Schenectady

Seven candidates compete for Schenectady City Council seats

Top: Damonni Farley, John Mootooveren, Marion Porterfield; Bottom: Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Doreen Ditoro, Haileab Samuel and Carl Williams
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Top: Damonni Farley, John Mootooveren, Marion Porterfield; Bottom: Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Doreen Ditoro, Haileab Samuel and Carl Williams

SCHENECTADY – Tuesday’s primary election features a slate of Democratic hopefuls for City Council.

Four candidates are vying for a trio of full four-year terms while, separately, three candidates are competing for a pair of unexpired two-year terms.

The races come at an important juncture in the point in the Electric City’s history, particularly as it transitions out of the COVID-19 pandemic and makes plans for its award of $58 million in federal stimulus funds.

The city also continues with the fluid process of police reform, at the behest of the governor.

The seven candidates addressed those topics, and more, in questions posed by the Daily Gazette. Responses from candidates for full terms are listed first and alphabetically. Some answers were pared down for space considerations. 

The candidates for full terms are: Damonni Farley, John Mootooveren, Marion Porterfield and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas; The candidates for two-year terms are: Doreen Ditoro, Haileab Samuel and Carl Williams. 

Damonni Farley

Farley, a community activist, is married with two children and works as director of community outreach for the Schenectady City School District.

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic?

Schenectady’s response to the pandemic must be driven by a process that engages directly with those most impacted. For example, Communities of Color have experienced disproportionate infection and death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must acknowledge the fact that these communities are also disproportionately represented in essential work forces that do not have the option to work from home, such as patient care technicians, home health aides, and retail and service workers. Any response at the city level must address the needs of this population directly and robustly.

We must also address the needs of small business owners whose livelihoods have been disrupted, workers who have experienced job loss, and students whose education has been fragmented or put on hold. To accomplish this, we must convene and empower a panel representative of these groups to have active oversight of how pandemic recovery resources are allocated. 

How should the city use its stimulus money?

The city must use its stimulus money to invest in projects that will yield sustained, ongoing benefits for Schenectady residents. Our process must prioritize all of these voices as we recover from the impact of the pandemic. The Council should convene a task force that includes representatives from each of the city’s neighborhoods and activist groups to identify specific projects and goals.

Some potential ideas include upgrades to public housing, completing necessary road repairs, modernizing critical infrastructure and expanding public WiFi. Investments in these areas benefit both residents and businesses.

Beyond that, we must expand our definition of “infrastructure.” If we are to have a workforce that reflects our city’s diversity, we must remove barriers to accessing full-time employment that pays a living wage. To accomplish this, I would propose that the city invest in providing childcare programming to working families. This can be done in partnership with the county and non-profit organizations to involve expertise and support from multiple sectors.

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council?

Expanding access to safe, stable housing for all residents, increasing programming to support youth and building an economy that benefits workers, families and small businesses.

I believe that any state or federal money that becomes available for infrastructure projects should be allocated to renovating public housing developments. We must also expand our investment in youth – the most recent budget allocated only $43,000 to programming to serve our children. The city can also expand the impact of recent development initiatives by incentivizing developers to use local, union contractors to support sustainable jobs that pay fair, living wages to Schenectady’s workers. 

What strengths will you bring to the council?

I will bring my ability to meaningfully and authentically engage across the diverse communities that exist in our city. I have considerable experience navigating multiple systems which impact the lives of city residents. I am a small business owner who works with both public and private sector groups, which gives me experience and perspective to represent the small business owners in our city.

My work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant requires me to have the ability to facilitate productive dialogue that builds consensus as well as helps people to grow and connect. This experience will guide how I communicate and collaborate with my fellow council members and community stakeholders. 

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them?

Schenectady’s greatest strength is the people. A childhood experience stands out for me. One day I was walking home from school because I had missed the bus when Mr. Marino called me over to make a joke about the Yankees bullpen (regrettably he’s a Red Sox fan, nobody is perfect). He gave me a slice of pizza and bus fare for a ride home. When I shared this story with my parents, they were relieved that I had made it home safely due to the kindness of a neighbor.

While this story may seem insignificant, it reflects the deep sense of community that makes Schenectady special. I will seek to foster this kind of connection between small businesses and neighborhoods to build organic community connections that improve the quality of life for our citizens.  

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack?

Our city’s weaknesses are directly connected to its strength, the people. The city has not been effective at engaging directly with the community and failed at being accessible and transparent in its decision-making. By excluding these diverse resources and perspectives from policymaking, we inhibit growth and development. To combat this issue, I will create organizational mechanisms to ensure that community voices are present during the process.

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough?

Receiving competitive grant money to accelerate downtown revitalization efforts is clearly to the city’s benefit.  The construction projects aimed at facilitating easier traffic flow in the downtown commercial corridor, upgrading drainage and sidewalks in pedestrian areas, and improving lighting and facades will benefit the downtown business community tremendously. I believe the city can spread the benefits of this money beyond downtown in an equitable manner by awarding contracts to M/WBEs and Schenectady-based contractors. I also hope that the artwork, installations and murals reflect the city’s vibrant diversity and hope that artists from marginalized communities are given the opportunity to express their brilliance in these spaces.  

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge?

