Subscriber login

Local News
What you need to know for 01/18/2018

Schenectady council candidates offer 6 paths to better city

Schenectady council candidates offer 6 paths to better city

The six candidates running for three City Council seats agree on just one thing: The city is in fina

The six candidates running for three City Council seats agree on just one thing: The city is in financial distress.

But they have six different plans on how to solve that problem, and their ideas vary widely, even within the same political party.

Democratic incumbent Carl Erikson says the city’s biggest challenge is declining revenue.

City Council candidates forum

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday

Where: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

Sponsored by The Daily Gazette

Who’s who

Carl Erikson

Age: 41

Family: Married, two children

Place of residence: North Side neighborhood

Occupation: General Electric manager, working on sales contracts

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business economics from SUNY Oneonta

Politics: Endorsed by Democratic and Independence parties; city councilman since 2010

Joseph Kelleher

Age: 47

Family: Married, two children

Place of residence: Central State neighborhood

Occupation: Performs technical hardware support for Auto/Mate Dealership Systems

Education: Bachelor’s degree in management information technology from DeSales University

Politics: Endorsed by Republican, Alliance and Conservative parties; no previous elected office

Joseph Lazzari

Age: 64

Family: Married, four children

Place of residence: Upper Union neighborhood

Occupation: Retired police officer and Vietnam veteran; works as a Niskayuna bus driver

Education: Associate degree in criminal justice from Schenectady County Community College

Politics: Endorsed by Republican, Alliance and Conservative parties; no previous elected office

Mary McClaine

Age: 80

Family: Married, two children

Place of residence: North Side neighborhood

Occupation: Owns The Button Lady, selling antiques and collectibles at shows

Education: Bachelor’s degree in social sciences from the College of St. Rose

Politics: Endorsed by Republican Party; no previous elected office

John Mootooveren

Age: 41

Family: Married, two children

Place of residence: Mont Pleasant neighborhood

Occupation: Project accountant for a company he is keeping anonymous at his managers’ request

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting (declined to name the college)

Politics: Endorsed by Democratic, Conservative, Working Families and Independence parties

Marion Porterfield

Age: 56

Family: Single

Place of residence: Hamilton Hill neighborhood

Occupation: Community organizer who has worked with Schenectady Weed and Seed, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Community Empowerment Partnership

Education: Graduated from Linton High School; enrolled at SUNY Empire State College, majoring in community and human services

Politics: Endorsed by Democratic, Working Families and Independence parties; city councilwoman since 2012

“We have to figure out a way to provide all the services we’re currently providing,” he said. “And we desperately need to improve our neighborhoods. So we have to provide everything we’re doing now, plus more, for less money.”

Cutting costs doesn’t have to mean cutting out budget items, though, he added.

Code enforcers who inspect apartments could pay for themselves through rental certificate fees.

“That should be paying for itself,” he said, adding that inspectors who cite houses should also cover most of their expenses in fines from those who do not immediately repair the problems.

“Fines are waived if they fix it, but then, a lot of them aren’t fixing it,” he said. “We hired a bunch of people; we should be getting revenue. I think the pressure should be put on to get more results.”

Erikson has also pushed department heads to search harder for more bidders on uniforms, chemicals and other costly items the city buys every year.

When he took office in 2010, many purchases had just one bid. He repeatedly criticized department heads at council meetings and worked with them to rewrite requests for bids and publish them more widely.

Finally, the city started getting multiple bids on many items this year. In one case, the city paid $103,000 for a water line repair after getting eight bids. The top bid was $180,000.

“Success. I’m pretty psyched about that,” Erikson said.

Now. he plans to read vehicle bid requests before they are published in an effort to make them general enough to apply to many vehicle makes. Previous requests were sometimes so specific that they could only apply to one brand of truck.

“When you specify the thickness of the clutch, Dodge knows you’ve already decided what you’re going to buy,” he said.

Erikson has also argued vehemently for funding to replace sidewalks and curbs, which was dropped in 2011 to allow the city to pave more roads. He is now proposing a program in which the city would reimburse residents for part of their sidewalk replacement costs. That money could come from the annual surplus or from the paving program, he said.

Cost-cutting ideas

Ask Republican Mary McClaine what she would do in office and she can rattle off $260,000 in cuts she would have made this year alone.

