Go ahead and try to make the argument that Councilman-elect John Mootooveren would have still won a seat on the Schenectady City Council if he had disclosed to the public that he no longer was working as a project accountant for Turner Construction. I dare you to.
For those of you who don’t know, The Gazette’s Kathleen Moore revealed just a few days after the election that Mootooveren failed to tell anyone he lost or left his accounting job over the summer, which was during his campaign for City Council.
To some, that may not sound so bad. However, Mootooveren made matters worse by continuing to reference the job and use it as a selling point to prove he had the credentials to be a councilman after he was no longer employed by Turner. In essence, he deceived voters. By the way, we still don’t know why he no longer works for the company, and maybe that’s not what’s important anymore.
All we know is that voters were left completely in the dark because of his omission of the truth, which is really the same thing as a lie. Unfortunately, because voters are unable to initiate any kind of recall in an attempt to remove him from office and hold a special election, our options are quite limited going forward.
One has no choice but to wonder if there were any other inaccuracies with Mootooveren’s background, seeing that his integrity is now in question. For instance, he claims to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, but according to the Gazette, he “declined to name the college” he received the degree from. So, as far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t officially have an accredited degree in anything.
And don’t tell me Mootooveren would have won a seat on the City Council regardless. We can’t go back in time and play out different hypothetical situations, so there’s no use predicting something that never happened and never will happen.
Unworthy of trust
Even if some voters can or already have forgiven him, how can we trust a man who, when questioned by Ms. Moore with the truth, couldn’t even apologize? In fact, Mootooveren showed absolutely no remorse and boldly proclaimed that it didn’t matter.
So apparently lying about your employment status doesn’t matter, but what really matters, according to Mootooveren, is his “commitment to the people.” I think he fails to see the irony here. When he is eventually sworn in as city councilman, he will pledge to have the utmost integrity for the office he occupies and the constituents he is beholden to. But that’s a commitment he’s already broken before his first day in office.
This raises the question, which is part of a bigger matter, shouldn’t we hold candidates running for local office to the same standards as those running nationally, or even regionally?
I’m not suggesting that we pick apart anyone’s SAT scores or pore over their disciplinary records from first grade, but how are voters supposed to make logical and informed decisions when the background information we have on some local candidates, such as Mootooveren, is incomplete or inaccurate?
Just think about that for a minute. It is egregious for voters not to have all the relevant information of a candidate’s background available to them. Yet, who should we expect to provide this information to us? The media? That seems plausible. The candidates themselves? Not so much.
While both are somewhat to blame for any omissions or inaccuracies, it is really our outdated state election law that is the culprit. It’s been over a decade since the Help America Vote Act was passed, which was the last meaningful package of reforms made to the state’s election law. More reforms are surely needed.
If the Legislature passed an act that made it mandatory for candidates to provide relevant financial, employment and educational background information to the media, there would be no one to blame. After all, these individuals are not being forced to run for public office, so requiring such information from them should not come off as overly intrusive. And keep in mind that a candidate who eventually becomes an elected official will obtain the right to tax and spend. Shouldn’t we make sure we really know our candidates before we decide to give them that sort of power?
But maybe Sara Foss, a columnist for the Gazette, was right when she predicted that this will all blow over. After all, this story hasn’t received much attention, and Mootooveren’s Democratic colleagues appear to be siding with him, or at the very least ignoring and downplaying the matter altogether. The latter is not surprising.
That means it all comes down to the voters. We could demand that the media do a better job at vetting the background information of every candidate. We could call or write our state legislators and demand they reform the election law. Or we could do nothing and, as Mootooveren would say, “move on in life.”
Just whatever happens, again, please don’t tell me he would have been elected if he had disclosed to the public that he lost or left his job. That’s not the point.
Robert Caracciolo lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.