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Cohoes Councilor Randy Koniowka Announces Bid For Mayor In '19, Mayor Shawn Morse Fires Back

With the pivotal primary a year away, Cohoes City Councilman Randy Koniowka says he plans to run for mayor in 2019. The Ward 6 Democrat has been critical of Mayor Shawn Morse, who’s held the corner office since 2016. In an interview with WAMC News Thursday, Koniowka says Morse – who has faced abuse allegations – should not hold elected office. The councilman also bashed his fellow Democrat’s administration. Morse has denied the allegations and rejected calls to resign from fellow Democrats including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and state Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. Morse also spoke with WAMC Thursday.Thursday, after WAMC's interviews with the officials, the Times Union published a report containing 911 calls made by Morse's wife last year. Morse again denied having physically harmed women in the latest WAMC interview.

Transcripts and audio of both interviews:

OK. It’s no secret that you’ve been a critic of the Morse administration, so why did you decide to run for mayor in next year’s election?

Well, you know, it wasn’t an easy decision, but it was one that I thought was necessary given the circumstances. Here’s the bottom line to this as I see it: we need to restore honor and integrity to the office of the mayor. And I want to be very clear about this: anyone who physically abuses a woman has no business being dog catcher, let alone mayor of the city. Whether you’re Eric Schneiderman, whether you’re Shawn Morse – whoever these other cast of characters are, we’ve seen over the last year, two years – you just have no business being in elective office.  So, you know, first and foremost, that’s what we really need to do here in this election, because it appears to me he doesn’t plan to resign.

Now, I want to just make it clear here on the recording that we’ve asked Mayor Morse about a lot of the published reports alleging that, and he has denied those claims. 

Well, so my response to that is that you go into any jail, any prison and, you know, you’re gonna find a lot of innocent people. Everybody’s gonna say they didn’t do it. So in order for Mr. Morse to be correct in his assessment that he didn’t do it, well then here’s what we have to assume: that Mrs. Morse is a liar; Mrs. Colleen Keller, the mother of his son, is a liar who came out on record; that the Times Union, that members of the Morse family who have come forward and signed statements with the District Attorney, that they’re liars; that Assemblyman John McDonald, who witnessed physical abuse on the part of Mr. Morse, that he’s a liar. So, at the end of the day, [it’s either] a grand conspiracy in that we have a whole host of co-conspirators and liars, or that one man is lying. And you know what? I think one man is lying.

Let me try to continue to just play devil’s advocate with you. He hasn’t been charged with any crimes, he hasn’t faced an arrest related to any of the charges you’re making – so why should Mayor Morse resign his position?

Well look, obviously a lot of these types of crimes you have a statute of limitations. Look what’s happened in the Catholic church, look at the horror that some of these men inflicted on folks, and they can’t be charged with a crime. And so it’s not always about being charged with a crime. Look at Eric Schneiderman, look at some of these individuals who’ve resigned – and rightly so they resigned, because they should not continue to hold office. We’re in the era of “Me Too” here, and either we’re gonna believe women, or we’re not. Irregardless if [he’s] charged with a crime – maybe [he] will be charged with a crime. You know, I don’t know…apparently the District Attorney is still – there’s still an investigation from what I understand. Whether or not you’re charged with a crime, look at the record. Look at the people who have come forward. I think that merits somebody not being fit to serve.

Now, are you critical of any of his record in terms of policies as mayor, or is this strictly a personality race?

No, there’s a whole thing here. You have an administration, they operate behind closed doors, they don’t engage the citizens, they don’t inform the Common Council even, they engage in cronyism and nepotism…And really what you have at the end of the day, you have a government not for the people, but of the select few – of the select few of friends, family, and political contributors that benefit under this administration. Look at economic development: we hand out cash, $50,000 in cash to Pioneer Bank, we hand out millions of dollars’ worth of tax statements to developers, and it all goes without transparency. They’ve had this intense focus on this one block of downtown, and concerts and music halls, meanwhile the rest of the city’s infrastructure is crumbling. They can’t pick up lawn bags. So, we need good government, we need transparent government, we need to empower the Common Council, we need to empower citizens, and that’s what this campaign is gonna be about.

