There’s dissension on the Schenectady City Council, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
I know, I know — strife and infighting are bad.
We shouldn’t celebrate these things.
At least, that’s the conventional wisdom.
But I’m here to propose an alternative theory: Sometimes, strife and infighting are good.
What isn’t good is when every elected official that serves on a local government voices complete agreement on everything, all of the time.
This isn’t quite what we’ve had in Schenectady, but it’s pretty close.
With Vince Riggi the lone non-Democrat on the City Council, members have often moved in lockstep to support the mayor’s agenda. The exceptions, such as 2014’s 5-2 vote on whether to support building a casino in the city, which saw Riggi and Marion Porterfield join forces to oppose the project, tend to be noteworthy, even memorable.
The lack of a strong opposition party no doubt makes it easier for Mayor Gary McCarthy and the council Democrats to accomplish whatever it is they want to do, with a minimum of fuss.
But is it healthy?
Is it the way a democratic government is supposed to function?
Or is it what you get when government becomes a party machine, and little more?
Nobody wants to see their local government become so dysfunctional and mired in discord that nothing ever gets done and every meeting is an ugly, rancorous spectacle.
But a little disagreement?
That never hurt anyone, and it’s what you’d expect to find in a healthy, democratic government where elected officials aren’t afraid to raise questions on behalf of their constituents.
Which is why I was delighted to see Schenectady City Council president Leesa Perazzo, Porterfield and Riggi all vote no on the 2018 city budget.
Perazzo and Porterfield both complained that the budget process was rushed, while Riggi cited two reasons in voting against the spending plan: It gives discretionary raises to supervisors while major labor contracts remain unresolved, and fails to live up to the spirit of a resolution to use casino revenue exclusively for tax relief.
Whether I agree with the points raised by Perazzo, Porterfield and Riggi is almost beside the point.
What matters is that they expressed themselves — that they raised questions and issues worth thinking about. It’s the sort of thing we need elected officials to do more of, because it will lead to better governance in the long run.
Even more interesting, Perazzo has announced that she’s backing Porterfield and Damonni Farley, who sought the Democratic Party nomination but is running on the Working Families Party line, in the upcoming City Council election. “I am still considering what I will do with my third vote,” she wrote in a letter to the Gazette.
Without naming names, she made it clear that there’s no guarantee either of the other two Democratic candidates, Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and John Mootooveren, were guaranteed her vote.
To which I say: Great!
There’s a huge need for independent voices on the City Council, and Schenectady voters have two intriguing non-Democratic options on Nov. 7: Farley and Mohamed Hafez, who is running on the Republican line.
The Schenectady City Council could use a shake-up, and the election is one way to make it happen.
Even if it doesn’t happen, we should view infighting and strife on the council as a positive sign.
It means questions are being raised and debated, that not everyone is behaving like a rubber stamp when they sit down to vote.
Which is a good thing, even if it makes for a less congenial atmosphere at City Council meetings.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.