Bob: Department of Public Works commissioner Bob Mirch
enjoys a smoke.
Day in Court
Mirch, poster child of the Tutunjian administration’s bullish
reputation, shrugs off his latest controversy
good way to toy with Bob Mirch would be to lead off an article
about Bob Mirch by letting Jim Conroy tell a story:
particular occasion was telling,” Conroy begins. It was back
in the late 90s. Mark Pattison was in his first term as Troy’s
first mayor. Conroy was the deputy mayor, and Mirch was the
deputy commissioner of Public Works. Troy had just changed
to the strong-mayor form of government after a disastrous
run of city managers that left the city deeply in debt. The
city was struggling then—as it does now—with abandoned buildings
collapsing in its poor neighborhoods, and absentee owners
who let their buildings rot and do nothing to prevent the
criminal element that settles in.
you have severe code violations, you breed illegal activity,”
says Conroy. “We always had this nexus between criminal activity,
code violations, and the deferred maintenance of buildings,
absentee owners. All of these ills—there is a relationship.”
Conroy says that Mirch had taken it upon himself to attack
this nexus with the only means at his disposal: the Department
of Public Works. “He began doing these ‘civil-enforcement
efforts,’ identifying buildings where there were problems.
Then he would go in and padlock the doors and kick the people
out in the streets.”
got a call from Bob,” Conroy continues, “about a building
on 5th Avenue near Jacobs Street. The building still stands.
He was saying that he had gone into a house where prostitution
was taking place, and he rousted everyone out of the building.
And sure enough, I don’t doubt that prostitution was going
on in that building, I don’t doubt it in the least. But there
he is, a commissioner in Public Works, basically breaking
down the doors of this building to go in and take what action
he saw fit to deal with prostitution. And I am sorry, but
that just isn’t how it works.”
Conroy says that the Pattison administration eventually clamped
down on Mirch, and adopted a community- policing model to
attack these quality-of-life issues. “We initiated a civil-enforcement
effort, but we took the enforcement of it from the DPW and
placed it with the police department, which has a better understanding
of legal issues, due process. And that was a real rub against
Conroy adds: “But we kept him under control.”
Jimbo told you that?” Mirch asks. “He’s making that story
up. That’s totally insane. The only prostitute in Troy at
the time was Jim Conroy.”
That’s about the nicest thing Mirch will say about Conroy.
Conroy was, after all, the guy who Pattison made his deputy,
even though Mirch wanted the job and had worked so damn hard
to get Pattison elected. This chain of command left Mirch
answering to Conroy, a guy, Mirch asserts, who didn’t even
live in Troy for the first two years of the administration.
Mirch had been working for the city since 1980 when he was
first hired by the city manager, John Buckley. He’s worked
for six city managers in all, he says, and for both of the
city’s mayors. He has built a reputation as a dogged campaigner
and political brawler—a good guy to have on your side. In
fact, Conroy will even admit that Mirch was key to Pattison’s
But after Pattison won his second term, Mirch got fired.
got Pattison elected the first time, and for the next three
years, I get total disrespect. Not from Pattison, but from
Conroy,” Mirch says. January of the year that Pattison was
going to run for his second term, he met with Mirch and asked
for his support. “I tell him, ‘I wish you luck, but I am not
going to support ya,’ ” Mirch recounts. “So he says, ‘I might
have to fire ya.’ ‘Do whatever you gotta do,’ I say, ‘but
I’m not gonna support ya.’ ”
It was nothing personal against Pattison, Mirch says, but
he wouldn’t support him as long as Conroy was around.
Mirch began to openly campaign for Republican Carmella Mantello.
Mirch worked openly to support Mark’s opponent in the mayoral
race,” Conroy says. “The reason he was let go was he was in
a position of some influence and sensitivity in the administration.
And he was privy to conversations that were taking place.
He was a valued contributor, and he chose to support Mark’s
opponent. He betrayed Pattison, and suffered the consequences.
If he still bears ill will against me, so be it. But 10 years
is a long time to carry a grudge.”
The day after Mantello lost, Mirch says, Conroy went to the
DPW and fired him.
was like, ‘Can I finish my coffee?’ ” Mirch says.
has a history of opposing anyone supervising him,” Conroy
says. “He’s no different than the 10-year-old kid on the playground.
I knew him growing up. Our parents were very good friends.
The Mirches and Conroys were great friends. Bob’s always been
rebellious, and he’s always been a bully.”
Without a day job at the age of 51, Mirch switched parties
from Democrat to Conservative and got himself a job in the
office of a downstate senator through the help of Senate Majority
Leader Joe Bruno.
competed for the Republican Party’s endorsement in the 2003
Troy mayoral contest, but lost it to two-term council member
both gave great interviews, and they chose Harry,” Mirch says.
He accepted it and went out and campaigned hard for Tutunjian.
Tutunjian, in turn, ended Mirch’s tenure at the state by appointing
him commissioner of Public Works. It was a good deal for Mirch.