“Lord knows I’m sure there are more,” she added.

For years, McClaine has been a fixture during the council’s privilege of the floor. She’s well-known for her research of city records using the Freedom of Information Act. And then there are her props, which she uses to illustrate her points.

In meetings around the city, she’s used the same techniques to explain a series of spending cuts she would make — or would have, if she had been able to vote on them this year.

First, she would have voted not to hire a police chief for at least a year, saving $124,000. Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he could manage the department until a new chief was hired, and McClaine said the mayor should have taken him up on that.

She would also cut fluoride from the budget, saving $46,000. Local dentists have spoken in favor of the chemical, which is added to the drinking water and helps lower-income children who do not see a dentist as often. But McClaine noted that fluoride is now in toothpaste and other products. And, she said, the council has to cut something.

“Look, if people say, ‘Don’t touch my sacred cow,’ it’s not going to work. My position is, save the money,” she said.

She would also eliminate health insurance for council members. Council members agreed in 2007 to start paying 20 percent of the cost, but only in exchange for a $4,000 raise.

Three council members use city insurance currently, but it’s not clear whether they have individual or family plans. McClaine conservatively estimated potential savings at $21,000.

“But I’m sure that’s low,” she said.

She would also put a stop to employees taking city vehicles home. Emergency workers get cars because they might need to race back to work, but McClaine said even local hospitals do not give cars to their personnel.

“In Schenectady, they get to take the cars home to wait for a water main to break,” she said.

As for policy changes, she wants to require the police department to offer overtime to the newest, lowest-paid officers first.

“This is how it’s done in the private sector,” she said.

Collaborative efforts

Democrats also have a candidate hoping to build from private-sector successes.

John Mootooveren is taking heart in the recent accomplishments of neighborhood groups who rebuilt a park and cleaned up a business district with a little help from City Hall.

“Teamwork: That’s the only way to move Schenectady forward,” he said.

Workers filled in a pool for the Woodlawn neighborhood and are installing additional trash cans along Albany Street to support a cleanup committee. Mootooveren wants to connect City Hall to the public to encourage such partnerships.

“Bring the community to the table, so we can ask them, ‘What do you need on this street?’ ” he said.

City Hall should work with the Schenectady City School District, too.

“We need to stop saying we are two entities. We are in the same city,” he said.

He also wants to get the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority to expand its matching grants program for business owners who redo their facades.

“I can’t wait to see that spread into all the business corridors in Schenectady,” Mootooveren said.

That, combined with targeted help from the city, will lead to stronger business corridors, he said.

“It’s going to entice people to come, to invest, to live,” he said. “And that will help us with our tax base.”

He plans to also use his 20 years of experience as an accountant to improve the city’s finances.

“We cannot continue to tax the people in Schenectady and increase the fees,” he said. “People are leaving because of that. Bottom line, there should be no tax increase and no fee increase.”

The proposed 2014 budget has a 2.2 percent tax increase, which he wants to cut. He would start by eliminating raises for department heads, who do not have labor contracts guaranteeing their salaries.

“I am not against raises, but I don’t think Schenectady is in a strong financial footing at this point in time,” he said.

He would also question any increased expenses.

“Do we really need it? Is it something of real, dire need? And let them justify it,” he said.

He’ll consider their answers, he added, but something must be cut.

“I will definitely make cuts to the budget. I am not afraid to say that,” he said. “When you look at the budget very carefully, there are certain things you can put on hold and certain things you don’t need to purchase.”

Scrutinizing spending

Republican Joseph Kelleher is also taking aim at the budget.

“Control the taxes by controlling the spending,” he said.

He wants to make sure salaries are “more in line” with salaries in other communities — even if that means renegotiating union contracts.

He’s also not happy with the police department, which has already overspent its overtime budget by $650,000 with three months left in the year.

“Going over budget by as much as we did was irresponsible,” he said.

He is critical of the city’s decision to give $500,000 to the Galesi Group as well. That money will be used to demolish the former Schenectady County Department of Social Services building on Nott Street, which Galesi owns.

“The city residents should not have to fund a private deal by a private developer,” Kelleher said.

He also wants the city to cut back on take-home vehicles. Many city employees are allowed to drive their city vehicles home every day, including police evidence technicians, K-9 officers and sewer and water workers, but some drive many miles to homes outside of the city and in some cases outside of the county. The city pays for the gas as well as maintenance and insurance.

