AMSTERDAM — Pastor Michael Arbige delivered blistering criticisms of city office holders while formally announcing his bid for mayor of Amsterdam on Monday.
From the parking lot of the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, Arbige described the hole behind him, where the city course’s former clubhouse once stood, as a sign of “failure” and “incompetence.”
“This is what bad government looks like,” said Arbige, who is running on the Republican and Faith & Family lines. “It is a travesty, it is an embarrassment. There is no restaurant, no clubhouse because of our current mayor.”
“It’s not personal. I have nothing against him,” he added.
Addressing several dozen friends, family, churchgoers and members of the Montgomery County Republican Party, Arbige was clear he does not want to be known as a politician. He is not inclined to develop “talking points” to deliver to prospective voters.
“I have one talking point,” Arbige said. “That is to introduce myself by saying I am a Christian, I am a husband, I am a father and I am a pastor, in that order. That is my one talking point. It says a lot about who I am. After that, I happen to be running for mayor of Amsterdam.”
An Amsterdam native, Arbige is the pastor at Lord of the Harvest Church on Teller Street. He and wife, Merilee, have two children, Magdelaina and Matteo.
Describing himself as “blessed,” Arbige said he is running for office to give back to the city. He plans to bring his experience leading his church and his family to leading the local government.
“I’m not doing this because I have some emptiness in my life I’m trying to fill. I think a lot of people run for office for that reason,” he said. “They think they need some power or need some kind of thrill. They need something in their life that is missing.”
“I’m doing this because I generally care about this city,” he added. “While I’ll be OK either way, whether I win or lose, this city will not be OK.”
The political newcomer will challenge incumbent Mayor Michael Cinquanti in the general election on Nov. 7. Cinquanti, running on the Democratic and Conservative lines, has the advantage in the city where registered Democrats account for over 40% of active voters.
Arbige previously ran for state Assembly, facing Joseph Mastroianni in the state Assembly District 111’s Republican primary last year. Mastroianni, R-Rotterdam, took that race with 54% of the vote before being defeated by incumbent Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, in the general election.
Still, Joseph Emanuele, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, described Arbige as a strong candidate, due to the “freshness” he would bring to city government as an outsider.
“He’s got the heart and soul to do what is right for Amsterdam,” Emanuele said. “I think people are leaning towards the non-political person instead of the career politicians that we have throughout our state and country.”
Arbige has racked up endorsements from fellow Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort, former Amsterdam Mayor Mario Villa, former 1st Ward Supervisor Vito “Butch” Greco, and his father and former 1st Ward Alderman Vincent Arbige.
While he does not have any sweeping campaign promises, Arbige was clear he disagrees with recent decisions coming out of City Hall, including the stalled progress bringing a clubhouse back to the golf course.
The former clubhouse was severely damaged by burst pipes in February 2019. The city opted to apply the $1.6 million insurance payout to Amsterdam’s accumulated budget deficit and agreed to sell Lance Orcutt the property for $50,000 on the condition a new clubhouse be constructed to serve the golf course by May 1, 2022.
Orcutt converted a former cart barn into a pavilion serving food and drinks and hosting events while drafting plans for the new clubhouse. The damaged former building was later demolished, but construction of the new clubhouse has not advanced. The city is exploring its options, which could involve legal action, due to the failure to perform under the terms of the sale.
If elected, Arbige pledged to solve the problem of the unbuilt clubhouse, but acknowledged after his speech he doesn’t know what the answer is yet.
“I’m not 100% sure what the answer is at this point,” Arbige said. “This is what government does, they create problems that there is almost impossible answers to. One thing I promise to do is not create these kinds of problems.”
Arbige went on to blast plans by the city to sell several foreclosure properties on the West End to a developer for a mixed-use project with apartments and commercial space.
Mohawk Development LLC would fully remediate the former industrial sites before constructing a pair of four-story buildings on West Main and Carmichael streets. The city agreed to sell the land for $1 based on the $40 million investment involved. Adjacent homeowners have criticized the project due to its density and lack of parking.
Arbige was critical of the plans based on the strenuous objections of neighbors to the dense project in a residential area and plans by the developer to seek affordable-housing tax credits to support the redevelopment.
“On principle, I’m against low-income housing, because we have to ask ourselves, who is this housing for,” Arbige said. “It’s probably for illegal immigrants, that’s who it’s for, who our lovely governor is shipping all over the state.”
State officials have been trying to aid the processing and temporary housing of thousands of asylum seekers transported to New York City from such states as Texas and Florida. There is no evidence migrants have been placed in low-income housing. Temporary and unauthorized immigrants are ineligible for federal housing programs.
The West End project is still undergoing review by the city Planning Commission and Cinquanti has committed to working with the developer to try to address concerns raised by residents. Officials have highlighted the project as remediating blight and potentially hazardous materials, while bringing needed housing to the city.
Another decision attacked by Arbige was the raising of the rainbow flag at City Hall for Pride month. He claimed the move was “divisive” and the practice would not continue under his administration. Only the American, state and city flags would be flown.
“At City Hall and on public property, we’re going to unite, we’re not going to divide, and we’re not going to make people feel like they need to celebrate something they don’t want to celebrate,” Arbige said.
Meanwhile, Cinquanti and the Common Council supported raising the Pride flag to foster inclusion in the community and demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Centro Civico advocated for the flag to be raised on city grounds after learning many locals feel unsafe or fearful coming out.
Community members at the Pride flag raising last month said being represented at City Hall was more important than ever in light of legislation being proposed across the country to restrict the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals. The American Civil Liberties Union tracked 491 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills introduced nationwide during legislative sessions this year.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.