Ask Leesa Perazzo what she’ll miss most about serving on the Schenectady City Council, and she doesn’t hesitate to answer.
“The people,” she tells me, when I asked her to reflect on her tenure. “My constituents.
“I enjoy helping people navigate through something that might be difficult on their own,” said Perazzo, who announced last week that she will step down from the City Council pending the sale of her home in the Bellevue neighborhood.
It’s an old-fashioned answer, one that might sound a little phony coming from a politician.
But it’s a good one for Perazzo, whose time on the council was distinguished by a willingness to listen to residents and advocate for them, even when it ruffled feathers. Her loyalty was to the public and the city she loved, not party politics, and at times it cost her.
In 2018, after serving as City Council president for two years, Perazzo lost her post after voting against Mayor Gary McCarthy’s budget and backing a political outsider for City Council, local activist Dammoni Farley, rather than the full slate of Democratic candidates.
“I tend to speak my mind,” Perazzo told The Daily Gazette at the time. “I’m not afraid to not agree with everyone else.”
Perazzo’s departure from the council has the potential to reshape city politics, and also leaves a void in a community where independent political voices are few and far between.
Count me among those who believe that Perazzo, who was first elected in 2011, became a more valuable presence on the council after falling out with McCarthy and the powers-that-be.
Her outspokenness increased, and she seemed to become even more willing to follow her own political muse. Voters took notice, and rewarded her for it: In 2019, when she won a third term, she was the top vote-getter on the council.
What first brought Perazzo to my attention wasn’t her status as City Council president or her conflicts with some of her fellow Democrats.
It was her desire to use her position to try to develop unique solutions to longstanding city problems. In 2013 she launched a city pilot program that enlisted local teenagers to paint over graffiti, and it was refreshing to see her bring people together to address a chronic headache.
More recently, Perazzo has been an ally of rank-and-file city workers upset with how the city’s Office of General Services is managed, publicly raising questions about the number of grievances and informal complaints lodged against the department.
“One of the most difficult things is walking away from city staff,” Perazzo said when I spoke with her. “I’ve worked closely with the union head to bring to light what I perceive to be mismanagement. I feel like I’m abandoning [the workers], and that’s a really tough thing for me.”
Perazzo’s decision to leave the council was spurred by her engagement to Saratoga Springs resident John Oliver, and her decision to relocate to the Spa City.
But the virus was also a factor.
“I didn’t realize how much I was doing and how frantic a pace I was keeping until everything stopped,” Perazzo said, noting that her council work kept her busy between three and five nights a week. “Now that I’ve been in this mode, I don’t know that I can go back to that mode.”
Perazzo isn’t leaving the council quietly.
True to form, one of her final acts is to issue a challenge to her fellow council members: She has said she wants to see the city Democratic Committee and her colleagues support a person of color to fill her seat.
Her push to diversify the council is a good one, and I hope the remaining council members will make an effort to fulfill her wish.
Perazzo’s move to Saratoga Springs is a big change, and it signals the end of her Schenectady political career.
But she’ll still be a presence in the Electric City.
She’ll continue to serve as human resources director for Proctors, and has expressed a desire to remain involved in the community, though it’s unclear what form that involvement will take.
Whatever’s in store, I wish Perazzo the best.
She’s a dedicated public servant who put her heart into her job, and she will be missed.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.