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Democratic Schenectady City Council Candidates Meet For Forum

Candidates for Schenectady City Council met for a forum broadcast on Open Stage Media
Image capture by WAMC
Candidates for Schenectady City Council met for a forum broadcast on Open Stage Media

With the terms of three councilors expiring at the end of the year, and the departure of two other councilors earlier this year, voters are set to choose five members of the seven-member Schenectady City Council this fall. Ahead of the June 22nd primary, a forum for the Democratic candidates was held Wednesday night.

Seven candidates answered questions about their vision for City Hall in the forum organized by the Schenectady Chapter of the NAACP and Schenectady United Neighborhoods.

Without a live audience, the forum was broadcast from Proctors on Open Stage Media.

The candidates vying for a full four-year term who appeared Wednesday night include current City Council President John Mootooveren, councilor Marion Porterfield, councilor Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, and challenger Damonni Farley.

Those seeking nominations to fill the remainder of the terms vacated by former councilors Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur include Haileb Samuel, Carl Williams, and Doreen DiToro.

Daily Gazette Editor and forum moderator Miles Reed asked the candidates to provide a brief opening statement before turning to a slate of questions.

Up first was Councilor Zalewski-Wildzunas. A commercial real estate broker by trade, she touted her experience in banking.

“Being a banker has given me experience in lending money to businesses, not-for-profits and municipalities. This knowledge has assisted me in analyzing the city’s financial statements,” said Zalewski-Wildzunas.

Zalewski-Wildzunas, who is white, cited her expertise helping sell city properties and her involvement with local non-profits.

Councilor Porterfield, the only African American member of the council, said she listens to the community and brings that information to the table.

“Additionally, I feel that having a difference of opinion sometimes and expressing an opinion that’s not the same as everyone else, is helpful because you get to see things from all angles,” said Porterfield.

In March, Porterfield was the sole vote against a police reform plan developed under a state mandate. 

Councilor Mootooveren, who is Guyanese, listed several city initiatives he’s supported through his time on the council, from neighborhood revitalization programs to COVID relief.

“I’ve worked with our county health department to bring COVID resource including masks and vaccine to the underserved community. I will continue with this outreach. I’m a big believer in financial discipline and transparency,” said Mootooveren.

Farley, a longtime community advocate, challenged the sitting members of the council. 

“As we talk about all of the good things that are happening in our city, especially when we talk about things like some of the economic growth, if it has not changed or improved the material conditions of the people that actually live here, if you can’t feel that, if it’s not tangible for you then it’s missing the mark and we’re missing the mark,” said Farley.

Farley, who is Black, says he believes in “making decisions with people and not for people.”

The first of the three candidates for the two open seats to speak was DiToro, who pointed to community relationships she’s built as the owner of a local funeral home.

“I continue to work in this capacity serving families who have entrusted me with their most treasured loved ones. It was instilled in me at a very young age by my immigrant parents that through adversity comes triumph,” said DiToro.

DiToro, who is white, said she plans to address quality of life issues such as noise complaints and repeatedly mentioned her support for law enforcement during the forum.

Up next was Samuel, who shared his history as an entrepreneur and small business owner, and as a board member on the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority.

“And one of the things that’s come out of that experience is the understanding of how governments operate on an operational basis when it comes to land management, licensing, permitting, code enforcement, and environmental health. And all of the roles with the budgetary responsibility and the fiscal responsibility and the ability to work with people, I believe those skills I can bring to the city council,” said Samuel.

Samuel, who is Black, is one of two candidates previously endorsed by the Schenectady Democratic Committee to fill the open seats. The other is Williams an Air National Guard veteran who recently completed his MBA.

Williams, who is Black, also served as a member of the Schenectady Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Steering Committee.

“I am currently here right now because of the influences of a lot of mentors and friends and peers that have decided to invest their time and resource into me personally. I understand that there a lot of peers  who have not afforded those same benefits, and that’s primarily the reason why I’m here, to open up doors and bridge gaps between the individuals that currently served on the city council to ensure that their lessons are learned at not lost,” said Williams.

Also running for City Council are Thearse McCalmon, who has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, and Republican-endorsed candidates Kevin Hammer, Brendan Nally, and Vivian Parsons.

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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