LOCKPORT – Most Lockport officeholders have tended to be factory workers or small-business owners, but not Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey.
She is undoubtedly the first Lockport mayor to speak French, to have a master’s degree in public policy and to have had a first career as an executive at a not-for-profit mental health organization.
McCaffrey also is the first Lockport mayor to come aboard when the city is nearly broke.
With Mayor Michael W. Tucker resigning Feb. 21 in favor of moving into the private sector, McCaffrey, a 46-year-old Republican who was Common Council president, moved up to inherit a city with no fund balance, four unsettled union contracts and state auditors breathing down its neck.
Not to mention major unfinished projects like the Flight of Five restoration of the original Erie Canal locks and the Fallen Heroes Memorial.
And at the moment, Lockport, like many local communities, has streets liberally pockmarked with potholes because of the rough winter.
“I’ve got a tall order, and I’m ready to get working on it,” McCaffrey said.
She took over at Tucker’s old desk in the office whose walls, once heavily laden with souvenirs and knickknacks, now are largely bare except for the frame-hanging hardware her predecessor left behind.
Tucker had not concealed the fact that he hadn’t been planning to run for a fourth term in 2015. Now McCaffrey has almost two years before she would face the voters, as she was strongly considering a run for mayor next year in any event.
“We all have different strengths and backgrounds to draw from. I think my education and my work experience have given me the skills that I need to do this job,” McCaffrey said. “I think the skills that are needed in this office are different than what was needed years ago. This is a $30 million corporation, and we’ve got to make really big important decisions that affect 20,000 residents.”
Lockport’s population, stagnant for decades and then slowly falling, is slightly above 20,000 and now is smaller than that of the surrounding Town of Lockport.
To McCaffrey, a Lockport native who grew up on Regent Street, it’s no secret why that happened.
“I hear people talk about the tax rate. I hear that regularly. We want to make Lockport affordable to live in,” she said. “It’s almost a disincentive for people to buy houses in the city. I think the misnomer is, you raise taxes and you get more revenue. I think it’s actually the opposite. You raise more taxes and you’ve just limited your pool of people who want to contribute to that revenue. It keeps escalating in the wrong direction, if you ask me.”
Yet McCaffrey admitted, “There’s not a lot to cut. There’s maybe a couple of areas where we could be more frugal.”
She said, “I think we have to have greater fiscal restraint, better long-term planning, more of a strategic outlook toward the future. I felt that was something I could bring to the table.”
McCaffrey earned a degree in political science with a minor in French from Nazareth College in Rochester in 1989. Her college days included a semester living with a family in France and attending a university there.
She earned her master’s degree from the University of Rochester in 1991, the same year she got married. She set the notion of politics aside to raise a family.
McCaffrey, whose husband, Chris, is president of Ulrich Sign Co., has three teenage children. Her older daughter, Meredith, 18, attends Boston College; daughter Gretchen, 16, is in high school; and son Connor, 14, is in middle school.
“They were surprised and excited,” McCaffrey said of the home reaction to her accession. “The girls were definitely excited in a good way. My son, the jury’s still out.”
McCaffrey said she expects to come to City Hall each morning at 8:30. “I anticipate working until the end of the school day for the most part, until 3 or 4, and maybe the last hour of the day working from home or being accessible by phone. That’s when I start running kids around,” she said.
McCaffrey worked for Lake Shore Behavioral Health in Buffalo for 19 years, departing in 2010, the year before she was elected 2nd Ward alderwoman.
She started as the full-time program director of vocational services, but as her family grew, she cut back to part time and then to home-based grant-writing work until Connor started kindergarten.
She was promoted to coordinator of rehabilitation and returned to working on-site for Lake Shore from 2006 to 2010.
“You might not think it’s that applicable (to being mayor), but it was budgeting, management, supervision, forecasting, understanding the environment around you and responding as you needed to,” McCaffrey said.
She also served on the Lockport Board of Education from 1994 to 1999 and has served on numerous community boards.
McCaffrey said she plans to meet with all union heads and suggested that she might meet occasionally with the workers in each department to learn their challenges and hear their suggestions.
But she warned, “If the request is ‘we need more staff,’ that’s not going to be able to be filled.”
She said all of the special projects Tucker left behind and the commitments they entail have to be analyzed “on their own merits, what our obligations are and whether we can live up to them. I’ll just have to evaluate those going forward on an individual basis.”
McCaffrey said Lockport still has a lot to offer: a functioning downtown business district and historic and cultural assets such as the canal, the Kenan Center and the Palace Theatre, where McCaffrey will give an inaugural address Wednesday night.
“I hope people from neighboring communities come to see us not for the things that are problems today but more for the charm that we have,” she said.
McCaffrey added, “I think Lockport has a great future going forward. There’s a lot that I’m optimistic about. I think the problems that we have today are correctable. They’re not beyond repair. We can fix the potholes, we can get this budget under control, we can straighten some things out, we can restructure, we can make some service improvements in departments where we need to. I firmly believe that’s achievable.”