Schenectady Democrats are gearing up for this year’s election with the selection of candidates to run for two City Council seats.
The City Democratic Executive Committee unanimously chose Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who sits on the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority’s board of directors, and John M. Polimeni, who is on the board of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, as its two City Council candidates.
Zalewski-Wildzunas and Polimeni would run for seats currently occupied by Council President Peggy King, who is not seeking re-election after about 16 years on the council, and Councilman Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council.
Zalewski-Wildzunas, 55, is an executive at Berkshire Bank and co-owns a small business, called Regalo, in Albany. In addition to serving on the Metroplex board she is also on the board of the Chamber of Schenectady County.
If elected to the council, Zalewski-Wildzunas said she would ensure the city continues to move in the right direction and that it’s fiscally prudent.
“I think the timing is right, and there are so many good things going on in the city,” she said. “I have been involved and thought I should take it to the next level to use some of my areas of expertise for the city. I think the city has come a long way since I moved here in 1989. I love it here.”
She was the former president of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation and was previously involved with the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York. Zalewski-Wildzunas is married with three grown children.
John Polimeni, 42, has a Ph.D. in economics and teaches at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He is vice president of Better Neighborhoods and is also on the board of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority.
Polimeni, if elected to the council, said he is looking to focus on neighborhood revitalization, job creation and reducing property taxes.
“The city is moving in a very positive direction and I think I have the skills and the background to help accelerate this growth in the city,” he said. “The main idea is to reduce property taxes. The only way to do that is through economic growth and getting people into the city and building up the tax base.”
The candidates were endorsed by the executive committee on Saturday and will go before the full committee in June, said city Democratic Chairman Richard Naylor. They were selected following an interview process that began in mid-January.
The Democratic committee received a total of five resumes for the council. One candidate dropped out before the interview process. Zalewski-Wildzunas and Polimeni were picked over council hopefuls Curtis Eatman and Raymond Feurstein.
Two other seats on the council will also be in the running this year including Leesa Perazzo’s and Ed Kosiur’s. Both council members plan to run for re-election and were unanimously endorsed by the Democratic committee on Saturday.
“All of the candidates were strongly supported by the committee and endorsed unanimously,” Naylor said. “They said it was a hard choice because all of the candidates were good and keep getting better. These people are very strong.”
The Republicans are currently in discussions with several potential candidates for the four council seats. In the city, registered Democrats outrank Republicans about two-and-a-half-to-one.
In an interview earlier this month, city GOP Committee Chairman Michael Cuevas said the committee plans to choose its candidates by the end of the month.
“We expect there to be a race for the mayor as well as all four City Council seats,” Cuevas said. “It gets late early in this game. Hopefully we will announce by the end of March.”
Councilman Riggi said he is considering running again for council, but is also weighing a run for mayor and looking at a County Legislature seat.
Cuevas said the committee is hopeful that Riggi would seek re-election.
Perazzo said her time on the council so far, a total of about four years, has been a learning experience. Perazzo said she believes she has taken a leadership role with the budget process.
“I really feel like at this point I’m trying to get my stride,” she said. “I am always looking for new ways to get involved in the city. Going forward, I think we have some very important work to do around the budget with the casino coming in.”
Perazzo said the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor would be a “game changer” for the budget.
“The most important thing is how we are going to utilize that income for property tax reduction for our citizens,” she said.
Kosiur, who was just elected in November for a one-year term, said he is focused on revitalizing the city’s neighborhoods, advocating for more school funding and enhancing public safety.
He was named chair of the city’s recently reactivated Intergovernmental Committee, which will work to find ways to share services with municipalities, the county and the school district.
“The schools are a very big part of our city,” Kosiur said. “I will continue to invest in our neighborhoods as well through the Land Bank and Metroplex. That’s all very important.”
He is currently working with city Police Chief Brian Kilcullen to establish a Police Athletic League, which would give students the opportunity to get to know police officers.
King said she decided not to seek another term because she has been campaigning since 1996.
“I was first appointed to a vacancy in 1996, ran for the remaining year of the term, ran for a four-year term and then ran for another four-year term and lost,” she said. “Then I went through the same cycle again. At that point I had made up my mind that it was my last shot at it. Campaigns can be grueling, and the last one was that way for me.”
King said she is proud to be a part of downtown’s rebirth, and with the $480 million development of the old Alco site, she said it’s time to let someone else take her place.
“When I was living in the Stockade and working at [Schenectady County Community College], downtown was always my focus,” she said. “I’m proud I have been part of a team of people who have been able to revive downtown.”
She said downtown’s revival is starting to push into the city’s neighborhoods, an effort she would have liked to see sooner.
King wears many hats. City Council aside, she plans to keep her positions on several boards including the SCCC Foundation, Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and the Schenectady Cancer Foundation. King also volunteers at Proctors.