One of the most controversial and challenging members of the Schenectady City Council has resigned.
Councilman Carl Erikson tendered his resignation at the end of Monday’s council meeting. It came without warning; many of his colleagues only found out moments before the council meeting began.
Erikson, who took a new job with Plug Power in January, has missed some meetings recently. He said he couldn’t balance his council responsibilities and family life with the new job.
He accepted a position at Plug Power after being laid off from General Electric last fall. But the new job is in Latham, with a half-hour commute.
“Really, the challenge became, I used to work three minutes from City Hall,” he said.
He’d meet constituents during his lunch break. He could make it to the 5:30 p.m. committee meetings easily because he could be at City Hall at 5:03 p.m.
But since January, he’s been scheduling constituent meetings for 6 p.m. — missing dinner with his wife and sons, ages 2 and 4. And getting to the committee meetings isn’t easy any more.
“I decided to refocus on my career and my family,” he said in his resignation speech.
He added that he was resigning reluctantly.
“This is a job I take very seriously, very passionate about,” he said.
Some council members wished him well.
“I really appreciate that we don’t always agree with everything but we were still able to discuss it,” Councilwoman Marion Porterfield told him.
Councilman Ed Kosiur, who butted heads with Erikson this year, praised his “leadership” on the city’s finances. Erikson has chaired the finance committee.
But other council members stayed silent. Erikson had been an occasional member of an unlikely alliance with Councilman Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council. At times, with Porterfield or former Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard joining them, they successfully blocked legislation that the other Democrats wanted.
At times he wasn’t very popular with the Democratic committee, and he wasn’t sure he would be endorsed for a second term last year. In the end, after some debate, the committee endorsed him and he won handily, becoming the second-highest vote-getter.
He was optimistic then, saying he had just begun a “long-term strategy” for turning around the city’s finances. He was delighted to have the time to implement his plan.
He did not envision then that he would be resigning nine months later.
During his tenure, he lost one fight that he still wishes he’d won.
He opposed the sales tax agreement with the county, saying he felt the city had negotiated a poor deal.
“I still feel I was right. We should have gotten a better deal,” he said.
But he said he’ll always remember the last big fight that he won.
He refused to vote for the proposed casino until the council agreed to use gambling revenue from the casino to reduce property taxes.
It took weeks of politicking behind the scenes, and several public statements. The Democrats wanted a strong show of support for the casino, in hopes of impressing the state and getting it to give the proposal a license. Only one license will likely be given out in the Capital Region.
So they were willing to dicker, if it meant getting his vote. Finally they agreed to his property tax reduction plan, and in turn, he voted whole-heartedly in support of the casino proposal.
After he resigned, he said that final fight might be the one that influences city finances the most — and saves him money, too.
“If we get a casino, I’m going to be pretty happy,” he said. “I’m going to feel I really played an influential role in that.”