Book dives into Schenectady’s rise, fall and comeback

SCHENECTADY – In 2017, Mona Golub contacted author William Patrick about her idea for an 80th anniversary gift.NS Her father’s birthday, Neil Golub, the former Chairman and CEO of Golub Corp.

“I’m thinking of a little diary,” the daughter suggested.

Her father immediately rejected the idea and told Patrick that he had no interest in publishing his life story but would like a book documenting Schenectady’s economic recovery. The writer objected.

“Neil, this is the village of the happy people writers,” said Patrick. “Everyone wants to live in that village, but no one wants to read it.”

Patrick, 72, the author of nine award-winning books in a variety of genres, is also a highly regarded creative writing educator. He has been on the faculty in the writing program with a Master of Fine Arts degree at Fairfield University for 12 years.

In no way will Patrick accept a commission to produce a puff piece by Neil Golub. Golub ended up giving Patrick carte blanche to go wherever Schenectady’s story—Good, Bad, and Ugly—takes.

Patrick worked for four years on one of the most challenging writing projects. He read dozens of books on urban studies and the checkered history of American cities. Research newspaper coverage of Schenectady and look closely at books covering aspects of the city’s history. He completed 135 in-depth interviews and filled 19 three-episode files with 7,000 pages of transcripts.

Next month, Patrick will publish his 10th book, “Metrofix: The Combat Return of Company City.” It is a reportage, oral history and biographical tour of the city.

A backdrop of urbanism adds context to Schenectady’s story. On December 7 there will be a morning press conference and book launch party from 5-7pm at the GE Theater in Proctors, featuring readings by the people in the book: Philip Morris, Madeleine Thorne and Will Rivas. Patrick and Golub will answer questions. Among the invited guests is former Governor George E. Pataki, who signed the legislation establishing the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority in 1998 as a public benefit corporation to spur economic recovery in the city.

The 408-page hardcover includes dozens of historical photos and retails for $32. It can be purchased online at www.metrofixbook.com or at The Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady.

Author Baron Wormser wrote in the preface: “The book covers the greater part of two centuries to show how Schenectady has developed, evolved and stood on its own two feet.” He calls it “an eminently readable book, far from being a bound book, but a vibrant testament to his many lives, hopes, and vicissitudes.”

Troy-born Patrick has lived in Schenectady since 2010 with his wife Carmel Patrick, who is a member of Schenectady City Council. He enjoyed the role of an outsider who owes no credit to a reinforcement from within.

“I told Neal from the start that I was writing an honest book,” Patrick said. “I said if I find warts, I will expose them. He may have startled on the inside, but he let me do it.”

Golub stuck to his turn.

“Bill was the writer and I was the guarantor,” Golub said.

“I think this is a very important book that can have an impact,” he added. “It has a message of hope that a lot of cities across the country need to hear. In a way, we figured out how to get out of our hole in Schenectady and other cities that can too.”

The two established a friendship based on mutual respect. “Neil is a phenomenal entrepreneur and he has provided a lot of valuable insight,” Patrick said. “Neil admits that he can have an abrasive nature at times about these things. This is because he cares deeply about Schenectady and loves his city with all his heart.”

Patrick did not smooth the pitfalls that precipitated Schenectady’s decline: over-reliance on General Electric; political infighting; police corruption; ineffective city government inflaming ethnic tensions; Incompetent school district management; A deserted city center and a final case of boredom among its citizens.

“The book Without Conflict is not an interesting book to me,” Patrick said.

In “Metrofix,” he creates a dynamic urban fabric with villains like “Neutron” Jack Welch and their hometown heroes, including Ray Gillen, Bob Farley, Karen Johnson, Al Jorchinsky, Sharon Jordan, Jeff Boyle, Mike Sacusio, and a team of unknown volunteers from Grassroots who restored civic pride.

Golub, now 84, readily admits that his hometown “was an absolute dump” by the end of the 1980s. General Electric demolished historic buildings to reduce its tax base and laid off or relocated thousands of workers, suburban malls emptied downtown merchants and whiteflyed as the blight spread across the city.

Two years before his death in 1992, Gollop’s father, William Gollop, assembled the city’s leaders and urged his son to enlist Roger Hull, then-President of Union College, to formulate a plan to reverse the city’s long decline. They created Schenectady 2000, a revitalization scheme with Proctor as a downtown recreation center. They have taken on cleaning and beauty projects that have helped foster a more positive mindset.

The downtown revitalization funds came from half of the 1 percent of county sales tax, generating about $5 million annually, along with $50 million in bond body for projects vetted by the 11-member Metroplex Board of Directors.

The Metroplex’s funding flow has translated into new downtown office buildings, bars, and restaurants, and an expanded Proctor arts complex and casino with a hotel, marina, and riverside condominiums. Bricks and mortar don’t tell the story of a human return, according to Patrick, who has struggled with how to frame the narrative.


“I was a little past the halfway point of writing the book when I realized it was a community book and not a business book,” said Patrick, inspired by FF Proctor’s vaudeville impresario. “Proctor came to love Schenectady. He built here the largest theater in his series in 1926.”

Patrick shifted his focus to Proctor and the arts and away from the rise of General Electric and the cajoling of Thomas Edison, who preferred to remain in New Jersey and bypass Schenectady whenever possible.

“Proctor personified the story of the people who love this city,” Patrick said.

Golub remains an optimist who prefers not to look in the rear-view mirror.

“We have a lot of good things cooking in Schenectady now. This book shows how we made our way back in,” Golub said, noting that GE and ALCO took 50,000 jobs and left the city poor.

However, there was still a blue-collar nobility in Schenectady, a spirit that even Neutron Jack could not destroy.

Paul Grundal is director of the New York State Book Institute at the University of Albany and a former correspondent for the Times Union. It can be accessed at grondahlpaul@gmail.com

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