One City Council member is calling for an external investigation into Mayor Gary McCarthy’s encounter with a motorist last week, while the council president is questioning his decision-making.
Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, said he believes there is a conflict of interest with McCarthy’s close ties to the Schenectady Police Department and the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office and that the State Police, or another outside agency, should review the incident.
“He is claiming she did something wrong and she is claiming the mayor did something wrong,” he said. “To put this to bed once and for all we need somebody at arm’s length to look this over.”
Shortly after 1 a.m. on Thursday, May 19, Sarah Dingley, 38, of Rotterdam, called 9-1-1 reporting that a man, who identified himself as the mayor, was following her vehicle, flashing his lights and seemed highly intoxicated.
McCarthy said he decided to follow Dingley and her friend in his vehicle after he saw them possibly picking through garbage or breaking into vehicles near his home on Lexington Avenue. He said he was not intoxicated.
The incident ended at Schenectady Police Headquarters, where McCarthy had followed Dingley. The two were questioned by police separately and not charged with a crime.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney on Friday said that if someone made a complaint about McCarthy to his office he would have to recuse himself because McCarthy worked with him as an investigator for more than 20 years.
“All I know is what I read in the paper,” he said. “I’m not taking a position on it.”
Council President Leesa Perazzo questioned McCarthy’s actions and said she would have handled the situation differently.
“I think letting the police handle the situation from the beginning would have been a good course of action,” she said. “I think he put himself in harm’s way potentially, which I don’t think is the best choice in anyone’s professional position.”
Perazzo said she is standing behind the Police Department’s determination that there was no basis for an arrest.
“At the end of the day, Mayor McCarthy felt very passionate about what this woman was doing and took it into his own hands, which is where I would have done something different,” she said. “But Mayor McCarthy did not threaten her and he was not physical with her. He followed her to try to stop what she was doing.”
She said she would like to discuss the incident with the council but that she doesn’t anticipate that the council will take any course of action.
Council members Ed Kosiur, who serves as majority leader, and Marion Porterfield did not return request for comment on Friday.
The Daily Gazette received the audio of 9-1-1 call and transcript from Schenectady County on Thursday in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. The county denied the Gazette’s FOIL request for camera footage in the area, saying the records are compiled for law enforcement purposes.
“Providing images recorded by the camera can jeopardize the investigative methods utilized by revealing camera locations, functionality, dedication to particular views in connection with specific investigations and connectivity with other cameras and servers,” the county said it was told by District Attorney’s Office.
Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said if the cameras are visible and capture what anybody can see then it is not exempt from the FOIL. If they were hidden cameras then the footage would be exempt, he said.
Riggi said he believes the camera footage should be disclosed. He said the council should get together and determine a course of action.
“I would like to see what the video reveals,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent on us to see what information we get. I think part of that information should be the release of those videos. That’s what they’re there for.”
Riggi is also questioning why police didn’t have McCarthy take a Breathalyzer test at the police station after Dingley repeatedly claimed McCarthy was intoxicated.
“That’s not a good reason to give someone a Breathalyzer? To clear the mayor’s name they should have done that,” he said. “A serious allegation was made against the mayor of the city of Schenectady. That should be put to bed immediately.”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, firstname.lastname@example.org or @HRViccaro on Twitter.