by Chris Shields
say the Troy mayor has no vision for his city; Tutunjian,
trying to build momentum for his reelection campaign, says
the progress speaks for itself
in January 2004, only days into his first term in office,
that Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian found himself standing in
Lansingburgh in the bitter cold, watching firemen do battle
with a horrific blaze that was ripping through a row of ramshackle
buildings. For Tutunjian, it was a revelation. As he would
remark a year later in his first State of the City address:
“The fire department battled frigid temperatures and scorching
flames. I will never forget the icicles hanging off their
faces. I will never forget the commitment those men showed
to the residents of Troy that night.”
as it may appear,” the mayor said, “that three-alarm blaze
set the tone for the entire next year.”
days, the buildings were razed. Tutunjian established the
Action Team, with the direct mission of addressing quality-of-life
issues—abandoned buildings, neglected streets, trash-strewn
alleys—issues that Tutunjian believed had been left untended
to for years. Issues that consumed Tutunjian first as a successful
business operator, later as a councilman, and then as president
of Troy’s City Council.
houses were a danger to the neighborhood and an eyesore for
the city,” the mayor continued. “In years past, they would
have been allowed to sit and decay. Not anymore. We cannot
let fire-ravaged and derelict buildings stand in the way of
our strengthening neighborhoods.”
ways, Troy is a different city today then it was just three
years ago. A surge of interest by outside investors in Troy’s
notable pieces of real estate has generated a palpable buzz.
Buildings that sat vacant for years, or housed failing businesses,
have been scooped up and rehabilitated. Scores of young couples
have moved in to take advantage of the decades-long economic
depression, buying and breathing new life into single-family
and multi-unit brownstones. New businesses have sprouted up,
banking on the flow of new consumers. Rent and property values
have jumped considerably. It seems like everyone is working
on a scheme for getting in on the action.
makes the mayor, who is up for reelection this November, very
Troy is ripe for development, and we are seeing that today
with developers from around the world buying property in Troy
and making it work . . . having a level of success that we
haven’t seen for years,” says Tutunjian, sitting in his downtown
office, pointing to the spate of Troy’s high-dollar investments:
First Columbia’s multimillion-dollar investment in Hedley
Park Place and Flanigan Square; Jeff and Deane Pfeil’s successful
reimagining of the Ready Jell building as Powers Park Lofts,
and their ambitious rehabilitation of the old Stanley’s building
as high-end condominiums; and the Mooradian on River Street,
which is experiencing high-dollar restoration by a Dutch company.
are single-family homes that are being built that are at market
rates,” he says. As quickly as a house goes up for sale, it
is bought. “Home ownership is the cornerstone to successful
neighborhoods and a strong city, and that is our goal, to
increase home ownership in the city.”
and its proponents, are quick to point to Tutunjian’s tough-on-blight
stance, and good-natured leadership, as the critical fuel
for this real-estate-buying craze and the ensuing excitement.
But many of his critics offer a different view for what is
happening in Troy. For them, this administration has merely
acted as a caretaker, taking credit for improvements it never
would have the foresight to engender, letting real opportunities
for improvement languish for want of vision. And Tutunjian,
many say, is just the pleasant-appearing figurehead for an
otherwise retaliatory and thuggish crew.
is something that I have been interested in my entire career,”
says James Conroy, the Democratic candidate for mayor. “I
was born and raised in Troy. I’ve always had a love for the
city and its people. My education is in the field of public
management, and I’ve always wanted to be the chief executive
of my city. This would be a wonderful opportunity.”
was deputy mayor under former Mayor Mark Pattison for eight
years, and prior to that worked as a city planner under John
Buckley in the 1970s. Himself a real-estate agent, Conroy
notes as well the recent rush to own a piece of Troy landscape.
He is quick to point out that he was the agent who sold the
Pfeils the Ready Jell building in North Troy and also the
old Mooradians’ building to the Dutch firm.
that Troy is going in the right direction,” he says. “And
a large reason for why it is going in the right direction
is a lot of the decisions that were made years ago by Mark
Pattison and my administration to put those tools in place
that are now coming to fruition. Like the South Troy working
waterfront plan. And the Congress Street initiative. Many
of the improvements in downtown come from the fact that we
redeveloped Congress Street, Fulton Street and Broadway, completely.
