent.

“We’ve added 10,000 jobs. Great,” said McCoy. “But the jobs don’t pay the same as the ones we lost.”

On the revised county charter, which he did not sign, McCoy said that the Charter Review Commission chaired by Hank Greenberg “made a lot of recommendations; a lot needed to be changed.”

He went on, “The Greenberg commission took 15 months...The legislature changed everything...It lost its independence.”

Some minor changes from the legislature were legitimate and needed, McCoy said, but, he concluded, “If you set up an independent commission, you should be willing to go with its recommendations.”

McCoy said the transport of oil by train tankers “is very federally regulated.”

But, he said, if he took the approach that there was no role for the county to play, “We wouldn’t have made the ground we’ve made.”

McCoy went on, “We became the third busiest hub overnight...As county executive it’s my job to protect the people first and the environment second.”

He said other counties will be joining the federal suit, and that Albany County had a hand in writing federal legislation proposed by Senator Charles Schumer.

Also, McCoy said of Albany County, “We looked at it from a safety and health standpoint, using our sanitation code.”

He concluded, “This is a movement for the people.”

On being a nanny county, McCoy said that, when he was in the legislature, he and Gary Domalewicz introduced legislation to prohibit smoking in restaurants.  “We were the first to pass that,” he said. Although detractors said it would hurt business, McCoy said, the smoking ban didn’t but it made it safer for people to eat out.

Of passing laws to protect people, even if they aren’t enforceable, McCoy said, “It starts a whole movement. We want to educate people that there are dangers.” He said, for example, the toxic toy ban alerted parents their children may be playing with things that could harm them.

He concluded, “We do get a little carried away.”

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