SCHENECTADY – A rally for four candidates of color for City Council in November shunned a fifth winner, who is white, in the June primary because she chose not to join them in running as a team.
The event on Monday in front of City Hall highlighted how the race is divided along racial lines, and it took on a physically combative tone when a supporter of the shunned white candidate shoved a campaign sign toward Schenectady Democratic County Chairman Joe Landry as he spoke in favor of a quartet of Black and brown candidates.
The rally was for incumbents Marion Porterfield and council President John Mootooveren, and newcomers Damonni Farley and Carl Williams. Mootooveren is Guyanese and the other three are Black.
As Landry lauded them, Dave Ditoro shoved a campaign sign for his former wife, Doreen Ditoro, at Landry. Dave Ditoro then had to be restrained.
After the rally, Landry told a reporter he wasn’t hurt, nor did he intend to press charges.
“But it was very rude and very inappropriate,” Landry said, “to interrupt and physically touch another speaker.”
Doreen Ditoro was triumphant in the June Democratic primary alongside Williams in a race for unexpired terms, while Porterfield, Mootooveren and Farley are running for full terms.
Porterfield, Mootooveren, and Farley bested incumbent Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas in the primary, and Zalewski-Wildzunas has since waged a bid to reclaim her seat by running on the Conservative party line.
Porterfield explained that Doreen Ditoro was invited to join her and the three other candidates of color in running as a unit. But Porterfield said Doreen Ditoro declined, opting to run with her friend, Zalewski-Wildzunas.
Porterfield urged Doreen Ditoro to hold her own political rally.
Tom Bellick, chairman of the Schenectady City Democratic Committee, introduced Porterfield, Mootooveren, Farley and Williams as about two dozen supporters of Ditoro stood to the side, itching for a chance to speak.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he was there to support the entire Democratic ticket, noting that the social security system, and, more recently, the city’s $53 million in federal money coronavirus relief, wouldn’t have happened without Democratic leadership throughout the country.
Landry, who also endorsed the candidacies of incumbent Philip Fields and candidate Omar Sterling McGill for county legislature, urged voters to be “part of history on Nov. 2″ by voting in six candidates of color, the most ever at one time representing the city of Schenectady.
That’s when he was attacked by the campaign sign wielding Dave Ditoro.
‘A slap in the face’
“I think he just wanted to put the sign up there, and he’s just angry and frustrated because I put so much time into this campaign, and wasn’t included” in the rally, Doreen Ditoro said.
She released a statement expressing disappointment with Bellick, calling the campaign rally’s exclusion of her “a slap in the face to a confused and frustrated voting public.”
Doreen Ditoro went on to question if Bellick had an issue with her and Zalewski-Wildzunas because they are “strong, assertive women,” and if he were disregarding the diversity that women bring to political service.
Council Majority Leader John Polimeni and City Councilwoman Carmel Patrick said it was wrong to ignore Ditoro.
“It’s inappropriate not to include Doreen, given that she was the primary winner,” Polimeni said. “The excuse that she’s walking with Karen just doesn’t fly when you have other members who are supporting other candidates as well, so it’s not different rules for different people.”
“I think there’s a crisis of leadership within the city Democratic Party,” Patrick said. “I also think that we’re at a point in our country where we have to start looking at other people that are most qualified to serve in office, and not be just focused on party.”
Stance on police
An important item of note was that Mootooveren shot back any notion that he and his team were in favor of defunding the police (Zalewski-Wildzunas has taken a pro-police position in her Conservative bid for council).
“We support our first responders, and we are dedicated to building on the police reform and reinvention platform,” Mootooveren said. “Public safety is highly important. We need to rebuild trust with our police and all our residents through improved training, greater accountability and the use of mental health professionals in appropriate circumstances.”
Mootooveren said the most important elements of community policing are positive interactions, partnership and problem solving.
“We can build a trusting relationship, to foster collaboration between the community and our police,” he said. “We need to increase civilian education to help community-based crime prevention. There must be a two-way road approach to help bridge the gap between our police and residents. We as citizens need to work with our police department to address the many concerns with an open mind. Our police department has made great strides. It is our duty to support our officers as they work to keep our city safe. I will continue to support our police and fire.”
The Republican candidates are Kevin Hammer, Vivian Parsons and Brendan Nally.