We ripped up the pavement, put in new infrastructure, and
we put down new pavement. We made the streetscape much more
attractive, and I believe led to much of the interest in downtown
the foresight to lay out a number of initiatives and then
also provide funding for them, or the mechanism to get the
funding for them,” Conroy says. “One of my strongest criticisms
of this administration is that they have done nothing for
three and a half years. And now, all of a sudden, they are
trying to pack four years of work into a six-month duration.
My frustration is that there are so many things that could
have been done, and we could be so much farther then we are
to the plans to extend the South Troy road, which would serve
as a link between Adams Street and Main Street running through
the industrial area along the river, as an example of this
administration’s lack of initiative.
had the money,” he says, “we had the design, we were ready
to go to the Department of Transportation to get the approvals,
and it has just sat there. Nobody is pushing it.”
points to the industrial site at the bottom of South Troy,
King Fuels (commuters of the Route 378 bridge will remember
the winking eye painted on King Fuels’ massive fuel tank),
as a key example of the mayor taking too long to finish projects.
opposition to Harry who didn’t want us to apply for the grant—applied
for the grant that provided the money that is now being used
to buy the land,” he says, referring to the Brownfield Economic
Development Initiative that supplied the money to purchase
the $2 million site.
a brownfield cleanup plan that has sat idle for years,” Conroy
continues. “They were going to do an evaluation and remediation
plan of that entire area down in south Troy. Now, this year,
they are actually doing some of the testing.”
has a different take on the history of the King Fuels site.
previous administration for eight years didn’t collect property
taxes and didn’t foreclose on the property when they could
have,” Tutunjian says, claiming that the former owners owed
the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Once we took office,
we looked at foreclosure and actually pursued it. The company
went bankrupt. We were able to get the property through the
bankruptcy sale. And for a lot less than what the previous
administration wanted to pay for it.”
fact that we own King Fuels is a huge step in the right direction,”
Tutunjian says. “Very shortly, you will see some changes,
as in removal of the unsightly buildings.”
differences of opinion can be found in the city’s undertaking
of the massive Congress Ferry Street Corridor development,
which partners Troy with the Housing Authority, Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, and Rensselaer County in the construction.
Conroy claims that the Congress Street project was born out
of the Pattison administration.
to the other members who owned property in the area and convened
this group and said, ‘We have almost 14 acres of land that,
if we all contributed, we could have a development. So the
idea of having a single development in the lower Congress
Street corridor came out of our shop. And we were ready to
go out then and solicit a developer. That didn’t happen because
City Council didn’t support it.”
contends that development has lagged and should have started
years ago. The current administration says that progress is
on schedule, with shovel striking dirt slated for next spring.
is moving forward well,” Tutunjian retorts. “Would I like
to see more progress? Sure. I like to see things happen quick,
but many different entities are a part of this project and
things move slower than you like at times.”
Democratic city chairman in Troy, it is my opinion that there
are three major issues that the voters of Troy should recognize
this election year,” says Frank LaPosta. “First, promises
made and promises not kept. The administration has had roughly
over three years to produce things, and basically it has been
promises and promises that have not been kept. Second is ethics.
You cannot have people running government who cannot be trusted.
And third, crime. Violent crime is up 23 percent in the city
of Troy over the past couple of years.”
the 23-percent increase is over the past decade, according
to the Department of Criminal Justice Services. So far this
year, violent crime is up 6 percent over last year; robberies
are up 18 percent from last year; and burglaries are up 3.7
provision of safety is the No. 1 responsibility for local
government,” adds Conroy. “Economic development and quality
of life are contingent on feeling safe. It is an underpinning
of the perception of the community.” In his mayoral bid, Conroy
proposes a 10-point program to combat the issue of crime,
including measures such as full staffing of the police department,
the installation of cameras and the assigning of tactical
units to “high-crime areas,” and leaving “the management of
the police department to the professionals.”