Do you think Mayor Morse deserves any credit for the way the city responded to the massive fire of last November?

Credit for what? What did he do? I don’t know what he did. If he gave money, I guess I give him credit for that. I just don’t know – from what I understand, the city bungled the entire fundraising. If you look back at all the delays and delays, and nobody knew what to do. So I don’t know, was that handled correctly? It appeared to me that it’d been bungled.

I want to ask you about something you said in your campaign announcement, which was that you would challenge him in both the primary and the general election. And in Cohoes that’s not a small point, because the Democratic numbers are so overwhelming that, effectively, in many past years, the primary has been the general election. So how will that work? Let’s assume Mayor Morse runs against you in the Democratic primary for mayor, and you don’t win, how would you then counter him in the general [election]?

Well normally, minor party lines that come into play for a general election, whether its Cohoes or Albany, I would assume that both of us would be the recipient of one or multiple minor party lines which would qualify us to run in the general election. And I think it’s important because, you know, all the voters, not just registered Democrats – but all voters should be able to cast a vote. Obviously in Cohoes and Albany, obviously the primary is critical, but that’s not always the case. And all the people should have an opportunity to be heard.

What’s been the reaction that you’ve gotten so far [about] your bid coming up?

Well it’s been very positive. I know from me, anyway, when I go around and I say “Cohoes,” that the reaction I get is “What’s wrong with that – oh, my God, that mayor – what’s wrong with him?”  And unfortunately it’s an embarrassment on our great city, and one that I think we really need to correct.

Have you been speaking with people like Assemblyman McDonald and Ron Canestrari about this attempt to unseat Mayor Morse?

They’re friends. I haven’t spoken with them about this particular announcement yet, but [they’re] two people I respect a great deal and I’m sure I’ll be calling them for advice and counsel. But you know, this is gonna be a long campaign, we’re a year to the day away. This is my campaign – this isn’t John McDonald’s campaign, this isn’t anybody’s but mine. Certainly they’re friends and people that I admire and look up to, and will be certainly calling on them. 

I’m trying to imagine what the county Democrats might do, because Mayor Morse appears to have very strong ties with the county Democrats, but many Democrats in Albany County did call for his resignation – which, you mentioned, hasn’t happened. So take us inside your process in terms of trying to line up the party support you need.

Well, you have the Democratic Party, who’s about “Me Too,” [the] “Me Too” movement. So I would expect that the Democratic Party, both in Cohoes and in Albany County, will support my candidacy. I can’t see how they won’t support my candidacy. Are they gonna stand – is the chairman of the Democratic Party in Cohoes and Albany County, are they gonna stand next to Mayor Morse in support when you have elected officials like Mayor Sheehan, Assemblywoman Fahy, two great women leaders in this community, that have called for him to resign? Are they gonna stand with Mayor Morse? They can do whatever they want, I guess. I just don’t see how that’s possible for them. That they could support a candidate that has a record of physical abuse of women. Anything is possible in politics, especially Albany County, but I would hope that Albany County politics, and the Democratic Party of this county, has evolved enough that we wouldn’t be supporting candidates like that.

Here’s a question that naturally follows: do you have anything in your background along these lines? Sexual harassment, complaints, anything like that?

Let me respond to that. As the Pope said, we’re all sinners, and I believe that. And I don’t claim to have moral superiority. However – however – I have never, never in my life, be it physically, sexually or any other “wise,” abused man, woman, or child. OK? Ever. Ever in my life. If that is to answer your question, I have never in my life assaulted, fought, raised a hand to a man, woman, or child. Never.

When you say that, you know, “we’re all sinners,” is there anything you’re thinking of specifically there that voters are going to find out about here?

Well, I don’t know. Again, you’re looking at the totality of anyone’s life, there’s gonna be sin. There’s gonna be sin. Whatever…We all have things that I’m sure maybe we would’ve not done in our lives – but to the degree of something like physically abusing women, assaulting men, drunken driving, all the things that other candidates have done, I have not done. I have never been bankrupt, I don’t drink, I’ve never had drinking and driving, I’ve never robbed, I’ve never beat anybody up, I’ve never abused anybody. But again, this is not a moral superiority. But I think we have to establish that some things, some things in society – and I think that when you talk about, again, the physical abuse of women, I think that’s close to the bottom of the barrel. I guess child abuse would be worse, there’s not much worse than physically abusing women.

