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Schenectady City Council Candidates Meet In Forum

A city council candidate forum was held at Proctors in Schenectady last night, hosted by the Daily Gazette. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard questioned candidates as a panelist. Here’s a recap.

Six candidates are running for Schenectady City Council, but only five took part in the debate.

Incumbent Democrats Marion Porterfield, Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, and John Mootooveren are running for re-election. Mootooveren did not attend the forum, citing a business obligation.

Three first-time candidates are seeking to replace the incumbents.

Damonni Farley, a registered Democrat, will appear on the Working Families Party line.

Farley brought suit against the Schenectady County Board of Elections, after an objection to Farley’s petition signatures by the Democratic Party. His suit was dismissed. The move prevented a Democratic primary.

Mohammed Hafez, also a registered Democrat, has been endorsed by the Republican and Green Parties. Rima Cerrone is running as a Republican.

The candidates were asked about their plans to lower property taxes, improve public safety, address homelessness, and develop neighborhoods. They were also questioned about the impact of the Rivers Casino and development at Mohawk Harbor, infrastructure, city programs, and immigration.

The incumbents touted their accomplishments on the city council.

Porterfield, who has been a member for five years, cast herself as an advocate for residents who have been overlooked.

“There’s a lot of diversity in our neighborhoods, and I would also suggest that perhaps we could have something called implicit bias training, which will help us to better understand all of the different cultures and ethnicities that make up our city,” said Porterfield.

Porterfield will appear on the Democratic, Working Families, and Independence Party lines.

Incumbent Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas has been a city council member since November 2016. She touted her experience in the financial services industry and pointed to the city’s recent successes.

“Take a look around downtown. It’s alive, it’s vibrant. The waterfront has become a model that other communities around the state want to copy. We need to continue to focus on our neighborhoods, eliminate blight, take down the worst of the worst, and promote home ownership,” said Zalewsk-Wildzunas.

She will appear on the Democratic, Conservative, Independence, and Women’s Equality Party lines.

The challengers are seeking change in the city.

As a Republican, Rima Cerrone said she hopes to bring new ideas to the city council, which is currently controlled by Democrats and one Independent.

“After all, one-party dominance at any level is generally less desirable than healthy, two-party competition. When you do have both parties involved, you open up a dialogue, come up with better solutions because it forces debate. With a broader spectrum of city council people sharing different perspectives to enrich conversation, better solutions will be generated for our city,” said Cerrone.

Cerrone will appear on the Republican, Conservative, and Reform Party lines.

Farley, a community activist who also serves as community relations coordinator for Schenectady City Schools, explained why he has invested time bettering people’s lives in the city.

“Because it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. And if we’re talking about all of these great things that we’re doing in the city but the people don’t feel them, if the people can’t say that ‘my life has gotten better,’ if the people  can’t say that ‘my neighborhood is safer,’ then all we’re doing is talking,” said Farley.

Mohammed Hafez, a landlord and business owner, is running on a campaign platform of fairness toward all residents and neighborhoods. He detailed his desires in his closing statement.

“Satellite police stations for neighborhoods that need it, especially Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill.  Programs to assist property owners to stay in their homes and prevent foreclosure. Landlord support strategy to prevent the abandonment of properties by offering perhaps training, tax incentive, or even tax relief. Encourage ethnic communities to move to Schenectady to keep houses occupied…”

Hafez will appear on the Republican and Reform Party lines.

John Mootooveren, who did not attend the forum, has served on the city council since January 2014. He will appear on the Democratic, Conservative, Working Families, and Independence Party lines.

Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy is not up for re-election this cycle.

An audio file of the entire city council forum

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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