GLOVERSVILLE — Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr., the Republican candidate for mayor of Gloversville, has chosen not to participate in a live radio debate on WENT with Mayor Vince DeSantis.
Rowback and DeSantis were both offered weekday evening and Saturday morning time slots by the station over the last several weeks to engage in the traditional mayoral debate. DeSantis agreed to all time slots, except during times the city Common Council was scheduled to meet, but Rowback has accepted none of them.
“So, we’re not doing it as a debate,” Fulton County Republican Chairwoman Sue McNeil said Tuesday. “What we want is a Republican representative, along with Bill, so that Bill can obviously talk about his campaign.”
WENT owner Mike Schaus on Thursday night said the radio station has made the same offer to other political candidates regarding a question and answer debate format with call-in questions from listeners and opening and closing statements determined by a coin flip by the candidates.
“That’s the same format we use with every politician,” Schaus said.
Schaus said the station will allow the two candidates to appear separately for live radio interviews in lieu of a debate, but each can only come on alone without any additional individuals.
DeSantis has agreed to appear on the station Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m. The Rowback campaign as of Thursday night had not yet responded to the offer for a solo interview.
McNeil became the public spokesperson regarding scheduling for Rowback’s campaign on Oct. 20, following a controversy over statements Rowback made to The Leader-Herald about having voted in favor of hiring two additional police officers as part of the city’s 2022 budget process. Rowback’s original statement on the issue was contradicted by a bi-partisan majority of five of the seven city council members who said he voted against hiring the two officers and did not second a motion by Republican 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio to support DeSantis’ budget proposal to hire four police officers, the position Rowback has consistently said he preferred. The written minutes of the council’s Oct. 7 budget meeting also show Rowback voted against hiring the officers and did not support Anadio’s budget motion to hire four.
LEGACY OF 2017 MAYORAL DEBATE
McNeil on Tuesday explained why Rowback is unwilling to engage in a live radio debate with DeSantis.
“With everything that’s happened in the past and never being able to settle things, and just letting everything fly, we’re going to have our Republican team along with Rowback,” McNeil said. “With what’s gone on in the past, and how it was kind of allowed to have allegations thrown and nothing was stopped.”
McNeil referenced the Oct. 28, 2017 mayoral debate between then-Mayor Dayton King and Rowback during which this exchange occurred between the candidates.
Speaking about his then 28-year history with the Fire Department and why he had not been promoted within the unit, Rowback said, “If you looked at my work history at the city of Gloversville …” to which King then interjected: “I have.”
“You have?” Rowback responded. “Oh.”
Rowback then paused for several seconds and started pressing King, asking whether he noticed that Rowback had applied multiple times to be a fire investigator, and whether there was a reason why he wasn’t appointed.
During the broadcast King repeatedly said he believed Rowback’s personnel file was subject to the New York state Freedom of Information Law, which at that time was not correct.
King challenged Rowback to file a Freedom of Information Law Request (FOIL) for his personnel file to show whether or not an alleged bowling incident was in his file. After the debate Rowback filed the FOIL request.
In 2017 firefighter and police personnel files were not considered public documents under the state’s FOIL law, but then City Attorney Anthony “Tony” Casale released the form to Rowback anyway, and then released it again to another person who had filed a FOIL request for it, who then distributed the information on the internet.
The file showed that Rowback was reprimanded for going bowling on a sick day, something he still says is not correct.
“I don’t know if it was a sick day or a personal day,” Rowback said in March after announcing his 2021 mayoral candidacy. “In the contract it says if you’re sick you’re supposed to be at home or at the doctors. And basically what happened was, my wife had a medical situation where I called in sick. She said she felt better. We went up and were watching the bowling, so it was blown out of proportion. So, whether I was right or wrong, it didn’t happen again, [i’ll]put it that way.”
After the 2017 radio debate Rowback then appeared to have won the mayoral election against King until a double-counting of several hundred ballots for Rowback was discovered by Fulton County Board of Elections officials a few weeks after the 2017 contest, reversing the outcome, resulting in King’s re-election.
Both King and, years later, Casale would ultimately resign from office.
After his personnel file was released in 2017, Rowback filed an ethics complaint against Casale and against 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss, a Democrat, claiming both had acted inappropriately concerning the release of information on Rowback’s personnel record as a member of the Gloversville Fire Department.
The city’s ethics panel unanimously rejected Rowback’s ethics complaints against Casale and Weiss, but his conflicts with Casale were far from over.
Earlier this year, the Common Council formed a special investigative committee to probe Rowback’s comments with respect to statements to some city employees. The committee determined Rowback was “untruthful” under oath when interviewed by the committee, and had exposed the city to potential lawsuits due to harassing, intimidating, and threatening conduct toward city employees.
The committee had recommended Rowback apologize to city employees they say he threatened to fire and take harassment training, all of which he has refused to do, stating the committee should apologize to him.
Casale then during a July 13 common council meeting then criticized Rowback for refusing to comment on the investigative probe other than a written statement Casale said he could “barely read himself.” Casale then got into a loud argument with Anadio, during which DeSantis said he was out of order. A few weeks later Casale resigned, stating he didn’t want to cause any further conflict.
In 2017 Rowback also made a criminal complaint to the state police that King had violated New York state Civil Rights Law 50-a, which in 2017, before it was changed in 2020, stated personnel files of firefighters and police officers were not public documents required to be released under FOIL.
King was then arrested for the first time as mayor in December 2017.
In October 2018, Johnstown Town Court Justice Karen Palmateer agreed to a plea deal to reduce the charges against King, which was negotiated by special prosecutor Peter Califano from Montgomery County and King’s lawyer Robert Abdella, on the condition that King read a public letter of apology to Rowback and the city Fire Department, the language of which would be agreed to in advance by Califano. Califano also agreed to allow Rowback, as the complainant in the case, to see the apology. King agreed to pay a $250 fine, plus $125 court surcharge as part of a plea agreement to reduce a misdemeanor official misconduct charge down to 2nd degree harassment, a violation.
On Oct. 23, 2018 Rowback then publicly rejected King’s apology, although he shook his hand at a Common Council meeting. After the meeting, Rowback vowed he would one day become mayor of Gloversville.
King would then be arrested again, accused of stealing stamps from city hall. He resigned in January 2019 as part of a plea deal, which prompted the Common Council to appoint then councilman-at-large DeSantis interim mayor and former 4th Ward Councilman Steve Smith councilman-at-large, setting up a special election in November 2019 to fill out the remainder of the remaining two years on each of those office’s terms. DeSantis defeated then Libertarian Party candidate Dale “Hank” McGrath 1,152 to 320, but Rowback also defeated Smith in a closer contest 912 to 868.
In March, Rowback discussed whether or not he would ever debate DeSantis.
“That’s something I’d really have to think about that, because the last time it turned south, real quick,” Rowback said. “I’m out of the fire service now, but I wouldn’t want something like that to happen again where it goes ugly, and there’s things said, and it turns into a court case, and ethics and all that crap.”
Rowback did not return repeated phone calls or answer social media messages seeking comment for this story.