Schenectady

Newly elected Schenectady City Council members seek to move past campaign

From left, clockwise: Carl Williams, John Mootooveren, Damonni Farley, Doreen Ditoro, and Marion Porterfield.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

From left, clockwise: Carl Williams, John Mootooveren, Damonni Farley, Doreen Ditoro, and Marion Porterfield.

SCHENECTADY — A trio of newly elected Democrats are hoping to leave a contentious campaign season behind as they prepare to join the City Council on the heels of Tuesday’s historic election. 

Damonni Farley, Doreen Ditoro and Carl Williams said they are focused on solving the issues facing Schenectady residents as they get set to join a council that, for months, has been fractured by party infighting.

The three will make up the most racially diverse council in the city’s history, with four of the seven members being persons of color.

Farley, the director of city outreach for Schenectady schools, was successful in his bid for a four-year term on the council after knocking off incumbent Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas in the June primary. He sits on a number of city boards but has never been elected.

Ditoro and Williams, meanwhile, were successful in their bids for a pair of unexpired terms following the resignations of Ed Kosiur and Leesa Perazzo last year. The pair are poised to be seated soon after the election is certified because they are filling vacant positions.

Democratic incumbents John Mootooveren and Marion Porterfield were also reelected. Neither returned a request seeking comment.

The election results are expected to be certified by Nov. 27, according to the Schenectady County Board of Elections. A total of 455 absentee ballots must still be counted, though the tally will not change the results of the race.

Farley acknowledged the fractured city government, which spilled over into the campaign season at times, but said it’s imperative that council members move past their disagreements and focus on serving the residents of the city.

He said the council should be focused on “listening and healing” as it seeks to navigate the ongoing recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which includes how best to spend the $53 million the city has received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

He noted that many in the community are still suffering as a result of the pandemic, and believes the funds can be used to help address some of the issues the virus has brought to the forefront. Still, he said it’s vital the council use the money wisely and gain feedback from residents in order to ensure the needs of everyone are being addressed.

“This is a one-time thing, but we want to use this as a seed to grow things that will continue to generate quality of life change,” he said of the federal funds.

His two newly elected counterparts agreed.

Ditoro, who owns and operates Rossi & Ditoro Funeral Home, said she believes the city has taken the right approach when it comes to using the funds by hosting community meetings and a survey to gain feedback.

She ran on a platform of improving city infrastructure and addressing quality of life issues facing residents and believes the funds present an opportunity to make such improvements. But listening to how residents believe the funds should be utilized will be key for the council.

“The people of the city of Schenectady put their trust in me and every one of the council members, and it’s up to us to advocate for the residents of the city,” Ditoro said.

Williams, meanwhile, said he’s focused on learning as much as he can as quickly as he can before assuming his new position. He’s also in the process of setting up meetings with various department heads and reaching out to fellow council members to begin forming a working relationship.

He’s also continuing to reach out to residents and meet with community leaders.

“I don’t believe I have the luxury to make mistakes. … I rose my hand for a reason. I’m not here to waste anyone’s time. I’m truly here to be a resource for the community and there’s an expectation that comes with that. And I’m ready,” he said.

The election comes at a pivotal time for the city.

In addition to dealing with the fallout of the pandemic, the city has been grappling with issues of violence seen throughout cities across the country.

The issue has set off a fierce debate between city officials and community activists on how best to address violent incidents, with some in the community, including several from the Black Lives Matter movement, suggesting a portion of police funding be reallocated to address underlying issues in the community.

But the idea has been rejected by council members, who have said funding the police is a key to public safety.

Ditoro said she “fully backs” police and first responders. She believes the city does an adequate job at providing services to the community but noted there may be room for improvement.

“There could always be more, but I think our city addresses a lot of needs for people who may need help in different areas,” she said. “In this city we have an opportunity for anyone who needs help. … We have all kinds of resources for meals and housing for whoever may need it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have more either. It depends on the needs of our residents.”

But Farley said the debate has been politicized, which has sparked fear and lead to misinformation around the issue.

“It’s kind of like providing a false choice,” he said. “They’re making it an ‘either or’ when it’s really a ‘yes and.’ It’s yes, every one of our city employees needs to have the resources to do their job in a safe and productive way, and we have to make sure that we are equipping the city with the right protective factors and making the right investments with things like mental health and environmental safety that reduces the need to be reactive.”

Williams, who served on the board of the city’s police reform efforts, agreed, adding that people often associate the idea of eliminating police outright.

He believes his experience will help him find a “middle ground” on the issue.

“It’s easier said than done. I understand I was elected for a reason and I think part of that is being the intermediary and find what are our common denominators, what we can agree on, and as long as we’re situating ourselves with bettering the city of Schenectady, I believe all of our discussions will be able to continue,” Williams said.

Asked about the historic nature of the campaign, all three said having a diverse council will position its members to have a greater understanding of issues facing the city.

Ditoro pointed to the diversity beyond race, adding she hopes her campaign will inspire more women to run for office in the future.

Farley and Williams, who are Black, said the council reflects the city, but said getting elected is only the first step.

“Although this is a truly historical moment in my view, it is in no way shape or form done,” Williams said. “This is truly just the beginning and I look forward to the communities that supported me from day one to hold me equally accountable with the rest of my council members as we strive forward to deliver.”

Farley added: “Diversity and representation is extremely important. However, it’s extremely important in the way that we are in our seats due to ideology and ability, not identity. I think that is really important that we recognize as a council that it’s important for people to see a diverse group of people serving a diverse city. … Representation and experience is very important, but not just in the optics, but really in the sense of lived experience, expertise and different perspectives.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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