One of the most important challenges facing SPD is that officers are called to respond to situations that do not require a police officer as well as situations that other personnel are better equipped to handle. It is unreasonable to expect a police officer to have the knowledge and skills of a trained mental health professional while responding to a mental health crisis. We can best serve our community by ensuring that resources are allocated to address root causes of poverty, instability and crime. Further, we can best serve the officers of SPD by ensuring that their efforts are concentrated in the areas of safety and investigation. As a city, we do not invest in any social workers or mental health counselors beyond what is provided through the county, nor do we have any programs to support community-based conflict resolution. SPD needs the city to invest in therapists, social workers, and evidence-based community programs that address root causes. 

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council? 

In my work as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant and Trainer, I am often facilitating conversations among people with a variety of experiences, knowledge, and understanding on topics that challenge long-held beliefs and can be extremely personal. Building mutual understanding and respect is critical and will be for the council as well. I will suggest returning to “Why?” – grounding ourselves in the reasons we do the work. This is an effective way to build authentic connections between people of differing views. The council’s purpose is to build a better Schenectady for all residents. Reminding ourselves of this, and challenging ourselves to lean into learning, will help to keep the council working cohesively and effectively.

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground?

The City cannot use eminent domain on federally funded projects, so there is no question of displacing other residents or businesses on potential new sites. As long as the city continues to build consensus among all impacted parties, the plan to relocate homes to sites outside of the floodplain should proceed. 

Is city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen?

The city can better help neighborhoods by establishing and meaningfully empowering neighborhood committees that are inclusive of the full neighborhood community. These committees can best speak to the unique needs of each neighborhood and identify any help needed from the city. Then, the city must be intentional about implementation of solutions. Neighborhood committees are necessary to ensure full civic engagement of all community members in a city of working poor families. City council meetings alone are not enough. The council must proactively and authentically engage all residents of all neighborhoods if we are to truly “help” all neighborhoods.

Incumbent John Mootooveren, who seeks four-year term

Mootooveren, a project accountant, has served eight years on the City Council. He is married with two daughters.

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic?

Continue our strong partnership with Schenectady County in providing vaccines, masks, and other PPE items as needed. I have worked closely with the county health director Keith Brown in coordinating pop-up vaccine sites located in our inner-city neighborhoods. Due to this partnership, Schenectady County has attained the highest vaccination percentage in the state.

In regards to a “rebound” we need to reach out to our community partners, the Schenectady City School District, and local small businesses to offer our support and what we, the City Council can do for them. This conversation needs to start now. As Council President, this will be a high priority on the city agenda and to work closely with the Mayor and his administration on how we can provide support.

How should the city use its stimulus money?

Again, the city, Mayor’s Office and City Council need to hold community-wide forums/discussions on how we can make the best decision(s) for the use of $58 million allocated to the city. We cannot just set this money aside for a rainy day, it’s pouring right now. We need to balance the budget, pay off loans, and at the same time look at the many additional needs that include potholes, sidewalks, streets in need of replacing, filling vacancies in all city departments, including staffing in the city hall, department of general service, parks and recreations, and most importantly fully staff our police and fire department. Expand opportunities for our youth by providing funding for youth employment programs not only for summer jobs but for opportunities throughout the year.  

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council?

To continue to keep property tax stable, if not lower (perhaps using a portion of the stimulus fund to do this). To have a budget that reflects the needs of the community. Making sure that the vital services remain funded to include staffing all the departments at their full capacity. As always public safety is a topic of high priority, we need to focus on making sure law enforcement has the resources needed to provide services to the residents. Investing in the neighborhoods to expand the tax base, remove blighted properties, increase homeownership and increase property values. 

What strengths will you bring to the council? 

Certainly, my experience as a council member for eight years and the past two years as council president exemplifies my strength as a member of the city council. Being chair of the public safety committee, as well as being a seated member of the finance, parks and recreation and government operations committees gives me great experience to provide the services needed. I am ready to continue my leadership and expertise to our city residents. The many years of my involvement in community services have shown my dedication to the improvements throughout the city. Also, as a project accountant dealing with multimillion-dollar projects which includes dealing with subcontractors, budgets and forecasts, it equips me with the financial knowledge to deal with city budget and finance. 

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them? 

We need to work together as a council body, not as individuals. Too many times individuals have worked on their own with little support from colleagues. Together we will build on our strengths, a liveable, walkable city, strong school district, stable property taxes, continued support of our seniors at the senior center in partnership with Kingsway community, smart city technology throughout our city, and prioritize public safety. 

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack?

Again, something of this importance needs total cooperation from the Mayor’s Office and City Council. Weaknesses can be heard every time I talk to voters on their doorsteps. Taxes, public safety, potholes, and fireworks. Meeting with our Department heads, police and fire chiefs, and neighborhood and community leaders to provide the comprehensive “2025” action plan that can be implemented with funding and support of those listed. 

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough?

We are once again very appreciative of New York State “Downtown Revitalization Initiative” funding containing a list of notably $10 million dollars worth of projects which includes a mix of retail, housing and the development of the Jay Street corridor from downtown over to Nott Street. The work will include creating the opening of Jay Street in the Little Italy neighborhood to Nott Street. Something that small businesses in the Little Italy corridor have been in support of for years. Being that this is the first time the city has applied for these funds (DRI) we (Metroplex and the City of Schenectady) weren’t surprised by the list.

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge? 

