Three people are vying for appointment to the City Council at this weekend’s Democratic City Committee meeting.
But whoever comes out on top may have a long way to go before actually taking the vacant seat on the council.
The committee will recommend an appointee, choosing between Mohammed Hafez, Robert Barnes and Ed Kosiur. However, the City Council made it clear last year that it would not be bound by the committee’s decisions on appointments, and some council members want to hold their own round of interviews.
Education: Graduated from Norwich University with a business degree in management
Job: Contract auditor in the state Office of the Comptroller; Army captain, 1986-90
Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly in 1994 and Schenectady school board in 2010
Family: Married with two children
Education: Graduated from St. John’s University and Stony Brook University with master’s degrees in mathematics and operations research and management
Job: Insurance broker and landlord
Political experience: None
FAMILY: Separated, no children
Education: Graduated from McKinley Vocational High School, Buffalo, where he trained to be a plumber
Job: Assistant to the commissioner of Social Services for youth development; previously was a professional baseball umpire and a plumber
Political experience: City councilman, 2002-03; county legislator, 2004-07; Board of Education member, 2013-14
Family: Married with three children
Several Republicans have also applied directly to the City Council for consideration, while the Democratic City Committee is considering only Democrats.
Meanwhile, the only non-Democrat on the council, Vince Riggi, has proposed the council not appoint anyone. “Let’s leave the seat open. Let the voters decide in November,” he said.
Two sometimes-allies of his, Councilman Carl Erikson and Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, said they could live with or without a vacant seat until the election.
“I wouldn’t be upset if it was vacant,” Erikson said.
But Councilman John Mootooveren and Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo feel strongly that the council must have seven members this year.
“I think the taxpayers should be represented and the seat should be filled,” Mootooveren said, while Perazzo cited a tied vote in executive session Monday as an indication for the need for a seventh member.
Mayor Gary McCarthy is campaigning openly for Kosiur.
He said Kosiur was the “ideal member” because of his experience. Kosiur has been a city councilman and a county legislator and is now on the Board of Education. While some detractors have said Kosiur should not be chosen because of his long background as a politician, McCarthy said that was nonsense.
“When The Gazette goes to hire somebody, do they choose someone in the newspaper business or an auto mechanic?” he asked. “The reality is, people want someone who can do the job, who has the contacts and the experience.”
City Democratic Committee Chairman Richard Naylor said Kosiur has “enormous qualifications.”
Kosiur, who oversees all of Schenectady County’s youth programs, said he would resign from the school board if appointed to the City Council. His term expires in May.
He has already stared calling state and local officials to set in motion the many initiatives he hopes to promote as a council member.
He wants to set up a shared-services plan with the city, county, city school district and Municipal Housing Authority. The state has already offered to send experts to Schenectady to help, he said, estimating the state incentives for the plan could save residents $40 on their city tax bill and more on school taxes.
He also wants to work with the land bank to find a use for Elmer Elementary School, which is slated to close in two years.
“We have to understand, when we close these schools, what are we going to do with these old buildings?” he said, adding that he didn’t want it to sit vacant until it burned down, like the Brandywine School.
He is also working on ways to expand the county’s summer youth employment program and considering ways to expand the summer parks program to Woodlawn Park.
And he wants to start a monthly Coffee with the Council, in which council members would chat with residents at local restaurants.
“I’m very excited about this,” he said, adding that he was aware he might not get appointed.
“But I’m excited about getting in there again,” he said. “I really believe I am the best qualified, coming in.”
The other two candidates know they’re underdogs.
Hafez, a member of the city landlords’ organization and the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association, is hoping his grassroots connections will help him. “I am involved in the community,” he said, adding that because he lived in New York City for decades and works as a small business owner, he brings a different perspective to Schenectady.
“I see things differently,” he said. “There’s huge room for change. You have to be thinking outside the box.”
Hafez was embroiled in a lawsuit with the city last year over whether he was required to let code enforcers into his apartments for rental inspections. He said a forcible search was illegal without a warrant.
The city eventually dropped the case under the agreement that he would get rental certificates and allow the inspections, city officials said.
Robert Barnes is hoping to get the appointment on the strength of his financial background.
As an employee in the state Office of the Comptroller, Barnes audits budgets to make sure municipalities are spending state grants appropriately.
“In my job, I’m trying to save the state money,” he said. “I look for fraud. I look for detailed budgets. I want to make sure the money goes where it’s supposed to be going.”
He also questions municipalities when they report they had only one bidder for the job, so he shares a concern often cited by Councilman Carl Erikson.
“I think I’d be a good fit for City Council,” Barnes said, adding that he thinks he would be a better choice than Kosiur.
“People are tired of that. They want a new face but someone who has experience,” Barnes said. “I understand how everything works.”
The city Democratic Committee will try to choose among the three and make a recommendation Saturday, Naylor said.
He said he released the names of all three because the committee wanted to be transparent and do its “due diligence” as it vetted the candidates.
But he added that no Republicans had a chance at the short list. Some Republicans had said it would be unfair and undemocratic to ignore them, but Naylor said the issue was one of values.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate. We want to adhere to the traditional values of the Democratic Party: working people, women’s rights,” he said, adding that a Republican candidate “just doesn’t fit our values or our platform.”