Have you ever been arrested for anything?

Yeah, I think I have an arrest for driving with a suspended license when I was young.

(After the phone interview, Koniowka called back to say he had been arrested twice — for a suspended license around the year 2000 and for reckless endangerment, when he was part of a high school walkout in about 1996. He says he drove his friends around unsafely that day. He added he is willing to release any documents related to his arrest record.)

But you don’t think that will rule you out as a candidate? ‘

Driving with a suspended license? No. Maybe it will, but that will be up to the voters. You know what I mean? I think even the District Attorney, if I remember, had a driving – jeez, I don’t want to make an accusation – but I’m pretty sure, thinking back to that race, that the District Attorney himself had a driving with a suspended license [arrest]. But that’s gonna be up to the voters. I’m not here to say that any of my sins are going to be disqualifying. Maybe they will be. Maybe they will be. You know, maybe driving with a suspended license, maybe that. Maybe that will be a disqualifying – but that will be up to the voters. I don’t think you can compare driving with a suspended license with beating women.

If Mayor Morse decides not to seek reelection, will you stay in the race?

Well, we’d have to see. We’d have to see what candidates come forward. There are some people in my community that I would love to see run. Outstanding citizens, folks that I admire and look up to, that I would love to see run. Whether or not they do, I don’t know. They’re probably smart enough not to get involved in politics. But there are some people out there that I would love to see run. Look, it’s early, we’re a year away, we don’t know what’s gonna happen. I believe that the mayor is gonna run, I plan on running, I plan on being in it. Look, I’ve fought this fight for two and a half years with this administration, okay? I’ve been calling this stuff out for two and half years, and I don’t recall hearing anything from anybody else. But that said, if people decide to come forward, look, I think that’s great. I think it’s great for the process. I think the more the merrier. And I think it would be a great race if you had multiple people.

Interview with Shawn Morse Sept. 13.

The first question would be, do you intend to run for another term for mayor?

Yeah, what I intend to do is continue to work hard every single day like I have for the last two and a half years, and when the time comes to make that decision I’ll make that decision with my family and my closet friends, and we’ll make a decision. But at this time that’s not even on my radar.  

Do you know about when that time would be?

You know, it will be when the time feels right for me and my family and my closest friends to make that decision. So no, I don’t really have a time. I haven’t even thought about re-election, we’re still a long ways away.

He says that because the primary is one year from today, and the Democratic primary is so important to win if you want to be the mayor of Cohoes, that he’s got to start now.  If you did wait a few months before deciding, could it hurt you that he has a few months’ head start on you?

I think people will vote based on results. I don’t think it is based on when you make your announcement. You know, we’ve worked extremely hard in this city to become an all-American city once again. We’ve seen the most economic development that the city’s seen in a hundred years. We’ve got $15 million to fix the most dangerous highway in the capital region, we’ve seen our music hall resurged again, we’ve seen brand new sidewalks, streetscapes. We’ve done so much. Brand new veteran’s parks, parks down on Van Schaick Island, the pond. I really look at it and think that if this was a whole career I’d be extremely excited about what I achieved. But, you know, we’ve done this is all in just a couple years. So I’m going to continue to try to finish some of the things we’re working on now and then I’ll make that decision, but I think people will vote on the record of someone, not when they announce they’re gonna run.

Do you feel confident that you would be re-elected?

I do. Absolutely. I’ve been in this city my whole entire life. 27 years as a firefighter, I’ve dragged people out of burning buildings, I’ve pumped on people’s chests that are still alive today. I’ve given Santa Claus and Christmas presents for 28 years to someone who is needy in our city. This city is something that I love, that I’ve always loved, and I’ve always loved and devoted my life to it. And I’ve worked really hard and, you know, I have a record to run on, and people know me, and I’m very confident that they believe in me. I hear it every day. I have people call me every day, email me every day. They’re excited about this city. Look, this is an old city, you don’t fix it overnight. There are more problems than could ever be imagined, but I think in the time we’ve been here we’ve really done a great job.