The police department must be fully funded in order to provide the needed services within our community. Improved training of police officers to include adapting to the changes of the demographics in the city of Schenectady, which includes cultural awareness. We need to encourage citizens, public officials and the administration, including police leadership and rank and file officers to have open communication between everyone. The Police and community need to build trust between each other so that residents can feel comfortable calling the police when needed. The dialogue between the Police and the community needs to be ongoing, community leaders and Police have to communicate effectively.

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach be in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council?

We need to respect each other’s perspectives with open arms and embrace the many changes that are happening in the community which include diversity and cultural awareness. We as a council need to work for the people of Schenectady rather than for individual purposes. The residents expect the Council to work together on their behalf and what we do must benefit everyone in Schenectady. Council members should feel comfortable bringing their ideas to the table and openly discuss without fear of dismissal. 

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground?

The City Department of Development held months of community forums/meetings to gather their input on several plans that were offered by the NYS Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. The vast majority of these residents expressed interest in working with the City to continue the evaluation of moving their homes. The relocation of homes outside of the 500-year floodplain was the chosen mitigation and approved. Beginning with Ingersoll Avenue homes, the street that is most vulnerable to flooding in the district. The homes would maintain the same relationship to one another and the sidewalk, and they would be completely up and out of the floodplain. Continued community support of the dialogue is key to its success, funding from FEMA as well. 

Is the city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen?

The city has many projects happening throughout different neighborhoods. We have been working with Neighborhood Associations to address the many concerns and to bring meaningful relief to residents within these communities. The city and Landbank are working to address the many vacant and abandoned properties, by selling some properties to owners who occupy them and demolishing the blighted properties. There are new, affordable residential apartments being built in Hamilton Hill to address the housing issue. Renewing our infrastructure, including paving streets and the sidewalk pilot project. We are encouraging small businesses to invest in these neighborhoods.

Incumbent Marion Porterfield, four-year term

Porterfield has been on the council since 2012. She’s a longtime resident of the city who works as a consultant. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she ran a community-based organization helping people find employment. 

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic? 

I propose Schenectady reopen city hall to the public to send the message we are coming out of this pandemic. We need to work with the school district so children can return to classroom learning and continue to support more outdoor events such as the Greenmarket.  

How should the city use its stimulus money? 

I believe the city should first balance the budget for lost revenue due to COVID-19. Then we can look at the criteria and restrictions on use for the remaining money, look at the needs for the City, including infrastructure, cleaning up blighted properties, streets and sidewalks. We should also solicit resident input on their priorities and collectively look at all these things to determine the best way to spend these funds to the city remains on good financial standing while making sure we are addressing the issues that are impacting the quality of life for city residents. 

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council? 

My priorities as a City Councilmember are addressing the three quality of life issues that I hear about continually from residents; speeding, public safety and cleaning up our city.  

What strengths will you bring to the council? 

The strength that I bring to the Council is being accessible, available and being in touch with residents consistently, not just during election years. In addition, I am willing to ask difficult questions, I am an independent thinker, I listen with an open mind, and I base my votes on facts, without focusing on who introduced the legislation, ordinance or idea. 

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them? 

I see one of Schenectady’s strengths as the revitalization of downtown and its slowly going into the neighborhoods. It takes four votes to pass any legislation, therefore as an individual council member, I will vote to allocate resources that will help bring equity to the revitalization that is happening in the city, so it extends into the neighborhoods. 

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack? 

I see one of Schenectady’s weaknesses is the lack of maintenance of our roadways including potholes and snowplowing. Since the daily operation of the city is under the  Mayor’s control, my method of dealing with this is bringing it to his attention and as he often requests, provide him the name of the resident who has a complaint or concern so city staff can address the problem. 

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough? 

It is exciting that the city received the 10 million in DRI funds. There is a great list of projects that have enhanced downtown and the harbor while creating connectivity. I believe we should seek an equal amount of funding to invest in the neighborhoods throughout Schenectady, so the entire city gets much-needed improvements.

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge? 

I believe one of the most important challenges facing the Schenectady Police Department is the changes in what policing looks like due to societal changes and having to adapt to dealing with them. Police are now faced with issues that are not really law enforcement related such as mental health and drug overdoses. I propose we have to include training and have access to other agencies’ resources to deal with this. 

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council? 

I am hopeful that once we have a full Council this will address some of the negative interaction that currently takes place. I plan to continue to make sure that legislation that I  bring to the table is focused on the issues and not personalities, I will reiterate to my fellow councilmembers that we are public servants and we work for the people.  

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground? 

As a resident of Schenectady since elementary school, I can remember classmates who lived in the Stockade having their homes flooded on a regular basis. Since this continues to be a  problem, I agree with the plan to move homes out of the floodplain. While it is decided by the city the support of the plan from residents in the neighborhood definitely influenced my decision. 

Is city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen? 

I believe in participatory government, therefore, to support our neighborhoods I believe council members should attend neighborhood meetings and have conversations with residents who may not be a part of the formal group but have concerns and solutions. There should be a larger effort to include residents as part of the decision-making process when it comes to expending funds such as CDBG and we should make information public on changes in ordinance or legislation passed which will have significant impact upon our residents.

Incumbent Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, four-year term

Zalewski-Wildzunas is a commercial associate real estate broker with Berkshire Hathaway Blake Realtors. She has served five years on the City Council. She has been a resident of the city for more than 30 years. She is married and has three adult children.