is certainly not out-of-control,” Tutunjian says. “There has
been a spike in crime numbers in the city. But we are certainly
on top of it. We are aggressively enforcing the law in North
Central. There have been details put in place.”
the crime numbers are low to begin with, the mayor points
out, a slight increase will make the crime numbers spike.
stats are tough,” says Jeff Buell, Troy’s deputy director
of public information. “This is not saying that we are burying
our heads in the sand, cause there has been an increase in
crime and we are addressing it. We moved the substation from
Lansingburgh to North Central. But when you go into crime
numbers and use them as an argument for your side, it is tough
Buell notes, Tutunjian stated in his State of the City address
that the city would likely see an increase in crime numbers,
as the administration and police force were shifting their
policy on policing “away from targeting upper-level, more
insulated criminals” and instead focusing more on street-level
crimes and “quality-of-life violations.” As the policing shifted
to looking for more crimes, the numbers would naturally go
up. It’s not like the crimes weren’t being committed before,
he says, it’s just these smaller criminals were slipping through
policeman is standing at an intersection and a car goes by,
then a car goes by,” Tutunjian says. “If a police officer
is standing at an intersection and he notices a license plate
is missing, stops the car, and finds handguns and drugs, then
a crime has been committed. They were there anyway, but since
we did our job, we found it. The crime hadn’t been committed
until we addressed it.” Plus, the mayor stresses, the serious
crimes in Troy are not random acts of violence. “If you are
walking down the streets in Troy, minding your own business,
chances are 99 percent that you are going to be safe.”
were murdered in the city of Troy and that is because we have
a better policing policy?” LaPosta asks. “Violent crime is
violent crime. I don’t understand anyone saying that violent
crime is up 23 percent is because of good policing. And over
the last several years the percentage of crimes closed is
very small—17 percent. So something is wrong. Violent crime
is up, closed cases are roughly 17 percent; if you are a criminal,
you might as well commit a crime in Troy. You have an 83-percent
chance of getting away with it.”
administration reminds me in so many ways of the administration
in Washington right now. They keep their own counsel, and
that is so dangerous,” says City Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District
to businesspeople. Talk to homeowners,” Conroy says. “They
won’t admit it publicly, because they are afraid of retaliation.
But what they will tell you is that this administration runs
on intimidation. That is their modus operandi. That is why
they deserve to be thrown out of office. It is an abuse of
power. It’s an arrogance that says that they are above the
law and above the rules.”
public instance of this alleged retaliation happened to Troy
native Jim de Sève. Last year, de Sève, who has been a longtime
critic of Tutunjian and his administration, sent an e-mail
to the mayor expressing his outrage over the allegations leveled
by former Rensselaer County staffer Colleen Regan.
accused Buell, Deputy Mayor Dan Crawley, and Dept. of Public
Works Commissioner Robert Mirch of enlisting her in slandering
a political opponent. Regan claims that she was forced to
assume the fake name “Tonya” and read from a script accusing
Dunne, who was running in District 4 at the time, of sexually
harassing her. This was during office hours, she says, and
occurred in an office in Troy City Hall. The message was to
be used as part of the campaign for Dunne’s Republican opponent.
(Albany District Attorney David Soares has since been appointed
special prosecutor to investigate this and other allegations
of misconduct in Rensselaer County.)
five buildings in the city,” de Sève says. “We pay huge amounts
of tax every year. And we like to see what our money is going
to. If our money is going to Jeff Buell and Deputy Dan and
Bobby Mirch to spend city resources attacking a City Council
candidate, then I have something to say about that. And I
think everyone in Troy ought to say something about that.”
shot off an e-mail to Tutunjian asking that he request the
resignation of the three men. A few days later, de Sève was
issued a code violation for graffiti spray-painted on his
not running against Jim de Sève,” Tutunjian says. “If he wants
to run for mayor, there is a little time left for him to get
on the ballot. And for me to sit here and defend myself to
him, when he is not a very credible person in my book . .
claims that it wasn’t the e-mail condemning his administration
that got the code department’s attention, but an e-mail de
Sève sent days earlier requesting that DPW scoop snow off
of the sidewalks of a city park.
me an e-mail asking for code enforcement, and he gets cited
for something,” Tutunjian asks, “and he calls that retaliation?”
was another e-mail that I did send before,” says de Sève.
