SCHENECTADY – Incumbent Marion Porterfield and newcomer Carl Williams claimed the top spots in their respective Democratic Party primary races for the seven-member City Council.
Porterfield was the top vote-getter in a four-person race for a trio of full, four-year terms. The council mainstay since 2012 garnered 1,334 votes.
“I’ll take a deep breath, and then move forward, looking forward to November,” Porterfield said.
Damonni Farley’s 1,171 votes and incumbent John Mootooveren’s 1,078 placed them in second and third place, respectively, while incumbent Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas trailed the pack, with 928 votes.
In the other race, the three-way contest of newcomers for two vacated seats with two years remaining, Carl Williams had 1,065 votes, Doreen Ditoro had 1,011 votes, and Haileab Samuel had 970.
Absentee ballots stand to decide the final outcomes.
The Schenectady County Board of Elections reported that the city’s two county legislative districts had issued 540 absentee ballots, of which it received 230.
The declared winners will advance to November’s election.
Republicans are running Kevin Hammer, Vivian Parsons and Brendan Nally. Nally ran and lost in 2019, when the council converted to all-Democrat control following the defeat of Vince Riggi, an independent.
Porterfield said she started her Election Day at 5 a.m. For most of the day she brought food to poll workers.
Porterfield said voters were chiefly concerned about speeding in the city, and its aging infrastructure.
“It’s really gotten out of control while we were in COVID, and for whatever reason it ramped up and it’s still happening,” Porterfield said of speeding.
All seven of the candidates said they would be in favor of reducing the city’s speed limit to 25 mph.
Williams, who campaigned with Samuel, said he felt the duo’s authenticity, admitting when they didn’t know something, or were uncomfortable with a subject, resonated with voters.
“There was no generic speech; there was no pitch line,” Williams said. “A lot of the time it was, and we said this every single time we walked: every house matters. Regardless of whether we knock on a door, and are poking for answers, or whether we are walking down a neighborhood and we start building up our assumptions of who or how voters are going to turn out, we made sure to speak with who was on the list.”
The weeklong early voting cycle produced 975 ballots to the Schenectady County Board of Elections.
The two vacancies were created when Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur resigned from the council earlier this year.
Farley ran unsuccessfully in 2017 as a Working Families Party candidate after he was removed from the Democratic line when his signatures were challenged.
Voters expressed a desire for changes at multiple polling sites.
At the high school, voter Peter Knutson said he was looking for fresh eyes and to add diversity to the council. His choices were Farley, Mootooveren and Porterfield, and Samuel and Ditoro.
Steve Weiss said he looked forward to seeing “new blood on the board” with Williams, Samuel, Farley, along with Porterfield and Zalewski-Wildzunas.
Weiss said he was particularly impressed with Farley, whom he had met during the campaign, and Williams, whom he already knew from his work in the Air National Guard. Weiss is a TAPs volunteer who’s participated in military funerals with Williams.
“I knew him as a good person and read his resume and saw all of his good skills,” Weiss said.
Weiss said he’s hopeful the council can be smart about allocating the $58 million it received from the federal government for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evelyn C. McBride, who voted at the Bellevue Reformed Church on Broadway, said she cast her ballot for Farley and Ditoro.
McBride, 39, wondered why the council couldn’t hold town hall forums in struggling neighborhoods like Hamilton Hill, to meet with constituents. And she said she hopes the next set of council members are less focused on improving the historic Stockade District and downtown, and pay more attention to neighborhoods like Hamilton Hill, which she said is overlooked as one of the largest neighborhoods and its central locale.
Williams, Samuel and the three incumbents were endorsed by Schenectady Democrats, but because of differences, Mootooveren and Porterfield campaigned with Farley. Zalewski-Wildzunas and Ditoro supported one another and were at BL’s on Front Street at the close of polls.
Zalewski-Wildzunas was criticized by Mootooveren and Porterfield for a campaign mailer that showed all three of them in an old photo, as if to present that they were running as a team.
In April, Williams sued Ditoro in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County, asking a judge to invalidate her candidacy, alleging she lied about witnessing five people sign her nomination papers. It was dismissed after three of the witnesses did not show up for court, while Judge Michael Cuevas wrote that the two others’ statements weren’t convincing.
Diversity has been a recurring theme throughout the run up to the primary.
Last month, the Schenectady County branch of the NAACP alleged that Black candidates were being suppressed by Democratic committees and groups within the county in favor of white Democratic candidates.
Leaders of those organizations, the City Democratic Committee and County Democratic Committee rejected the claims.
In April, Mootooveren narrowly survived a vote of no confidence, a proposal made by Zalewski-Wildzunas, who also called for his removal as council president.
The move was after Mootooveren removed her from two committee assignments in April, although he later restored one of the positions.
Mootooveren, who is Guyanese, had said he needed to diversify the all-Democrat panel by spreading himself and Porterfield, who is Black, onto various committee roles.