SCHENECTADY –Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas called for a vote of no confidence in council President John Mootooveren Monday, asking Mootooveren to step down immediately, and calling for an attorney general probe into whether he removed her from two committees as a political favor to others.
The move comes after Zalewski-Wildzunas indicated in this paper last week that she might call for the vote of no confidence in Mootooveren, who removed her as chairwoman of Planning and Development and a member of the Finance Committee, only to reinstate her to the latter role Friday.
Zalewski-Wildzunas was backed Monday by Councilwoman Carmel Patrick, who also read from a prepared statement that attacked Mootooveren’s credibility in leading the short-handed council.
Mootooveren issued a rebuke of his own, accusing Zalewski-Wildzunas and Patrick of overreacting to committee realignment, and engaging in “political football.”
Mootooveren said he initially removed Zalewski-Wildzunas from the two committees – replacing her with Councilwoman Marion Porterfield – to align the nine committees with five council members, while striving to achieve diversity on the panel. Porterfield is Black and Mootooveren is of Guyanese descent.
Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur resigned from the council in January, leaving the council with five members.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said Mootooveren’s explanation was “woefully inadequate and reeks of politics.”
Since the two resignations, Zalewski-Wildzunas said the committee’s structure hadn’t been an issue. She suggested it’s become one because the political primary is in two months, and she’s up for re-election.
City Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin gave his opinion the city code allows the council president to appoint council members to vacant seats on standing committees and designate the chairperson of each committee. However, the president may not remove a seated member of a standing committee, Koldin’s memo reads.
Mootooveren said the code isn’t clear on barring the council president from making changes to committees.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said Mootooveren essentially removed her from her roles because she’s a white woman.
“You will use any means necessary at your disposal to self promote your future, including gambling with the financial welfare of our city,” she said.
A divide exists on the council regarding whether the two vacant council seats should be filled immediately, by Haileab Samuel and Carl Williams, who have been endorsed by city Democrats, or to have Samuel and Williams vie with other challengers in a June primary.
Mootooveren, who favors an immediate appointment, has said the realignment moves concerning Zalewski-Wildzunas had nothing to do with the endorsed candidates.
Zalewski-Wildzunas and Patrick disagree, asserting that it is Mootooveren’s real motive.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said she asked Koldin to inform the council on the process of a vote of no confidence, and she said she would ask the state attorney general’s office to provide an opinion on whether Mootooveren violated his oath of office involving quid pro quo for council appointments.
Patrick asserted the council had become a “laughingstock” and “a mess” under Mootooveren’s politically motivated decision-making.
Patrick said there was no need to remove Zalewski-Wildzunas from the Finance Committee, because it already had a diverse membership with Mootooveren as one of its three members.
She said Mootooveren successfully diversified Planning and Development by adding Porterfield. There was no need to remove Zalewski-Wildzunas as its chair, Patrick said.
Given that committee’s success under Zalewski-Wildzunas, along with the city staff, it was clear Mootooveren removed Zalewski-Wildzunas as chairwoman because it’s her re-election year, Patrick said.
But Porterfield said she would not support a vote of no confidence in Mootooveren.
Instead, Porterfield took aim at Patrick’s previous statements that were critical of Porterfield.
In a letter to county and city party leaders, Patrick criticized Porterfield’s perceived lack of experience compared to Zalewski-Wildzunas, according to the Times Union.
Patrick wrote that she was “somewhat amazed by Ms. Porterfield’s lack of understanding of basic budget and finance principles when we discussed the 2021 budget, and thankful that Ms. Zalewski-Wildzunas was able to help broaden her understanding,” the publication reported.
During Monday’s meeting, Porterfield said:
“I think that to make disparaging remarks about a person by and from our freshmen council member, I really think that was out of line and unnecessary.”
Porterfield went on to call Patrick’s public critique “probably an all-time low in my time on this council.”
Speaking last, Mootooveren said he reinstated Zalewski-Wildzunas to the Finance Committee to avoid unnecessary litigation and save city taxpayers money.
Mootooveren said he filled the committees in a manner he felt was in the city’s best interest, and he noted that at no time in recent history has the council had so many vacancies.
“Some council members choose the new low of personally attacking other members just for a committee assignment,” he asserted. “This is just uncalled for and should stop.”
Also addressing Patrick’s criticism, Mootooveren said he believes all council members are qualified to chair any committee.
“It is unfortunate that some see otherwise,” he said, “turning the committee realignment into a political football.”
Mootooveren said Porterfield, with nine years in office, is the most senior council member, followed by Mootooveren, who was first elected in 2015.
“I will not be the figurehead council president you may have wanted,” he said. “I’m going to do what is right for the city and this council.”