Schenectady County

Schenectady council seat will go to primary

There will be a Democratic primary after all for the most hotly contested City Council seat in years

There will be a Democratic primary after all for the most hotly contested City Council seat in years.

On Sept. 13, Robert Sanders will face off against Marion Porterfield, who holds the seat but has had to fight off a wave of opponents from within her own party.

Porterfield said she’s been surprised by the opposition, but not dismayed.

“Life is what it is, and you just take it as it comes,” she said.

She started campaigning door-to-door as soon as Sanders filed primary petitions, even though she hoped to prove his petitions were invalid.

“Once he got the petitions filed, there was a primary, in my mind,” she said. “I don’t discount anybody.”

Sanders had begun campaigning when his petitions were thrown out on a technicality last week. He took his case to state Supreme Court, however, and Judge Vincent Reilly officially forgave a minor pre-printed error on Tuesday.

Sanders was exultant when Reilly announced that there would be a primary.

“I’m back!” he said.

Although he acknowledged that Porterfield has raised much more money than he has — and that he spent much of his funds on his court case — he said he could make it up in door-to-door campaigning.

“I can walk forever, longer, harder and faster than any of them,” he said. “It’s not about Marion Porterfield. It’s about the political machine trying to keep people off the ballot so they can maneuver what they want. It’s a disgrace. I have to hire a really great attorney to make sure I have the right [to run].”

Sanders is a ward leader in the Democratic City Committee, but he has criticized party bosses publicly in the past. Now, he said, he’s fed up.

“The party bosses have done things and made decisions for the city of Schenectady for a long time,” he said, adding his belief that committee Chairman Richard Naylor isn’t leading the party in the right direction.

“He’s really not taking into consideration the feelings of Schenectadians,” Sanders said.

Sanders isn’t the only Democrat who is not hewing to the party line. In a show of division this spring, the Democratic City Committee struggled to decide whether Porterfield should be appointed to the seat after it was vacated by Mayor Gary McCarthy on Jan. 1.

The committee eventually decided to support Porterfield, but some council members — who are also committee members — supported candidate John Mootooveren, who came just 39 votes shy of winning a seat last November.

As both sides gathered support, the public furor between a Guyanese-American and an African-American grew so heated that the party said it would not choose between the two candidates. The two would have to face each other in a primary.

Unexpectedly, Mootooveren withdrew to give Porterfield the seat. The council appointed her, but then Sanders stepped forward to contest her.

Sanders gathered more than 700 valid signatures to force a primary. Party leaders questioned the signatures, and almost 200 were thrown out on technical grounds. They found an error in the pre-printed petition pages provided by the county Board of Elections.

Some signatures on those pages were witnessed by a man who lives in Albany County, but he mistakenly did not cross out “Schenectady County” at the bottom of each page. However, he witnessed the petitions properly, and Reilly ruled that the signatures were given in good faith.

Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Brian Quail said he expected Reilly to make that decision.

“The court forgave the error,” he said.

Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Arthur Brassard added that the commissioners didn’t have the authority to overlook the error, even though courts have often forgiven it.

Categories: Schenectady County

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