The crime rate and the unemployment rate have captured the attention of the two candidates running for one seat on the Schenectady City Council.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, the Democrat, is trying to address unemployment by connecting the jobless with training programs that get them to new jobs. Republican challenger Richard Patierne is planning ways to cut the crime rate if he’s elected, both by giving police more resources and convincing more crime witnesses to come forward.
Porterfield, who ran the Weed and Seed program before being appointed to the City Council this year, said she doesn’t consider herself a “true politician.”
Meet the candidates
Ballot lines: Democrat, Working Families
Experience: Appointed to the City Council in 2012; former coordinator of Weed and Seed; trained in community economic development by NeighborWorks America
Education: Graduated from Linton High School; enrolled at SUNY-Empire State College, majoring in community and human services; city resident since elementary school
Ballot lines: Republican, Alliance, Conservative, Independence
Experience: Manages multimillion-dollar budget for Buildings Department at Union College, is a volunteer baseball and football coach, and has owned a house in Schenectady since age 21
Education: Graduated from Linton High School and Schenectady County Community College
“I bring the voice of the community to the table,” she said.
In her seven months on the council, she said she’s most proud of getting more residents involved in government.
Her campaign literature included council meeting dates and how to contact council members, and she encouraged residents to speak out on topics effecting them.
“I think that’s important,” she said. “People should know what’s happening as it happens, so they can give their input.”
In terms of finances, she supports consolidation of certain tasks with the county and other agencies as a way to reduce cost and improve efficiency.
She also wants to connect employers who need help and training agencies that can train residents to do those jobs. She would use her role as a council member to advertise those opportunities in an effort to help people find work, she said.
In many cases, she added, the problem isn’t a lack of jobs but a lack of training for the available jobs.
She’s also working on a plan to fund more small businesses in the city’s residential neighborhoods. She hopes to present it to the Metroplex Development Authority.
“It’s something that’s still developing. You have to have a plan,” she said.
If elected, she hopes to take on the role of liaison to community groups that are working to improve their neighborhoods. She wants to help them find grants to fund the projects and goals listed in the Schenectady 2020 plan.
Porterfield is very familiar with grants from her work with Weed and Seed, a federal program that gave communities grants to “weed out” crime and “seed” positive activities in its place. She ran Schenectady’s program, which worked to get organizations cooperating on initiatives.
However, the federal government decided not to renew Schenectady’s grant after Porterfield failed to file complete paperwork on time. Porterfield insisted she wasn’t to blame.
“It was one thing that happened. We saw it one way, and the federal government saw it another way, so they decided not to fund that particular grant,” she said.
Patierne is hoping to become the second non-Democrat on the City Council. He wants to vote for conservative finance measures along with independent Councilman Vince Riggi and the two Democrats who have generally supported those goals.
That means Patierne, a Republican, has a chance at creating a majority alliance on fiscal discipline — although the Democrats have already responded to the possibility by pushing council members to vote with the party rather than breaking ranks.
In addition to finance matters, Patierne wants to focus on reducing the city’s crime rate. He said he wants to work with police to find out what they need to make a significant cut in crime.
“I want them to have every single tool they need,” he said, adding that he would consider adding officers if the department isn’t “staffed properly.”
He also wants a paid tip line that is widely advertised. The city’s current tip line doesn’t pay tipsters and isn’t well-known.
“The residents have to be involved and they can’t be afraid to send in a tip,” he said. “That’s why we need a confidential tip line.”
He would ask businesses to fund rewards or pay for advertising.
“I’m sure they’d like to see a safer Schenectady, too,” he said.
As for improving the neighborhoods, he wants to focus on paving streets and adding streetlights on dark roads. He would ask the Metroplex Development Authority to fund some of that work.
He also criticized the City Council for holding a closed caucus meeting to discuss their changes to the 2013 budget on Monday. The Democrats — including Porterfield — kicked out Riggi in a legal maneuver and discussed the budget behind closed doors.
Patierne said that should never happen.
“I recognize it was legal, but …” Patierne said. “During probably the most critical budget decision that has to be made, the press isn’t allowed, the public isn’t allowed, and even one of their own councilmen isn’t allowed to be part of the discussion?”
He said he would push for greater openness.
“The transparency has to be there,” he said. “By having these open meetings and transparency, I think we can win back the trust of the people.”