Schenectady City Council names Porterfield to vacant seat

It’s official: Marion Porterfield is the new City Council member.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

It’s official: Marion Porterfield is the new City Council member.

Porterfield, who outlasted John Mootooveren in the months-long fight to fill a council vacancy, was appointed Monday.

But the final scene didn’t go smoothly.

Councilman Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, blocked her automatic appointment. That forced the Democrats to a roll-call vote, at which he abstained.

The other five council members voted for her. She needed at least four votes to get the seat.

Riggi explained that he wasn’t voting against Porterfield.

“I would like to see the voters decide,” he said. “I think that would be a true democratic way. And I think there’s too many appointments on the council.”

Porterfield acknowledged Riggi’s explanation and said she would not hold his latest vote against him.

Riggi voted for Porterfield the last time the council tried to vote on the issue, but he said then that he voted for her solely to keep the vote deadlocked at 3-3 so the seat would remain empty.

Earlier in the year, he had called for the seat to be filled, and held interviews that garnered a variety of people, including Republicans, disaffected Democrats and unaffiliated residents.

The Democrats on the council were deeply divided between Porterfield and Mootooveren, with three of the five supporting Mootooveren. But the campaign between the two became a heated argument between the candidates’ ethnicities — African-American and Guyanese-American — and their respective neighborhoods, Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant.

Some Guyanese residents insisted that Mootooveren be appointed to give them a voice on the council, while many blacks said the vacant seat should be filled by an African-American.

Council members had initially said they wanted the seat filled by a minority, since the only non-white resident to serve on the council retired on Dec. 31. But after the furor between the two ethnicities, they did not mention race at all Monday.

Instead, Council President Denise Brucker said Porterfield was chosen because she could represent “all sections of the city.”

“We appreciate your tenacity in a long, drawn-out process,” Brucker said.

Councilman Carl Erikson added, “I think it’s important that we have full representation and all our seats filled.”

Usually, appointments are the first item on the agenda, and new council members are immediately sworn in.

Porterfield was invited to sit near the council members during the meeting, like other appointees have, but she had to wait more than 90 minutes before her appointment came up for a vote.

Porterfield also will not be ceremonially sworn in until the next council meeting on April 23. Instead, she simply signed an ethics statement and took her seat without any fanfare. She is the first black woman to serve on the council.

After the meeting, she declined to give her age, saying she was over 50 and does not tell anyone her full age. She also declined questions about her marital status.

Her family moved to the Capital Region from South Carolina when she was less than a year old, she said. They lived for a short time in Albany, but she has spent most of her life in Schenectady, where she graduated from Linton High School.

She attended Schenectady County Community College, but did not graduate. Now she is pursuing a degree in community and human services through Empire State College, with an anticipated graduation date of 2014. She is also pursuing a certificate in economic development through NeighborWorks America.

She works as the city’s Weed and Seed coordinator, a job that no longer has a salary.

As a council member, she will receive $14,093, minus the pay from the first 13 weeks of the year.

Porterfield is taking the seat that was most recently occupied by Mayor Gary McCarthy. He created a vacancy on the council when he resigned to become mayor on Jan. 1.

She must run for election this fall to keep the seat. She will first face a primary against Democratic ward leader Robert Sanders, who came to Monday’s meeting to announce that he would challenge her for the Democratic endorsement. Whoever wins will run on the Democrats’ ballot line in November.

Categories: Schenectady County

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