What do you propose Schenectady do to rebound from the pandemic?

We need to put a plan in place to address the issues with our roads, sidewalks, sewer and water systems. We have an aging system that needs to be addressed. We also need to focus on the parks and continue updating with improvements such as splash pads. We need to continue to address the areas that have not had attention such as Central Park. The old tennis courts and casino building need to be repurposed and the pool needs to be updated. We need additional lighting throughout the park. Central Park Music Haven attracts people from across the region to hear free music and we need to enhance the lighting for events such as these. 

Our police and fire departments need to be fully staffed, we need to hire so that we can eliminate the excessive overtime and ensure that we are retaining staff and not overworking our officers. We need to continue community policing and look to hire mental health professionals to assist with nonviolent mental health calls. We should have additional training for all first responders on handling mental health calls.  

How should the city use its stimulus money?

There will be specific rules on how these funds can be used. We will need to work with the mayor and city staff to identify what specific areas we can direct the funding to. We need to focus on the aging infrastructure, roads and invest in staff. We have not been fully staffed in most departments during the pandemic and we need to invest in staffing in all departments including the police, fire, law and general services so that all our services can be maintained, and we can serve the residents of the city.  

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council?

I will continue to focus on selling city properties. We have and continue to sell city-owned property with the main objective to sell to owner-occupied individuals. There have been numerous investors wanting to come to the city to rehab and resell or rent properties. This has and continues to be an excellent way to redevelop these properties, this helps to improve the neighborhoods and increase the value of all property in the city. We are approaching $2 million in sold properties so far this year.

I will also continue to focus on maintaining sound fiscally responsible policies. We need to continue to invest in the Smart City Initiatives, such as LED Lighting and free WIFI throughout the city. 

I will also continue to focus on the neighborhoods. We need to continue to work with the neighborhood leaders and listen to the residents and focus on areas of need. We have come a long way but there is still a lot of work to do. 

What strengths will you bring to the council?

I have had a 30-year career in banking, I have managed Branch Offices and Commercial Lending Teams. I was able to lead highly successful teams to top performance status within the organizations. Doing this while maintaining expense lines and generating revenue above goals. I am currently a commercial real estate broker in the Capital Region. With my experience in banking and real estate, I have a unique skill set that brings clarity to situations such as selling city-owned property and budgeting. 

I have and always will put the city first, I will and continue to do what is best for the city and its residents. I will do this in a collaborative way, listening to the residents and my colleagues on the council to come to a consensus and do what is best for the city. 

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them? 

Schenectady is a small city geographically which makes us incredibly unique. Everything is close by, we have excellent neighborhoods and close-knit communities. We have diversity within all the neighborhoods. We have wonderful parks and a beautiful downtown. We need to continue to focus on the neighborhoods by listening to the residents to ensure we are staying the course. We do that by going to the neighborhood meetings and attending events within the neighborhoods. I have and will continue to make myself available whenever possible. 

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack? 

Poverty is a weakness; we need to continue to focus on elevating people out of poverty. Workforce development programs will help, Ron Gardner, has done a fabulous job assisting with minority-owned businesses. This programming needs to be supported and expanded. We need to continue to make homeownership available, Schenectady Habitat for Humanity has done and continues to work with individuals to make their dreams of homeownership a reality. We need to continue to support these programs that will elevate people from poverty.

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough?

I am extremely excited about the DRI funds; these were all good projects. We had a limited area and limited funds. I wish we could have funded all the projects that applied for the funding. There is one project that I believe could make a difference and could help to bring new people to Schenectady. The project is the Aquatic Center, this would have been transformational for the Harbor. Having an aquatic center bringing NCAA swimming competition to the harbor would fill hotels, restaurants and other recreational venues. 

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge? 

I believe that staffing is the biggest challenge facing the department. We have retirements that are coming up and not enough candidates in the academy to fill the vacancies or upcoming retirements. Understaffing puts undue pressure on the team. Officers are working extended hours and there are not enough officers to respond to the call volume. We need to recruit from within the city and we need to have officers in the schools to promote being a city police officer as a good job and career. 

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council? 

I have and will continue to put the city first. I will continue to be a voice for the people and put the city first. With that said I can work with anyone, and attempt to build a collaborative environment. 

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground?

I believe that this may not be a cost-effective way to address this issue. We have not fully vetted this issue. We need to know where all the funding would be coming from. We need to know how much, if any, funds would need to come from the city to get this accomplished. 

Is city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen?

We continue to focus on the neighborhoods with development in Mont Pleasant, Goose Hill and Eastern Ave. We need to do more for the businesses with façade and Main Street grants. Each neighborhood is unique and has their own issues. I would like us to do more with helping businesses within the neighborhoods. We have a Business Improvement District Downtown a BID. I would like to see that model duplicated throughout all the neighborhoods as they have done on Upper Union Street. Under the current leadership we could have BIDs for each area in the city, for a small assessment the business owners would be able to have their own marketing plan along with a beautification plan and dedicated team to keep the streets and sidewalks clean. This works well downtown and could be done across the city. 

Doreen Ditoro (two-year term)

Ditoro co-owns Rossi & Ditoro Funeral Home and has served as chair of the Little Italy Street Festival, and president of the Little Italy Business Association. She’s a longtime member of St. Anthony’s Church. Ditoro moved from Waterford to the city in 1985. She’s raised three daughters in Schenectady.

