Foss: Exciting Schenectady City Council race taking shape



Well, well, well. 

I’m always hoping for interesting and competitive local elections, and I almost never get them. 

Most contests are lopsided and listless affairs that pit strong, heavily-favored candidates against long-shots and dark horses. 

The result is low voter turnout and diminished citizen engagement, as people survey the local political landscape and conclude that voting doesn’t matter. It’s a trend we’ve seen play out in the city of Schenectady, where general election turnout is often quite low. 

There’s no excuse for low turnout this fall. 

The race for Schenectady’s five open city council is shaping up to be a spirited and competitive affair, with a number of intriguing and thoughtful candidates having already thrown their hats into the ring. 

It’s a welcome departure from the sleepy City Council races we’ve grown accustomed to, and a win for residents, who will have a diverse, compelling slate of candidates from which to choose when they head to the polls. 

So far, five Democrats have said they are running: Carl Williams, vice chairman of the Civilian Police Review Board, Brendan Savage, a Siena College student who is active in local politics (and also the son of former chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature Susan Savage), Haileab Samuel, CEO of Schenectady-based tech company [s]Cube Inc., community activist William Rivas and Thearse McCalmon, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against state Sen. James Tedisco this fall and almost upset Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in the Democratic primary two years ago. 

Also likely to be in the mix is Damonni Farley, a community leader and activist who ran for City Council on the Working Families Party line in 2017. On Monday, Farley told me he was “strongly considering” making a bid for one of the open seats. 

Longtime council members Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur both resigned this month, creating two vacancies. Up for re-election are Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Marion Porterfield and Council President John Mootooveren. 

The upcoming City Council races represent a rare opportunity to shake up a body that has generally shunned true independent voices, preferring candidates who hew closely to the party line. 

With the Council now controlled entirely by Democrats, the emergence of political mavericks who speak their mind and are willing to challenge the status quo is a happy development. 

Rivas and McCalmon might be Democrats, but they would both bring fresh perspectives to the Council. Certainly, they are not going to be afraid to say what they think, even if it rubs people the wrong way. The same is true for Farley, if he chooses to run. 

I’m also enthused about the breadth of experience the new council candidates are bringing to the table. They are people who are active in the community and working to make it a better place. 

In particular, it’s interesting to consider how the presence of longtime activists like Rivas and Farley would impact the Council, or how an outsider candidate like McCalmon might change city politics if elected. Williams also seems like a fresh face and voice worthy of attention. 

The one candidate I’m hearing griping about behind the scenes is Savage, mainly because of his youth and connections to the Schenectady County Democratic party establishment. These are valid concerns, but there’s plenty of time between now and the election, and plenty of time for voters to assess Savage’s candidacy. 

What’s almost certain is that we will see Democratic primary races this fall, which is a good thing. 

Given the moribund state of Schenectady’s Republican party, whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely cruise to victory in the general election. This means the best opportunity for presenting voters with competing viewpoints and ideas will come during the primary, as candidates jockey for a limited number of seats. 

This emerging competition sets the stage for one of the more interesting City Council races in years – and one of the best opportunities for voters to steer the city in whichever direction they want to go.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Sara Foss, Schenectady County

One Comment

This does appear to be shaping up as an interesting race, something we normally don’t see in Schenectady. I wonder if Ms. McCalmon is the Tedra Cobb of the Capital District….she’s going to keep running for open seats until she wins one?

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