SCHENECTADY — Schenectady City Councilman Carl Williams rebutted critiques of the City Council’s 2022 output in an impassioned address during Monday’s council meeting.
Councilman John Polimeni at the City Council’s Dec. 27 meeting opined that the council had not had a successful year in getting things done. On Monday, Williams offered a counterpoint.
Reading from prepared remarks, Williams recapped his first year on the council in 2022.
“Optimism is one of the most important human traits,” he said. “It allows us to push forward to a brighter future and evolve our ideas and act upon those ideas in our most difficult moments. Before I contemplated running for office, I leaned heavily upon my military corps values to make the best informed decision for my family and our community. As a newly elected council member, I fully embraced partnering with our residents and staff to increase transparency and inclusion as two of my guiding principles to see Schenectady reach higher heights.
“After a year of failed attempts by obstructionists … I remain optimistic,” Williams said during the meeting, apparently referring in part to Polimeni.
On Tuesday, Polimeni took umbrage with Williams’ characterization.
“It’s not obstructionism if there’s a disagreement,” Polimeni said. “That’s what we’re there to do. I’m there to represent the people of the city and a lot of people oppose many of the ideas that they’ve been for. If I don’t think these are good ideas, then I’ll oppose it. They [Williams, Council President Marion Porterfield, and Councilmen John Mootooveren and Damonni Farley] have four votes, so how can it be obstructionist?”
Williams, who is Black, explained that earlier in the evening he had learned that a piece of hate mail targeting him had arrived at his home.
“I remain optimistic despite my wife receiving a piece of hate mail at our house this evening while tending to a 19-month-old daughter,” he said. “Despite these challenges, I remain optimistic and will not be deterred because failure is not an option.”
Williams, 33, rebuked Polimeni’s year-end speech, which criticized fee increases passed in the city budget and the process by which the council distributed $25.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds last summer.
“As civil servants it’s our utmost duty to put aside trivial disagreements and pursuits to steward this community forward, not backward,” Williams said with his voice rising for emphasis. “As the youngest member of this council, I bring a unique and much-needed perspective. It’s through my youthful eyes, my innovative mind and unrelenting energy that I boldly set into tomorrow with confidence that our actions today have meaning. That is why I cannot allow negative end-of-year comments made by one of our members to be the culminating words of our work.”
Williams noted during the speech that he was proud that the council had allocated ARPA funding this summer “in a manner equitably appropriate for underserved communities of color.”
He also credited the council with passing resolutions honoring often-overlooked members of the community, including the Schenectady Belmont Pop Warner football and the team’s cheer squad.
“Our city should be proud of our achievements and our steps forward towards progress,” Williams said. “Fear-mongering is a cry of those seeking to escape or avoid difficult struggles.”
Polimeni said the current tenor of the board is still civil enough to produce results.
“Hopefully it’s workable,” he said on Tuesday. “The idea is that if there’s good ideas they will pass and they’ll move forward for the benefit of the people in the city.”
Following Williams’ remarks, Councilman Damonni Farley took the microphone and noted that while he wasn’t planning on speaking, he felt compelled to echo Williams’ comments while noting that himself and Porterfield, who are also Black, had also received hate mail while serving on the council.
“I know that our council president [Porterfield] has received some [hate] mail and unfortunately I count myself as among those who have received some divisive and racially charged mail,” Farley said during the meeting.
Porterfield said she was disheartened to learn about the hate letter sent to Williams.
“I just heard tonight about the letter that went to Councilman Williams’ home,” she said during the Monday meeting. “It’s unfortunate and it’s hard to believe that in 2023, and it’s heart wrenching to believe that this is where we still are in this time. But we can’t control other people’s behavior. The only thing we can do is step above that and just remember that our diversity is our strength and we have to decide amongst ourselves what type of leadership we want to show. We can disagree on various things, but to be disagreeable and divisive is not helping anyone.”