He had recently been elected majority leader in the Rensselaer
County Legislature, and he was bringing back a souvenir from
the state Capitol: the well-paid position of “constituent
liaison” for Sen. Bruno. That totaled three government paychecks
for “Three-Job Bob,” and that first year he earned roughly
Tutunjian stormed into office in 2004 with a brisk, aggressive
agenda. He wanted action, so he created an Action Team and
gave them neon T-shirts. He made cleaning the streets and
enforcing building codes a battle cry. It was the hysterical
end of the real-estate bubble, and there was still the hope
that Troy would attract the wealth that could gentrify its
burgeoning downtown. Tutunjian wanted his streets to be swept
in preparation, and the dilapidated and condemned buildings
to be dealt with. According to Mirch: “Pattison ran the city
like a think tank. All they’d do was have meetings all day
and talk. Harry runs the city like a business.”
stand before you tonight,” Tutunjian proclaimed before the
City Council at the beginning of 2004, “to pledge that after
years of planning in the city of Troy it is simply time to
This hard-charging ethos has won loyal support for the administration,
and for Tutunjian, who won a decisive victory in his re-election
campaign in 2007. But it has also welcomed its share of criticism—and
One of the earliest incidents of the administration allegedly
using ham-fisted tactics to deal with its opponents involved
the old porn theater on River Street, the Cinema Art. In March
2006, the venue was shut down after a police investigation
alleged that adults were using the shop to engage in sexual
escapades. A month later, the city claimed that bricks were
falling off of the building, and, oddly, tore the historic
marquee off its façade. Since then, the building’s owner,
Jan DeGroote, has leveled a civil-rights suit against the
Another incident involved a constituent who sent an indignant
e-mail to the mayor, urging Tutunjian to respond to the allegation
that three city employees, including Mirch, had used city
time to record campaign robocalls to slander the voracious
Tutunjian critic, incumbent Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District
4) during the 2005 council races. Soon after, this constituent
was visited by code enforcement and issued a fine for a piece
of graffiti that someone had spray-painted on his building.
When it turned out that graffiti wasn’t mentioned in the city’s
codes, this constituent told Metroland, the violation
was re-issued for an unlicensed sign.
Controversial businessmen Jack Cox recently won a $20,000
settlement against the city in a suit that alleged his civil
rights were violated in 2006 when Mirch repeatedly barricaded
the entrances to Cox’s 5th Avenue towing business.
wasn’t me being a bully,” Mirch argues. “The neighbors in
that neighborhood were scared. The Cox family had started
moving in junk cars, and they weren’t following the laws.
Those neighbors were in an uproar.”
Originally, Mirch put concrete blocks at the front of the
property, and at the back entrance in the alley. Cox allegedly
towed the blocks in the back away, so Mirch just dumped a
big pile of dirt in their place. Mirch still laughs about
the line he used with the papers: “Let’s see Jack try to tow
away a pile of dirt!”
After the settlement, Republican Councilman Mark McGrath,
a friend and ally of Mirch, called on the mayor to admonish
Mirch for his actions. “There were better ways to deal with
Cox,” McGrath tells Metroland, “than to use strong-arm
had to be taken, and I took it,” says Mirch, “and there is
still peace in the neighborhood three years later. And the
people in that Lansingburgh neighborhood are happy with that
stands outside of the South Troy Diner, smoking an American
Spirit. You’ll find Mirch here every Friday morning, chain-smoking
his way through breakfast with political junkies, city workers,
county legislature candidate Michael “Pickles” Picarillo,
and Steve Dworsky, a former Troy city manager and one of Mirch’s
Mirch is opining on his reputation as a bully: “Some people
in authority are filled with fear, and don’t take the action
that is needed. I am not afraid to make a decision. And it
doesn’t always have to be right. That’s what I tell my people.
If you’re right, good. And if you’re not right, then just
accept the consequence that goes with it.”
Mirch has already said a number of times that he cannot discuss
his most recent controversy, the lawsuit filed by the New
York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Media Alliance, the
nonprofit organization behind Troy’s Sanctuary for Independent
Media. The suit alleges that Mirch, and the city of Troy,
violated constitutionally protected speech when the city shut
down the sanctuary for a code violation.
Last year, the sanctuary welcomed Iraqi-born Chicago artist
Wafaa Bilal to exhibit his video game The Night of Bush
Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi after his exhibition was cancelled
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute due to its controversial
nature. Bilal’s piece drew intense criticism from RPI’s College
Republicans, as the goal of the game is the assassination
of President George W. Bush.
The day the exhibit opened at the sanctuary, Mirch mounted
a protest outside the sanctuary. The next day, the building
was shut down.
love to talk about the case,” Mirch says, “but my lawyer told
me not to.”
The morning of the protest, Mirch went on the Al Roney show
to condemn the artwork as an act of terrorism: “I just view
it as something that is wrong, out-of-bounds, un-American
and terrorism,” Mirch said. “In my mind and in my heart, I
believe it’s terrorism.”
Mirch has said many times—the night of the protest, when the
news broke that the sanctuary might be filing suit, and then
on Friday, standing outside the diner—that he was surprised
that the FBI didn’t go in itself and shut down the show.
Mirch says nothing has changed since the suit, that he is
proud of the protest he mounted against the sanctuary. His
only regret was the timing: The story was gaining national
attention, shaping up to be national news, but the bomb termed
Client No. 9 dropped the same day as his protest and Eliot
Spitzer reluctantly stole all the news cycles.
Cornelius Murray, the lead attorney representing the sanctuary
asks: “If you are wondering if we can get a trail all the
way back to Mirch, the answer is that we can. We are not worried
about that. This screams out as being an instance where, under
the pretext of law, you are really doing something to punish
a legal activity that you don’t like.”
It really does seem to pain Mirch that he can’t defend himself
to the press. So, instead, he points to Monday’s issue of
you see [columnist James] Franco’s ‘Tailspin’ Monday?” Mirch
asks. “He wrote right in there that everybody knows Mirch
had nothing to do with closing down the sanctuary. And I have
dealt with Franco long enough that he knows that I don’t lie.
It wasn’t me.”
is,” Franco’s column reads, “we now know Mirch didn’t give
the order to close down the Sanctuary the day after the controversial
art exhibit ‘Virtual Jihadi’ opened. That order came from
higher up the food chain.”
Sources are saying that the order came out of the mayor’s
wish they’d unleash me, ’cause I’d love to bury the ACLU,”
Mirch says, “but they won’t let me. Let the ACLU keep talking
talking, man. The Garbageman will have his day in court.”