LOCKPORT – “The time for me to move on has come,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Friday as he resigned, effective immediately.
Tucker, 56, said his departure has been in the works for the past month or so, as he decided to seek a private-sector job with almost two years left in his third four-year term. The city’s aldermen were not told of the resignation until Friday.
He said he has some strong opportunities that may come to fruition in “three or four weeks,” including one that would pay him three times his current salary of $43,800 a year.
“I’m not looking for anything in the public sector,” Tucker said, quashing rumors that a state job was awaiting him, perhaps lined up by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, the county’s top Republican.
“I never asked him for anything,” Tucker said. “I haven’t asked anyone in the Republican Party to get me a job, ever.”
Tucker, a Republican, is the longest-serving mayor in Lockport history, with 10 years and 52 days in office.
Common Council President Anne E. McCaffrey became mayor at 2:12 p.m. Friday, when City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri stamped Tucker’s one-sentence resignation letter as officially received.
Tucker said he understands that many will jump to the conclusion that he left because of the city’s recent financial controversies.
“The timing is bad timing. I get it. I know people are going to jump all over it,” Tucker said, adding, “I didn’t make this decision until the last 24 hours, after talking to my wife.”
A harsh audit by the State Comptroller’s Office in December, three months after the state rated Lockport as “moderately fiscally stressed,” revealed that erroneous financial statements led to a deep city deficit of which the Council had no inkling when it prepared the 2013 budget.
And earlier this month, McCaffrey announced that the city was hiring an outside investigator to prove misuse of a city credit card.
The Buffalo News revealed that the target was Youth and Recreation Director Melissa I. Junke, who used the credit card Tucker controlled to organize a golf tournament to raise money for her department. The costs, more than $9,000, were questioned by City Treasurer Michael E. White, especially since White said the tournament apparently failed to raise any money.
However, Junke’s attorney, George V.C. Muscato, said Wednesday that Junke deposited about $1,500 in connection with the tournament and that at least some elected city officials, including Tucker, knew of her plans in advance.
Tucker said, “The credit card thing is not a resignable offense. It’s only nine grand. The investigation is going on. In three or four weeks, there will be a finding. People will know. I know what happened there. It’s just, opportunity knocked and I jumped on it.”
Muscato declined comment on Tucker’s departure.
Tucker said the new job he hopes to get is local, and he will remain in Lockport.
McCaffrey said she was surprised by Tucker’s decision. She issued a statement thanking him for his service and said he “accomplished some significant things.”
As his main accomplishments, Tucker listed the redevelopment of Main Street and the construction of City Centre on what was once a city-owned vacant lot; the resuscitation of Canal Street as a pedestrian-only area hosting some new businesses; the privatization of garbage collection and the start of curbside recycling service; and the Friday night summer concert series.
McCaffrey, R-2nd Ward, who has served two years and 52 days on the Council, automatically succeeded Tucker as spelled out by the City Charter. Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the charter says the incoming mayor serves the rest of the former mayor’s term, meaning McCaffrey would not have to run until the November 2015 election if she wants to keep the job.
“Clearly, Lockport is faced with some tremendous challenges right now. I am fully prepared to step into the mayor’s office immediately and begin working to address these issues,” McCaffrey said in her statement. She declined to be interviewed Friday.
McCaffrey said she will officially sign the oath of office Monday and likely will hold a public swearing-in at the March 5 Council meeting.
Among her first duties will be appointing a new Council president and appointing someone to succeed her as 2nd Ward alderwoman.
In the past couple of weeks, the power dynamic seemed to be shifting in City Hall. The Council has held two executive sessions without Tucker, both announced as pertaining to labor negotiations.
Kevin W. Pratt, president of the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association, said earlier this month that the Council wanted a contract settlement with his union and Tucker rejected it.
“On any labor contract, people have different opinions,” Tucker said. “This is the first time ever that I’ve been excluded from executive sessions, but they have the right to do it. I knew I wasn’t running again, so I wasn’t going to get wrapped up in that stuff.”
Tucker said the piece of unfinished business that he most regrets not being able to complete is the restoration of the “Flight of Five,” the 19th century Erie Canal locks. Two of the five locks are under construction and are targeted to open in July, although a boat that is supposed to demonstrate how the locks worked won’t be done for two years.
Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward, a close friend of Tucker’s, was unhappy with the resignation. “I don’t think he should have done it. It’s a detriment to everything that’s good,” Schrader said.
“He has been a great mayor, leaving a great legacy,” said Pasceri, who was Council president before becoming city clerk. “I’m confident Anne will do a great job, amidst the swirlings of investigations and audits.”