Schenectady

Democratic candidates discuss city issues

City Council candidate and current councilwoman Marion Porterfield, right, makes her opening statement at a candidates forum in the GE Theatre at Proctors Wednesday. Listening, from left, are Haileab Samuel, Doreen DiToro, Damonni Farley and John Mootooveren.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

City Council candidate and current councilwoman Marion Porterfield, right, makes her opening statement at a candidates forum in the GE Theatre at Proctors Wednesday. Listening, from left, are Haileab Samuel, Doreen DiToro, Damonni Farley and John Mootooveren.

SCHENECTADY – How the city should use its $58 million in federal pandemic relief, feedback on the mandated police reform plan that was recently sent to the governor, and how to put neighborhood improvement on par with downtown revitalization were some of the topics addressed during Wednesday’s candidates forum in advance of the June 22 Democratic primary.

Three incumbents – Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Marion Porterfield and John Mootooveren – and Damonni Farley are vying for three available four-year terms on the City Council.

In another council race, Doreen Ditoro, Haileab Samuel and Carl Williams are competing for two vacated seats with two years remaining.

Also, Brendan Savage and Omar Sterling McGill went head-to-head during the forum for the Schenectady County District 1 legislative seat.

At the GE Theatre in Proctors, the candidates discussed questions posed by Daily Gazette Editor Miles Reed through forum co-sponsors, the Schenectady branch of the NAACP and Schenectady United Neighborhoods.

Candidates for council seats were asked a multi-layered question about whether there’s a need for further police reform, such as the elimination of officers being allowed to use their knee to control subjects, whether they wanted a more diverse police force and if the department should use social workers.

The full forum:

Zalewski-Wildzunas said the recently completed collaboration on reforming the Police Department was a good document that remains “living and breathing,” meaning the city would continue to have conversations about additional training for officers and advocating for mental health specialists.

The incumbent said use of force is necessary in certain instances, and she credited Police Chief Eric Clifford for putting the department in “a much better state of mind” in reference to using force. She also said she advocate for social workers.

Porterfield said that after a controversial use of force incident last year in which an officer placed his knee on the head area of a suspect, there was a press conference where the mayor, commissioner of public safety and chief said the city would no longer use knee holds. She said she supported that initial stance, although it has since been revealed during the reform process that officers may continue to use their knee to control a suspect when the officer is in a life-and-death struggle.

Porterfield said she does not support knee holds to the neck and head area, as it could result in a poor outcome. She suggested retraining officers responding to violent and dangerous situations.

Porterfield also said community policing and a more diversity on police force were necessities.

Mootooveren said the Police Department had come a long way. The council president pointed out that the reform plan already recommends a task force to help diversify the department, and he also noted that the plan is to be revisited.

Farley said police officers shouldn’t be expected to act as a mental health professionals, especially walking into a crisis situation. He suggested more work is needed to create a culture that can prevent an officer who isn’t at his best on a particular day from “really horrible outcomes that we’ve seen across the country.”

Ditoro said she supports the reform plan that the city carried out because it was thorough and included members from all the neighborhoods.

“However, with that being said, the report is just the beginning, not the end,” she said. “Community meetings will continue.”

The candidate also said she favors fully staffing the Police Department, creating a community engagement unit that would “be instrumental in bridging and building trust between the police and the community,” and embedding a mental health professional within the department for each shift to handle nonviolent mental health calls.

To a question about the perceived lack of investment in neighborhoods, in the face of significant investment in downtown in recent years:

Samuel said the downtown revitalization effort was necessary because 15 years ago it was “almost a ghost land.”

“Now most of us we walk around very proud to say we live in Schenectady,” he said.

Unfortunately, that same level of effort hasn’t been issued into the neighborhoods that have deteriorated over the years, Samuel said, adding that he would like programs to help residents update to their homes, including siding, new windows, piping and infrastructure.

Williams said there has to be a complete buy-in to revitalizing neighborhoods, rather than talking about it only during political cycles. He said that he would call for conversations and help institute collaborative channels, because, at 31 years old, “I don’t know everything. However, I know that when you bring more decision makers to the table the solutions you come up with have a momentous effect.”

Regarding the city’s $58 million in coronavirus recovery funding this year, Mootooveren said some of it should be used to balance the city budget and pay off debt, and examine its aging infrastructure, fill vacancies, especially in the Police and Fire departments. Some money could also be spent on neighborhoods, he said.

Farley asserted that no one in the forum was qualified to answer, because, rather than make decisions for people, the city should include residents in those conversation. 

Residents have to be at table, he said. The candidate recommended establishing an task force that taps people in communities, “and not just the usual suspects at the table.”

Zalewski-Wildzunas said she believed the city would come back stronger from the pandemic. She noted there are rules around use of the federal money.

But the incumbent called for the need to listen to constituents, some of whom have told her of their concerns about aging roads, sidewalks, and water and sewer systems. The city also needs to update parks and install lighting throughout them, Zalewski-Wildzunas said. Samuel noted that the city is still learning the impact of COVID-19. As such, it shouldn’t be so quick to start spending the federal money, he said, calling for a comprehensive study to first understand the impact of COVID-19 long term.

At the same time, Samuel said he wants to address the city’s high unemployment rate, with job training to get people back into the workforce and to use some of the funding to create jobs within the city.

Samuel also said there are many children struggling because of COVID-19. He said some money could be used to make healthcare professionals available to families.

