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Unusual Schenectady City Council Contest Begins To Take Shape

Schenectady City Hall
Lucas Willard
Schenectady City Hall

Five of seven Schenectady City Council seats will be up for grabs this fall. 

Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, who chairs Schenectady County’s GOP Committee, said he’s seen a heightened interest among Republicans seeking elected office.

“I’ve seen nothing but a resurgence among Republicans in Schenectady County,” said Koetzle. “We have seen the committees, finally, for the first time in probably 20, 25 years fill up with committee members to try and get involved. We have a full slate across the county, just about, now, which is very unusual for us.”

The City of Schenectady stands out as one of the more unusual races in the area, with five seats on the city council up for grabs. In a council entirely controlled by Democrats, three incumbent councilors – Council President John Mootooveren, Councilor Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, and Councilor Marion Porterfield – will be up for re-election. There will also be contests for the seats formerly held by Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur, who both stepped down in recent weeks.

Koetzle says the county GOP will be endorsing candidates for all the contested seats.

“We’re gonna have five candidates. We have three we have pretty much identified at this point, two more we’re still in conversation with,” said Koetzle.

Koetzle’s party has chosen to endorse Kevin Hammer.  

“He and his husband are looking to start a family in the city and was very interested in getting involved to try to help strengthen the neighborhoods and…continue to make it a better place for people to start a family there,” said Koetzle.

Hammer is openly gay. Koetzle says his party is also considering supporting a woman of color, who has not yet announced her campaign.

There’s been a call for greater diversity on the Schenectady City Council. The city Democratic committee’s executive committee has recommended two Black men for two seats held by Perazzo and Kosiur, both of whom are white.

City Democratic Committee Chair Tom Bellick says he’s also excited to see a lot of interest in those seeking the endorsement from the committee, which interviewed several potential candidates.

“Yeah, I think there was eight candidates that came before the committee and we endorsed Carl Williams and Haileab Samuel,” said Bellick.

Both candidates are political newcomers.

Williams is vice chair of the city’s Civilian Police Review Board and an Air Force vet, as well as a member of the city chapter of the NAACP. Samuel is an entrepreneur and serves on the board of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority and the city’s Housing Review Board.

The city Democrats will meet Tuesday to formalize their endorsements. Bellick is confident in the party’s attempt to keep a solid hold on City Hall.

“I don’t think we’re going to have very big problems with the Republicans. We’re going to run an aggressive campaign as usual,” said Bellick.

Two other declared candidates are also in the running, Schenectady educator and activist Thearse McCalmon, who came close to defeating incumbent Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy in 2019’s primary, and William Rivas, an activist and Executive Director of the COCOA House after school program in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.

The now five-member city council has not yet made a decision on appointing interim members to the council ahead of Election Day. 

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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