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic?

As we move closer to normalcy out of this pandemic, Schenectady must rebuild its infrastructure, both physically and with its human resources. To accomplish this, I believe a combination of hiring more staff and bringing in outside contractors is needed. I am a strong advocate for fully staffed police and fire to lessen the reliance on overtime. Furthermore, I propose a Community Engagement Unit and that mental health professionals are embedded within the department to accompany officers on non-violent mental health calls.

With the ‘Smart Cities’ deployment that has been ongoing for several years now, I believe that the city must get more aggressive in attracting small businesses to our city. I would like to work more closely with Metroplex and County officials to attract and promote more small businesses and homeowners. I would also like to open the lines of communication with the Schenectady City School District to see how the two bodies can work together because the school district is a major component to attracting young families to this city.

How should the city use its stimulus money?

The rules and regulations on how the City can spend its stimulus money have not yet been provided by the Federal government. Therefore, I will answer this question with that understanding. First, money should be used to fix city roads. There are roads that need to be repaved and others where just some pothole repairs are necessary. At the same time, some manholes act as potholes on many roads throughout the city; they should be raised so they are even with the street. The same can be said of street cutouts, which require enforcement by the city to ensure that National Grid, plumbers, and electricians repair cutouts properly.

Second, our parks are in general disrepair; they need attention and stronger investment.

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council?

My priorities will be on quality-of-life issues, which is what my campaign is about. As I walk around Schenectady, I’ve experienced unwalkable sidewalks and seen a lot of trash and litter. Loud noise and music are major issues, particularly in the summer months. You take your life in your hands attempting to cross certain roads. If you are driving, you must wait once the traffic light turns green or risk getting hit by someone going through a red light. Speeding is rampant.

There are numerous houses in the city, some City-owned, others zombie houses, that are not maintained. These properties drag down neighborhoods and must be addressed.

I also strongly believe we must invest in our park system and create recreational opportunities for our youth, as well as expand or create Senior Centers in our Goosehill, Bellevue, and Hamilton Hill neighborhoods. We desperately need activities in the parks for our youth during the summer months. And I would strongly advocate for both new youth playground equipment and playground equipment for our seniors.

What strengths will you bring to the council? 

I am a successful businesswoman, having owned Rossi & Ditoro Funeral Home for over 25 years. I am also a mother and grandmother. As such, I must manage my time effectively and efficiently. I am well-grounded in budgets, development, and management. However, one of the biggest strengths I will bring to the Council will be that I am hard-working, compassionate, honest, and above all, have integrity. In the funeral home business these are key attributes that, if you don’t have them, you will not be in business for very long.

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them?

Schenectady has many strengths, but I will concentrate on two. First, the people of Schenectady. We are a very diverse community. Diversity helps all of us learn about different cultures, traditions, and other points of view. Diversity gets our creative juices flowing because alternative ideas are brought to the table for discussion and debate.

Secondly, our geographic location is a strength. Geographically Schenectady is one of the most well-placed cities in the United States. We are less than 4 hours by car or plane to New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Raleigh, NC, and Atlanta, just to name a few. We should be using this advantage to attract families and businesses.

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack?

One of Schenectady’s weaknesses is the lack of a communications specialist. Many in the community do not feel as if they are getting information. One aspect of this position would be to disseminate information to members of the community. There is also a lack of direct marketing from City Hall letting our residents and potential business owners, as well as people moving to Schenectady know all the good things that are happening here

A major issue is the level of poverty in Schenectady. As a City Council, we need to consider how we as a city can create workforce development programs, perhaps in conjunction with SUNY Schenectady, to address some of the real needs of employers, as well as train potential employees about basic workplace skills, and the physical tools necessary for jobs.

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough? 

The Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant of $10 million that the city received had to be used in specific locations only. Unfortunately, most of the city’s neighborhoods did not fall into this zone.

As far as the projects that were chosen, I agree with most of the decisions. I would eventually like to see the Aquatic Center built as I believe it will be beneficial financially to the city and the County.

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge?

The most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department is that they are understaffed. Understaffing has been an issue for 20 years or more. During the same time period, call volume has gone up. Understaffing prevents the Schenectady PD from enforcing the littering, traffic, and noise laws. Understaffing prevents the Schenectady PD from fully implementing a Community Engagement Unit to strengthen community relationships. Understaffing turns what should be a 3- to 6-minute response time into an hours-long wait, creating an atmosphere of frustration and anger Fully staffing the Schenectady Police Department would resolve these issues.

I will advocate for the number of training officers the police department has been increased from its current 1 to 3. Many of the issues that we have seen with policing around the country would be alleviated with training. I would also like to see programs such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion be fully implemented in the city and county to divert individuals to a community-based, harm-reduction intervention that is an intensive case-management program where individuals can receive a variety of support services such as transitional or permanent housing and drug treatment. Full staffing and programs like these will lead to a reduction in crime.

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council? 

I bring an open mind to every issue and actively listen to ideas from my colleagues. I will bring this attitude to the Council and look to collaborate with my colleagues. However, I will always stand true to my principles and ethics and will do everything with integrity and honesty.

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground?

I do not believe that the chosen method is timely or cost-effective. The expense of building new streets, with grading, drainage and new infrastructure is considerably more expensive than other options. Furthermore, most, if not all, of the houses chosen to be moved are rental properties that, once moved, will be considerably more valuable for the property owners, resulting in a considerable profit for them at taxpayer’s expense.