“But it was not about code enforcement, it was about shoveling
snow off of city-owned sidewalks. I wasn’t asking for codes
to come into the neighborhood or for codes to do anything.
I was asking the mayor to get on the DPW to come up here and
shovel the city sidewalks.”
says de Sève, the mayor is saying one of two things: “We didn’t
give him a citation because he was complaining about corruption
at City Hall,” or, “We didn’t give him a citation because
he was complaining about the city not fulfilling its obligation
to clear sidewalks.”
not good in either scenario,” de Sève jokes.
especially hard for de Sève to not view this as retaliatory
considering that graffiti is not illegal in Troy. Graffiti
is not referred to anywhere in Troy city law, he says. In
New York, it is only against the law to create graffiti
on private property. It is not illegal for the graffiti to
exist on that property.
I discovered that graffiti wasn’t illegal, I sent a letter
asking for them to point out the part of code that was being
violated on the citation, which is what you are supposed to
do,” de Sève says. “And they ignored that letter. They sent
me another letter that said I had to remove this [graffiti],
and if I don’t, they will take me to City Court. So I sent
another letter saying that as far as I can tell, there is
no mention of graffiti in city codes. Graffiti is not illegal.
So then we get another letter telling us that we had to remove
the ‘sign’ on our property because we didn’t have a permit
they are changing the definition of the graffiti to a sign,”
he says. “I mean, the graffiti says ‘junkie.’ So what, are
we advertising drug abusers?”
asked for the city to send him a photo of the alleged sign,
to which the city responded with a photo of the graffiti.
So de Sève wrote back pointing out that the picture is of
graffiti and not a sign.
we haven’t heard back from them yet, cause it is ridiculous,”
he says. “And it is not only ridiculous, it is harassment.
And we pointed out to them that it is harassment. So why did
codes come to my house? Either because I was complaining about
the city doing a bad job shoveling sidewalks of city parks
or it was because I was complaining that they are a bunch
of corrupt bastards. In either scenario, it is wrong, what
they did, and it was an abuse of power.”
of corruption are not the sole province of the Tutunjian administration.
Conroy will be working hard to get voters’ minds off of a
Housing and Urban Development scandal that has dogged him
for nearly a decade.
vicious accusations against me associated with this thing
bother me terribly,” Conroy says, face flushing red as he
recounts the HUD scandal that is sure to color his campaign
for mayor. “Believe me, in this campaign, you will see it
deputy mayor, Conroy’s brother, Stephen, sought and received
a $27,000 homeowner grant from HUD. James Conroy was, at the
time, part owner of the house, and the management of the city
HUD grants fell under the auspices of his office.
the ethics board if this was an issue, and their answer came
back ‘no,’ even though I would benefit because I was part
owner, they said that it would be no different than anyone
else who would benefit from that grant.” He says that the
ethics board told him all he needed to do was recuse himself.
it was never proven that he did anything to influence HUD’s
decision, but the fight over the grant was nasty. LaPosta,
who was a conservative at the time, and president of the City
Council, was one of the Conroy’s toughest critics.
head-to-head over that,” LaPosta says. “Why I objected to
that, I felt that perception is reality. I believed that you
cannot enrich your own family in any way, even if they are
entitled to those benefits, while you are running the show.
That was my whole issue. We were trying to bring Troy back,
and I just didn’t want that to tarnish our efforts.”
trust him. He isn’t trustworthy,” Tutunjian says of Conroy.
“When in a position of power, he abused it for personal gain.
And that is the blackest mark you can put on any public official.
And I’ll leave it at that.
election in November is about our records. Not what you will
do if you are there. What I’ve done is what I’ve done. My
opponent was here [in City Hall] for eight years, and he did
some things that he shouldn’t be proud of.
going to be up to the people to decide who to put back into
office,” Tutunjian says. “I sleep very well at night. My conscience