Carl Erikson initially got his seat on Schenectady’s City Council four years ago the way most Democrats have over the past decade: He was appointed by the Democratic majority when a fellow council member moved on for one reason or another. In nearly all cases, the appointments have been of like-minded Democrats ‑ go-along, get-along party types who, as most followers of Schenectady politics are aware, think and vote the way the people who appointed them do.
Erikson was a refreshing exception, which is why his surprise resignation Monday night for what seem like valid personal reasons, is disappointing.
He may have been a Democrat (not that party affiliation means that much in local politics), and he may have voted with his Democratic colleagues on many issues. But when his views diverged with theirs, and of the Democratic mayor or the Democratic Party committee, he wasn’t afraid to say so - loudly and repeatedly. And he stuck to his guns, in spite of their efforts to bend him, even when doing so jeopardized his standing within the party.
That’s a refreshing thing in politics ‑ especially in a municipality like Schenectady, with one-party rule. (The only non-Democrat on the Schenectady Council in recent memory is unaffiliated Vince Riggi, whom Erikson occasionally allied with when trying to break the majority’s stranglehold on certain issues.)
The council’s casino vote in June is but one example: Erikson refused to rubber-stamp the Erie Boulevard plan, withholding support until he got a commitment for badly needed property tax relief written into the legislation. Erikson bucked his party leadership’s line on other issues during his tenure, like the county sales tax formula and the purchase of gas-guzzling vans for the police department’s evidence technicians.
Indeed, Erikson was a maverick, the rarest of species in Schenectady politics. Perhaps there would be more like him if most of them didn’t ascend to their jobs via the appointment route (as Peggy King, Ed Kosiur, and Marion Porterfield on the current council did).
But Erikson is living proof that even appointed council people can have backbones. Schenectadians should hope that whoever gets the council’s nod to keep Erikson’s seat warm for the next few months has one. Leaving it vacant until then might be a better way to ensure an independent thinker, but that’s not likely to happen.
Let's then hope the voters see the value in such independent-mindedness and make the right decision for themselves in November.