Is city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen?

A lot of development has occurred in Schenectady within the neighborhoods. For example, the Mt. Pleasant Merchants Associations has received a grant to help renew the facades of businesses on Crane St. Yet more is needed. For example, I would like to see a focus on two of our entry points into the city: Broadway in Bellevue and Van Vranken Ave. in the Goose Hill neighborhood. There should be a real focus to clean up these entry points and to develop a business district or merchants association on both of these vital city streets. This could help attract new businesses to those neighborhoods, creating more vitality and pride in the neighborhoods.

I also believe strongly in hiring additional Code Enforcement staff to crack down on the properties that are bringing neighborhoods down. This would also necessitate the city properly maintaining city-owned properties and holding banks that own “Zombie” properties accountable.

Haileab Samuel (two-year term)

Samuel is an entrepreneur and chief executive officer of a tech services company. He’s on the board of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority and the city’s Housing Review Board. Samuel is married with two children.

 

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic?

The city needs to first assess the impact of COVID on all our residents. That assessment needs to be comprehensive in nature and include everything from the economic impact, structural impact as well the social and mental health impact on the various neighborhoods throughout the city. Without knowing the specific needs of every family in the communities, we must not paint the strategy for a rebound with a broad brush, but with a detail that allows us to address the varying needs to recover each neighborhood individually and collectively.

One immediate area of major concern is how to ensure that our kids rebound from two years of COVID learning. The city and school district will need to work together to implement fast track learning programs and initiatives that can help get the kids back to their appropriate levels to ensure that there is not long-term learning, social, and economic impacts for the generation of children that had to ensure the 2 years of learning in a COVID-19 environment. 

Additionally, the city should collaborate with the private sector in some instances where the greater good would be better served by partnership. The pandemic highlighted some of the obstacles that are created when local governments neglect relationships with private sector stakeholders. As a result, they compromise pandemic/disaster readiness and response. 

How should the city use its stimulus money?

The federal stimulus dollars are a welcome means to the end of an extremely challenging pandemic. The city should prioritize spending the funds in a way that solves immediate problems caused by the pandemic and those problems exposed by the pandemic, but also, we should think strategically about how these dollars can be reinvested through the creation of future business development/improvement opportunities for residents. 

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council?

In addition to working with the Mayor and City Council to continue the many great initiatives currently in progress and promoting a more responsive and accountable City Council that responds to the needs of our citizens, I will be focused on Education Equity, Economic Development & Empowerment, Housing for All and Safe City Initiatives. 

What strengths will you bring to the council?

I bring over 17 years of executive leadership experience from roles held in large organizations like Xerox Corporation and General Electric. While at Xerox Corporation, I ran a Litigation Services operation consisting of 5 teams / 150 employees across 3 shifts operating 365 days per year. Revenue was $30M per year when I started but grew to $100M by the time I left in 2012. I was responsible for building operational efficiencies to support that growth and did so across all my teams. Over the past 6 years, I have built my own business, growing it from 5 employees to the 30 employees we have today.  We implement software to help cities run their operations more efficiently which has given me expertise in Land Management, Licensing, Planning, Permitting, Asset Management, Code Enforcement, and Environmental Health. All of which will be instrumental in helping the city of Schenectady make decisions. Additionally, in all these past/current leadership roles I held budgetary responsibilities for large portfolios of business which will also be beneficial as I help the City Council set the budget each year.  

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them?

Schenectady has a strong tax base of diverse residents with the common goal of making Schenectady a safe place to live and raise our children.  We have several strong corporate anchors such as General Electric, Golub Corporation, and MVP Healthcare which attract new residents to the area. The city has great colleges like Union College, Clarkson, and Schenectady community college. The city also has a strong Information Technology sector with several tech companies that have been seeing tremendous growth over the past few years. There is also a lot of momentum fueling the city from the recent economic growth that we have seen pre-Covid19.

While on the council I will continue to promote homeownership opportunities to increase our strong diverse tax base. I will work to promote economic opportunities through job training and placement initiatives. I will look for opportunities to partner with Union, Clarkson, and Schenectady community college on ways to help increase/continue economic growth in the area. I will also work closely with the city school district to implement programs that begin preparing students for adulthood as early as ninth grade. 

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack?

There are two weaknesses that are clear to me. The first has to do with education and the other equity in city resources. There are holes in the city’s education system that negatively impact certain students and we need to look for solutions that can be felt immediately. I think it will take a collective effort of parents, school board, and city leaders to ensure that these issues are addressed. We should work with the Superintendent and the school district to formulate a working plan that will systematically close the gaps that we have in the education process and ensure the education system is working for every student in the district.

The other issue is that it does not appear that every neighborhood has the same level of access to city resources such as snow removal. I do not know the immediate answer on how to solve this, but we should be able to look to other cities that have successfully implemented processes to ensure that services are equity afforded to all residents and adopt it into our operations.  

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough?

I am very happy that Schenectady received the $9.7M grant from the state as a part of the fourth round of the Governor’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This will allow the city to continue the momentum that started over 15 years ago and help us to recover from the slowdowns associated with the Covid19 pandemic. The purpose of the grant is to implement transformative public improvement, private development, and wayfinding projects within the downtown area. All in an effort to create a quality of life for residents of the city. There are 16 projects associated with the initiative that range from developing new housing units to growing the job base. It is expected that over 200 new jobs will be created because of this initiative. All of which will be great for the city. I believe the list or project funded by this grant is a good list with needed projects for the city. However, I would have liked to see more development on lower Albany Street and the State Street area closer to the MVP Health care location.