In the county legislative forum, Savage pointed to his work on President Biden’s campaign last year as his proudest accomplishment. He said the president’s plan that provides the city and county with $88 million in combined funding will give the city the opportunity to “build back better.”

Savage said he wanted to build on the county government’s spearheading of Schenectady’s revitalization downtown, and to make further improvements in neighborhoods.

He touted his five-point plan to fix roads, repair and revitalize vacant housing, reduce litter, improve trash pickup, make streets safer through community policing and his desire to bring a grocery store to District 1 because it’s a food desert and the only district in the county without a supermarket.

McGill, who has worked in government, spoke of an unprecedented time in which there are environmental, economic, racial and justice crisis.

McGill said it is important to him to make sure county government is doing its best by the people when it comes to their tax dollars and the services the County Legislature provides.

McGill ended his remarks by saying he would hold town hall-style meetings to hear and understand what constituents of the district want. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

3 Comments

I can’t wait to read your story on Republican candidates in the city and what their plan is. I’m sure you will give them the same space and top of the fold coverage as well.

David Bianchi

(To Gazette Editor, This Comment Has No Letter From Glen in it! Why Would This Comment Be Removed??)

Do I Need to Remove Some Part of This Comment?

So is that why the City was so desperate approx.15 years ago and Had to Make THREATS and Make Improper Use of LAWS ILLEGALLY TO AQUIRE LAND ON BARRETT STREET!

The government can only acquire private lands if it is reasonably shown that the property is to be used for public purpose only.
I Want to Remind You. When the Government Makes Laws.
They Are Very Careful in the Words They Use.

There is a Major Difference in the Words Can and May that they have both Used when Making Laws!!

Again, The Law As Written!
(The government Can only acquire private lands if it is reasonably shown that the property is to be used for public purpose only.)

I’m Not Sure How Many Laws The City Had Broken to Acquire that Land! More Then One I Assure You!

Publicly No Less!

(Letter from My Mom’s and My Then Lawyer Glen ….)
August 14, 2018

To Whom It May Concern

Please be advised that I have represented David Bianchi in numerous matters concerning properties in the City of Schenectady.

A number of years ago I was approached by an attorney who asked if Mr. Bianchi was willing to sell a property on Barrett Street, as a development project was planed I responded with his asking price, which admittedly was high taking into account the planed use of the property, the attorney replied “That’s ok, we’ll just have the City take it.” Subsequently, an abandonment proceeding was commenced by the City of Schenectady, which the property was found to be abandoned despite the fact Mr. Bianchi continually used the property for storage and building inspector admitted he had never been inside the property.
Exhibits have subsequently misplaced by the Court.

Later, Mr. Bianchi attempted to pay back taxes on another property which was in the name of another family member. After submitting the payment in full to American Tax Funding. ATF returned the payment and indicated that they had been directed by the City of Schenectady to return same as Mr. Bianchi was not the proper payer. This was done despite the fact that the City frequently takes payments from other entities for tax payments. It was clear that the City simply wished to seize the property for back taxes, and even the representative of ATF stated they had never seen that situation before.

Mr. Bianchi owned another property that was foreclosed on and a judgment of foreclosure entered.
Subsequently, the mortgagee ex parte requested that the judgment be vacated, a fire later occurred at an adjoining property necessitating the demolition of an structure on Mr. Bianchi’s property. The City later sought to recover the significant demolition cost from Mr. Bianchi, despite the fact he had been divested of to the by the foreclosure proceeding, and knew nothing of what happened subsquently.

It appears that Mr. Bianchi’s Civil rights have been violated by the City of Schenectady on a number of occasions. It is unclear why he became a target of the City, but he clearly was.

Sincerely yours,
Glen

(I Removed Glen’s Last Name to Hopefully Make the Gazette OK With Me Posting This Letter In Full)

My Fight on Barrett St./Barrett Village wasn’t about the Money so much..
That Probably Could Have Been Negotiated..
Just When People of Power or Wealth Think They Can Bully Someone Around and Take What They Want and Pay What They Think is FAIR!
Not for Low Income Housing or a School or a Hospital or a Major Needed Roadway, or Anything that would Produce Long Term Jobs. Mind You.. For Townhouses Selling for $260,000.00 each! Along With The City Doing Eminent Domain on Vacant Lots with No Buildings on Them Calling Them Blight!
Ya, I Will Fight to The End! The Funny Thing is I Was Never Told By Any Lawyer That I Was Wrong!
Just That It Would Take Time and Money Was Needed to Fight!
Well, Being Having No Money and Just this Keyboard..
Again, nothing Compared to someone Brutally Killing Someone.
Yet, still a Burn and Certainly had it’s Effect.

Lord, Please, if Only I Could Be Given a Proper Day in Court with Proper Representation to Present All of The Evidence to Show What The City of Schenectady had Unleashed Upon My Mother and I with a String of Wrongdoings and What it Did to My Family and I With These Wrongdoings!
(All For a Row of Townhouses?)

David Bianchi

Sorry, I Copy and Pasted Wrong There.
Surely, This Paper Recognizes Freedom of Speech?
I’m not sure Why the Comment that had No Letter from Glen it Removed? Or what part in that comment needs to be removed?
Along, with What Part of the Letter from Glen Bothered You?
I Would still like to be able to post parts of that letter should I feel they might partially fit in to a story or the comment I am making.
I did remove Glen’s last name from the letter.

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