OK. Let me read you the way that the councilman kicks off his announcement, and have you respond to it. He says, “We must restore honor and integrity to the office of the mayor. Let me be very clear here: anyone that physically abuses or has physically abused a women has no business being dog catcher, let alone mayor.” What’s your response to that?

My response to that would be, shameful on a man that would try to exploit somebody’s family for his own personal political career. There’s no honor whatsoever in somebody that would use that as his platform to run for this position. I’m not going to talk about my family. Me and my family love each other deeply, we work through some very difficult times that many, many families would understand the struggles that we have. Mr. Koniowka doesn’t have a wife, he doesn’t have kids, and he doesn’t understand the difficulties of that. So for him to exploit that as his platform and then say he’s trying to restore integrity and honor – I think that any integrity and honor that he thought he may have had is just shot out the window by those incredible, sickening comments.

Now, in the interview that we did with him at WAMC, I posited that Mayor Morse, you, reject any claims that you have been involved in a domestic violence in the past. There have been published reports to that extent. We’ve asked you the question before, and he says effectively, if I can summarize him, it’s a “Me Too” era and women need to be believed – and that there are enough credible claims that they should be believed in the case against you.

Well, I don’t know what a credible claim is and, you know what, I’m part of “Me Too.” I’m part of this world as well. Whether you’re a woman or a man, everybody should have an opportunity to be heard. And people shouldn’t have their lives destroyed based on somebody making an accusation. I truly believe that if you’re hitting women you should be in jail, you should lose your job. But I also believe if some women are not telling the truth that they should be punished as well. We’ve become a world where we just kind of attack each other, and the media, in my view, doesn’t always look for facts. It looks like “who can be the first one to put the story up.” Mr. Koniowka likes to play that he’s an angel and that I’m some kind of demon. I will put my 50 years of life up against anybody’s. I’ll put my 27 years of risking my life and serving the citizens as a firefighter against anybody’s. My 28 years of providing toys to kids as Santa Claus for 28 years against anybody. And I don’t have to defend myself. People know me. If you know me, you know that I’ve never done that. If you want to use that as a political attack on me, then you didn’t know me before, you didn’t like me before. The reality is that Mr. Koniowka knows nothing. The only thing Mr. Koniowka knows about me is this: I’m a kindhearted man who gave him two jobs – the only two jobs he’s ever had. I’m a kindhearted man who helped him in his worst of times. And unfortunately, sometimes politics turns people against each other, and I don’t know why that has happened, but I give him all of what he wants to do, I wish him the best. Certainly, I hope he loses, and I believe he will. And unfortunately I’lll underscore this: I’ve never hit my wife. [Mr. Koniowka] never heard my wife say that. Mr. Koniowka doesn’t know what happened in my house, with my family and our children. Mr. Koniowka is using it as his platform, and he has discredited honor and integrity by even using that as his political campaign message. And outside that, I’m gonna go back to work, I’m gonna work hard, and we’re gonna get things done in the city of Cohoes, because that’s why I’m in that seat. And I made a commitment we’d be an all-American city once again, and I’ll put my record against anybody’s in the capital region and maybe in the country as far as what we’ve accomplished here in Cohoes in two and a half years.

It’s a question that we’ve asked you before, so I’ll ask it again. We want to update the story as it stands today. So out of fairness, you said you’ve never hit your wife – have you ever hit any woman before?