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge?

Policing in the aftermath of the national cries for police reform fueled by the incident with George Floyd and doing so while trying to balance reform with a rise in the gun violence that has been plaguing the nation over the past several months. I believe the best way for SPD to meet this challenge is by focusing on improved community policing, implementing a Mental Health Division (with no guns), swiftly dealing with troubled officers.

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council? 

I believe in fostering a collaborative spirit, with the shared goal of reaching balanced and sustainable solutions for the community at large. Fractured engagement often leads to ineffective public policy. It also feeds the narrative that the government is dysfunctional. Voters need to have confidence that their representatives will work together- even when they disagree on which goals to pursue or how best to achieve them. We should never allow infighting to stifle progress. Our communities are depending on this collaboration, and it is the duty of a local government to uphold their trust. However, differences of opinion are an inherent part of human nature. My career in business has taught me that those differences of opinion are valuable in working to reach the right solutions.

Some people seek to avoid conflict, but at the core of the conflict is often where you can find the most success if you face it head-on. One of the reasons I decided to run for City Council was to be able to utilize those skills and strategies that have made me successful in the private sector and apply that knowledge and hard work to find that common ground. Those differences help demonstrate that each member of the City Council is passionate about finding the right path forward for Schenectady. By acknowledging that there are many perspectives, we can work to find those areas where we overlap and begin to implement plans to meet each of our goals. I have found that the inertia of success driving success quickly becomes a key organizing principle of any organization once you can start seeing the benefits of compromise. My approach on day one is to drive towards that spot in the middle between the members, which are the people of Schenectady. By engaging our residents and asking, “Is this the best we can do for Schenectady?” I hope to bring that focus that creates a foundation to build that cohesive unit. 

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground?

Ultimately, I understand that a solution is needed and if this can solve the problem and do it with less cost than improving the levy system and with limited disruption to the other residents, and without any major structural damages to the homes, I think it is a good proposal.

Is city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen?

In 2004, when I first moved to Schenectady, there was not much happening downtown to attract people to the city. Since then, much has been done to revitalize downtown to make it a place that we can enjoy and benefit from as citizens but also to attract others to the city to enjoy much of what we have to offer from Proctor’s theatre to many fine restaurants, to the casino. This focus was strategic, and I believe the right place to start. We must now shift much of our focus to restoring and/or preserving all our neighborhoods with the same energy that we have placed in revitalizing downtown. Many of the same goals/initiatives that we have for downtown revitalization should be considered when thinking of the neighborhoods such as safe walkable streets, green areas and clean playgrounds for kids, safe smart lighting, and incentivized grants to help homeowners restore failing properties.

Carl Williams (two years)

Williams oversees practices of a general pediatric department at the Albany Medical College. A married Air Force veteran, Williams was a member of the Schenectady Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative Steering Committee. 

What do you propose Schenectady ‘do’ to rebound from the pandemic?

With nearly $60 Million in stimulus money coming in over 2 years, we need to think BIG. I want to see more than a rebound, I want our City Council to collaborate on a Schenectady re-birth. To do this we will need concrete plans for every sector. Tenants and landlords are both in need of relief, our small businesses demand smart investments. Aggressive incentives will encourage entrepreneurs to build their fortunes in Schenectady. Parents need childcare, while our children need to be safe and stimulated to learn. I want to see us partnering with surrounding cities in the Capital District to promote local businesses and restaurants and reinforce the importance of working together.

How should the city use its stimulus money?

We need careful planning and collaboration as we spend nearly $60 Million over 2 years. The laundry list is long and includes, but is not limited to, such things as road and snow maintenance; investments in public health; property tax relief; services for veterans, seniors and youth; and quality afterschool opportunities to support working families. But also, Schenectady is a community that thrives on small business success stories. I’m looking for investments in the form of 0% interest loans that stress inclusivity and prioritize employing local folks, integrating workforce training and pathways to long-term employment opportunities.

What will your priorities be if elected to the City Council?

In addition to the priorities I outlined in the two previous questions, I’ll prioritize developing personal, open lines of communication. I’ll be at neighborhood meetings and local organizational functions. I plan to collaborate with the Mayor and the City Council on increasing transparency, creating a sustainable infrastructure plan, and ensuring that our neighborhoods are safe. My message will always be positive and reflect our collective values. I think that is the way we attract and retain public buy-in. It’s also the best way to develop solutions that address the issues that matter most to our residents.

What strengths will you bring to the council?

I’ll be strong for Schenectady because of my devotion to service–   family, church, community and country. I’ve served 11 years in the military and I’m currently a 1st Lieutenant in the New York Air National Guard. I earned my MBA from Clarkson University and I work as a practice coordinator at the Albany Medical College. I’m also the Health Services Administrator for the 109th Airlift Wing. I’ll use my military and professional experience solving complex problems like addressing public health and our post-Covid economic recovery.

What do you see as Schenectady’s strengths, and how will you as an individual council member try to build upon them?

