SCHENECTADY — Community activist William Rivas and former Democratic candidate for state Senate Thearse McCalmon on Friday entered the race for Schenectady City Council, on which there will be five seats open in the fall.
“Their independent approach would provide fresh ideas and solutions to issues within the city,” the pair said in a joint press release.
The announcement comes with two vacancies about to occur on the council, and the terms of three other council members due to expire this year. Fellow Democrats Carl Williams and Brendan Savage have already announced themselves as candidates for the vacancies, which can be filled by appointment by the all-Democratic council.
With five of the seven council seats on this fall’s ballot, the new candidates noted the potential for a wholesale leadership change.
McCalmon last fall was the Democratic challenger to incumbent 49th Senate District state Sen. James Tedisco, and carried the city portion of the district, though she lost the race. Earlier in 2020 she beat Schenectady resident Donovan McRae in a Democratic primary. In her campaign, she focused on supporting single-payer health care and other progressive issues.
In 2019, she also mounted a stronger-than-expected primary challenge to the city’s Democratic mayor, Gary McCarthy, who was then seeking a third term.
McCalmon said she is interested in being appointed to one of the vacancies, but is a candidate for the council regardless.
“Well, they could appoint me, but they may not,” she said. “The point is this, I am not here to play party politics. I work for the people. That is why the people of Schenectady keep voting for me.”
McCalmon, an educator who is in her 40s, has lived in Schenectady for 17 years and raised four children in the city. She was at one time homeless and on public assistance, and said that experience gives her perspective.
“I want to make sure if anyone needs anything, they have someone who will be accessible, and who knows what they’re going through,” she said.
She said she hadn’t planned to run for anything this year, but many people have encouraged her to seek the council seat.
“I made a promise to the community that I will fight for them,” McCalmon said. “It doesn’t change, people are still in need of strong leadership and people who will truly carry their voice, who aren’t in it for selfish reasons.”
Rivas, 39, was founder of Save Our Streets and is best-known in some circles for his “Random Santa” gift distributions in disadvantaged sections of the city just before each Christmas, but he has been involved in a number of community advocacy projects. He is currently the executive director of the C.O.C.O.A House in Hamilton Hill and a program director for The Altamont Program.
Rivas said he decided to enter the race after talking to other community leaders and his family. His mother was active in the community, he said, and he was inspired by older Schenectady community activist Walter Simpkins.
“I think it’s not, ‘Why me why now,’ it’s just we have this opportunity now,” he said. “It’s a step toward creating more change. This seems to be a natural step in terms of the opportunity.”
Rivas is married to Shawnta Rivas, and they have a 16-year-old daughter, Gellona Rivas-Parsons. He said both have given their blessing.
“After much deliberation with family and friends, it is with great honor I take this step and continue the work on behalf of my community and the city in which I love,” he said. “It is also with great joy that I choose to do so with Thearse McCalmon as my running mate.”
The City Council vacancies are being created by the pending resignations of veteran council members Ed Kosuir and Leesa Perazzo. Kosiur’s resignation takes effect this weekend, while Perazzo will leave pending a move to Saratoga Springs. The seats are expected to be filled by appointment, with special elections then held in the fall.
In addition, the regular three-year terms of City Council President John Mootooveren and Councilwomen Marion Porterfield and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas are expiring.