“It’s foolish for a city to be paying all that extra,” Kelleher said.

Like Erikson, he also wants to fix the city’s cracked and broken sidewalks.

He suggested announcing a “holiday” on fees for sidewalk replacement or offering to have the city pick up the old concrete so residents do not have to pay for disposal.

“There are programs in many surrounding municipalities that have done that for their residents,” he said.

More jobs, less litter

Democratic Councilwoman Marion Porterfield is already working on neighborhood programs.

She spent months crunching numbers and doing research to create a jobs program for city residents after campaigning on the issue last year. She’s working with Better Neighborhoods Inc. to offer the program, dubbed Job Matching Pathways.

A significant change in employment could “transform” the community, she said.

“It helps bring up neighborhoods; it helps us all around,” she said.

The program is expected to start this year.

Porterfield is also active on the committee to clean up the Albany Street business corridor. That neighborhood group has managed to persuade about half of the business owners to sweep up litter in front of their stores every day, and their work has gotten the attention of the city.

Trash collectors are now emptying the street’s public trash cans twice a week, rather than once, and city workers may start citing business owners who refuse to join in the cleanup.

Porterfield hopes the cleaner street will attract new businesses.

“We’d like to see it thrive again,” she said. “Part of that is making it look attractive.”

She wants to expand the effort to the entire city, hoping to attract new residents as well.

“I’m really interested in an anti-litter campaign,” she said. “We really need to clean up the litter. We really, really do. If it’s not appealing to the eye, people are not going to want to live here.”

She plans to ask every neighborhood association to work on litter in their areas. She also wants to call in nonprofits and business owners.

“It has to be everybody who possibly can,” she said. “All hands on deck.”

If the streets can be kept clean, she added, litterers might be more inclined to hang onto their trash until they reach a garbage can.

“We want to have it so they don’t feel comfortable littering,” she said.

Politically, Porterfield has been running for office for nearly two years. She lobbied to be appointed to fill a vacancy last year, then won a primary and a general election to keep the seat. She must win this year to earn a full, four-year term on the council.

She is the first black woman to be elected to the council in its history.

‘Councilman on Patrol’

Also focusing on neighborhoods is Conservative Joseph Lazzari, who patrolled the city for years on a police bicycle. He wants to hit the streets again.

“I’m going to be a COP again: Councilman On Patrol,” he said.

He wants to look for blighted houses to report to code enforcement, as well as locating missing or hidden street signs, sunken manhole covers and other quality of life issues.

“Little things like that,” he said. “I’ll see what needs to be addressed.”

Biking will also make him easily available to residents, he said, adding that he’ll be collecting complaints.

“I’m trying to make people’s lives better,” he said.

He also wants to start an anti-litter campaign.

“I can’t stand litter. It really brings down the city,” he said. “There’s no reason to be a slob.”

He plans to focus on the business districts and the neighborhoods, trying to improve them. Litter, he said, is the first step.

“A clean city is so much more appealing than a dirty city. I know it’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference,” he said.

He is also critical of some of the City Council’s financial choices. The council needs a second non-Democrat to offer “more diversity” as it makes decisions, he said.

He would take a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to decision-making.

“With the facts and a little bit of logic, you can come to a pretty good conclusion,” he said.

He also vowed to never allow or participate in council meetings from which some members are barred. Democrats have on several occasions barred independent Councilman Vince Riggi from meetings on major issues like the budget, which they can do legally by declaring the meeting to be a caucus.

“I won’t do that. None of these covert meetings where a council member can’t attend. That’s baloney,” Lazzari said.

Lazzari said residents can trust him not to push a secret agenda, either.

“What I’m going to bring is a very, very disciplined, military background,” he said. “Integrity, service before self and strive for excellence.”

And, he added, he isn’t beholden to anyone.

“Do I need this job? No. I’ve got two nice pensions,” he said. “I thought I made a pretty good difference as a police officer, and I want to make a difference.”

View Comments
Hide Comments
0 premium 1 premium 2 premium 3 premium 4 premium 5 premium article articles remaining SUBSCRIBE TODAY

You have reached your monthly premium content limit.

Continue to enjoy Daily Gazette premium content by becoming a subscriber.
Already a subscriber? Log In