Schenectady’s diverse communities are its biggest strength. I will build upon this by bridging the gaps between local neighborhoods to underscore the value of pooling resources. Incorporating more feedback and input into decision-making processes will protect the validity of elected solutions and improve local cohesion, innovation, and strengthen essential relationships.

What about its weaknesses? What will be your plan of attack?

I am proud to have grown up in the City of Schenectady, and I have seen the challenges that our youth still face in finding their way. I was lucky to have found mentors to support and encourage me toward success. I would like to see us focus on and invest more in youth engagement such as city-wide youth mentorship and professional development programs. I would like to see more partnerships between our schools, businesses and the City to create opportunities for entrepreneurship and careers locally. Our community is rife with gifted individuals. Let’s invest in them and encourage them to grow their talents here in Schenectady.

What are your thoughts on funding the city received for downtown revitalization? Is it a good list and does it go far enough?

Schenectady’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) is an important step in the process, but we must use it wisely in a sustained effort to better the entire City. I support the DRI’s priorities – redeveloping local neighborhoods and parking, improving lighting and signage, reopening and extending trail walkways, and funding over a 1/3 of cost for workforce training center and other artistic opportunities. These projects will create an attractive, safe and welcoming corridor for all of our residents and visitors. However, the same priorities, process, energy and community involvement priorities can be a model for improvements in all of our neighborhoods.

What do you think is the most important challenge facing the Schenectady Police Department and what solutions might you propose to meet this challenge?

Many residents have shared with me their feelings of lost confidence in the Schenectady Police Department. Chief Clifford has taken various steps to rebuild community trust (e.g. George Floyd kneeling, starting Hiring Advisory Panel, and attending local organization meetings) however his efforts have not yet garnered a noticeable response from the community. Community policing engrained in collaborative discussions with local neighborhoods is how SPD improves police-community relationships. These long-term initiatives, along with increased transparency, accountability and patience can restore SPD’s image

There was quite a bit of infighting between the council this past year. What will your approach be in terms of working as a cohesive unit? How will you seek to build consensus on the council?

My military training instilled in me the value of working together towards a common goal. It taught me to recognize the strengths in others and optimize those assets for the betterment of the unit. Throughout my military career, team-building has been critical to my success, and I will bring this background to the City Council. Whether in the military or elected office, I will work hard to build relationships of trust, model respectful communication, and focus our efforts on the common goal — bettering the lives of those whom we serve.

What are your thoughts about the proposal to move Stockade homes out of the floodplain and up to higher ground?

As has been reported, now that COVID restrictions have loosened, the work being proposed to preserve the historic character of the Stockade homes is being conducted. It has been my experience walking door-to-door, that our neighbors who live in the Stockade are devoted to the neighborhood, heart and soul, and I trust in their decision making and the collaborative process that is in place.  It is a huge undertaking and there is much planning still to be done. I stand ready to assist in any way possible bringing people together and working on funding where necessary.

Is the city government doing enough to help the neighborhoods? If not, what needs to happen?

I have spent months walking our City’s streets, knocking on doors, and speaking with hundreds of residents. Many feel left out of the City’s plans. They complained about speeding and pot-holes, crime and property neglect. They told me that they didn’t feel that the local government listens to them or values their input. Members of our community should not feel the need to shout or continuously draw attention to their issues such as community policing, street maintenance, and city-wide beautification efforts. If interaction with local government through the established lines is insufficient,  I will work with my colleagues to find other ways to address residents’ concerns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

3 Comments

David Bianchi

This is a very well written piece by the Daily Gazette for the Seven candidates that are running for Schenectady City Council seats and asking them some important questions.

I would just like to add a couple things of my own to Anyone running for or in Public Office along with Any that should read my comment.

July 15, 2017 WASHINGTON — A federal investigation into a long-ago land deal by Senator Bernie Sanders’s wife (this story crossed my path, long-ago land deal investigated caught my eye)

Do you think? The City has the Right to (Threaten!) a Property Owner or in my case. Threaten me to sell them my Mom’s/ Families property cheaply to the City involving several lots on Barrett Street for a row of Townhouses that a private Developer Wanted to build after He Bought the Prior Luigis restaurant on Barrett Street at Tax Auction next to my Families Land. (In the Little Italy/Union College area of Schenectady.)

Along with Someone from City Hall Ordering American Tax Funding to return a Payment that was made in Full to the Out of State Tax lien company so that the City could do Eminent Domain on the Several Vacant lots with no buildings on them by calling the Vacant Lots (Blight) along with the City saying they were doing the Eminent Domain for unpaid Taxes!
In which the City Couldn’t foreclose on for Unpaid Taxes because it would have given my Mother or I a chance to pay the Taxes. In which the Land that was Taken was Willed to my Mom from my Uncle that had passed and was in my Family for Over 100 Years!

Schenectady Gate!! Property Owning Rights!

There were also several more things that the City did wrong to my Family and I concerning other properties in the area/city.

The City Beat my Family and I Down Real Good! Properties that had No Mortgage on them.. Stolen by the City! Being Taken at a Price that They Thought Was Fair! Forcefully Taken!

All For a Row of Townhouses now being built called Barrett Village..

If Only I Could Get My Day in Court on this!

Accountability and The Truth Coming Out! Is That Too Much to Ask?

I don’t understand why we get all these letters complaining about the city of Schenectady. The mayor is a Democrat, the whole city Council are Democrats, the chief of police is a Democrat. Why are you complaining it’s you people that are running the city.

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