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McCalmon, Rivas Enter Race For Schenectady City Council

Thearse McCalmon and William Rivas
Photos provided to WAMC by Thearse McCalmon and William Rivas, composite image by WAMC
Thearse McCalmon and William Rivas

With five seats on the ballot this fall, two new candidates have entered the race for Schenectady City Council.

Thearse McCalmon has become a familiar face in Schenectady politics. The activist and educator narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Mayor Gary McCarthy in 2019.

In 2020, McCalmon appeared on the ballot again in the contest against Republican State Senator Jim Tedisco in the 49th District – and points out that she gathered a higher percentage of the vote than Tedisco within the City of Schenectady. Before facing off against Tedisco, McCalmon defeated Democratic candidate Donovan McCrae in the primary.

Acknowledging her back-to-back political efforts, McCalmon explained why she’s now seeking a spot on the Schenectady City Council.

“I’m not hungry for a position. That’s not why I ran. That’s not true to who I am. But…certain people in the community kept calling me and asking me if I was going to do this, and if I was going to do that. And then, finally, I said, ‘Well, if I’m going to do this, I’m not doing this alone,’” said McCalmon.

McCalmon is running alongside William Rivas, a community activist and Executive Director of the COCOA House, a youth advocacy and after-school non-profit in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.

Rivas and McCalmon are looking to fill the seats recently vacated by Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur. Rivas, who once before ran for school board, said it took about three weeks to decide if he was ready to run for city council.

“My wife and my daughter were really the last two that I spoke to that really gave it the seal in stating, ‘You know, William, we love you. We know your heart, we know your passion. If you’re doing this, you’re going to do this your way, and you’re going to do it the right way and put the community first,” said Rivas.

Together, the two candidates, both of whom are Black, are bringing a common message as they begin their campaigns.

“When it’s time for change you need to look for the people who will bring that change. Period,” said McCalmon.

“Populations changes, education change, business change…all these things evolve and change over time, so the reflection of the community in the leadership that it’s under has to evolve and change as well,” said Rivas.

The city council has not yet appointed two interim members. Along with the two recently vacated positions, the terms of three other city councilors will be expiring at the end of the year. With five total seats on the ballot this fall, there’s the potential for a shakeup of the seven-member body.

There has been a call by some – including former Councilor Perazzo – to elect more people of color to the city council.

Though McCalmon and Rivas see the opportunity to diversify the city council, they each point to their collaborative approach to their work – the same attitude they hope to bring to city government.

“In everything I’ve ever been a part of, I always create a platform or an opportunity in respect to everybody that’s around. So for me, that’s really what I bring to the table is…that community and collaboration in the sense of, this is always what I’ve done and it’s going to be what I continue to do,” said Rivas.  

“We’re here for everyone, and that’s what we’re going to bring,” said McCalmon.

Asked about the potential for hurt feelings leftover from her 2019 primary against Mayor McCarthy, McCalmon says she’s ready to run, whether she is the “favorite” of establishment Democrats or not.

“So William and I briefly spoke about this. And we understand the politics that will be played. And either way, no matter what the city Dems decide to do, my hat is still in the race, period,” said McCalmon.

McCalmon and Rivas say they will pool their teams together ahead of the petitioning process set to begin in February.

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