Well, I’ve gotta be honest with you, I don’t know of any other women who made those claims. I mean, some of the things I’ve read, there’s not even a name attached. It’s so ironic that it just happened as I was mayor of the city – where’s everybody been for thirty years? Again, I think this was a claim that was made, there was certainly people in the media that I don’t like and that don’t like me because I stand up for myself. I’m not going to be pushed around, I’m not going to be bullied, just because I became the mayor of a city. My family’s not going to be attacked and ridiculed because they say I’m a public official. I defend my family, I defend people that I love vigorously, and sometimes the media don’t like that. And they’ll say things that they want to say and not worry about the facts. I’ve never hit my wife. My wife is a wonderful, loving, caring mother, we have a great family. And, again, if I wasn’t the mayor of the city we wouldn’t be talking about this, because there’s a million people across this country who have had to deal with some of the most painful things, that me and my wife dealt with. And we’re still trying to work through them and make everything good for our family. Not gonna to discuss those things, it’s no one’s business, but again, for Randy Koniowka, who wants to use my family as his political platform, I say shame on him. And integrity and honor has been thrown out the window. What he should be telling you was that when he was homeless and had nowhere to go, I was the only one that would give him a job. So maybe kindness doesn’t always play out for some people. But for me, I’m gonna work hard, I’m gonna continue to move this city forward, I’m gonna make sure my family is taken care of, and we’ll let the people decide. I mean, they elected me to be the mayor, they’ll have to judge as to whether I was a good mayor or not. I can’t make that call, they’ll have to make it for me. But I will tell you that I’m not really concerned about Mr. Koniowka, who had his chance to have his own record as a councilman. And we’ll have to play those records against each other’s.

OK. It sounds like you are in the campaign as of now —

Well, I’m the mayor right now. So I have a record that people need to look at. As to whether or not Randy Koniowka is the next great leader of Cohoes, I don’t know that. The people will decide. If I’m not running, I’m sure it’ll be 100 names and he’ll certainly be probably the least qualified candidate. I’ll make those decisions when the time’s right for me, not when it’s right for others.

Just a big picture question. Is it a good idea for a councilor on the city council and the mayor to be having such open warfare this way. Before the campaign comes, presumably the two of you have to work together in some fashion.

Well, you haven’t heard me say one thing about warfare. What I’m trying to say to you is I want to work as the mayor of the city and his announcement doesn’t change that. I think if you went and spoke to a lot of people in his district, you would find that he has not really been a councilmember who has served the way you would expect to serve. Since he’s been in office, he has not supported one thing that we’ve done in this city, including voting down budgets with 0 percent property taxes. I don’t have the answer. I mean, the guy’s been running for this seat since he got elected as the councilmember. I have no hard feelings about it. It’s not going to change the way I govern. It’s not going to change the way I do business in this city. It’s not going to change the way I work with the council. So, no, I don’t think there’s going to be warfare, because I ran tough campaign last time, and you never heard me once say one bad thing about one person, and you’re not going to hear me say one bad thing about this person either. He’ll have to use whatever he defines as honor and integrity in his campaign and I’ll, if I run, I’ll run the same way I ran last time. This is what I can do, this is what I will do, believe in me, you’ll have the hardest working man in the country as your mayor and we’re going to change Cohoes and make it for the better. And if I run, that will be my platform again. It won’t be putting out negative ads, and saying bad things about Mr. Koniowka, because people don’t care about that. People don’t care about a lot of things that politicians think they can throw at each other. If you want honor and integrity, if you really believe in honor and integrity, then you run on your record. You talk about what you will do and how you will do it. And how the city will be better because of you. You don’t go after the person that’s running and bad-mouth him and hurt his family and say mean things, because where’s the honor and integrity in doing that? So, you know it’s kind of like a double-edged sword, everybody says they want honor and integrity, and then they go out there and have the total opposite when they run a campaign.  You’ve never had that from me. I’ve always been an honest straight-up, straight shooting man and I’ll always be that, and at the end of the day, whatever I decide, I’ll let the people know. If I decide to run, I feel confident that I’ve done enough for them to be excited because I hear it every day. Mr. Koniokwa will have to run on whatever his record is.

Where do things stand between you and state Assemblyman McDonald now?

Where does it stand what? In what way?

The relationship.

My relationship has to be what is best to get results for the citizens of Cohoes. It doesn’t have to be what my personal relationship is. And that’s another problem in politics – when people have a personal difference with each other in life, they carry it over in their professional business. I do not do that. I work with the Assemblyman every day that we have to and we work in unison to bring our city together and be the best that it can. You don’t have to love each other to work with each other.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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