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Community organizer joins City Council race

Community organizer joins City Council race

He sits for interview after announcing intentions on Facebook
Community organizer joins City Council race
Damonni Farley meets with peer mediation students at Schenectady High School in November 2015.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

Sitting in the café at Proctors, Damonni Farley laid out the goals of his campaign for City Council, but paused a few times to greet friends through the building.

In between waves, handshakes and pleasantries, Farley said increasing citizen engagement across the city will lead to better quality of life.

“We all have a stake in this,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to make sure we’re going in the right direction.”

Farley, 36, announced on Facebook a few days ago his intention to run for City Council. It will be his first run for public office after spending his whole life in Schenectady, he said. His platform is centered on bringing back a sense of community within the city, and ensuring all residents benefit from economic improvements, he said.

The Mohawk Harbor development, including Rivers Casino & Resort, as well as the revitalization of downtown, have provided an economic boost to the city, Farley said. He’s hopeful any additional revenue can be used for tangible improvements, such as lower property taxes, better infrastructure and additional recreational activities.

“How do we leverage all the excitement happening downtown so that if I’m a diner in Woodlawn or a small mom-and-pop store in Mont Pleasant, how are we as a city being intentional about looking to say all boats will rise with the tide?” said Farley, who lives in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

The city’s main issue, Farley said, is the property tax rate. He acknowledged it has stabilized or decreased in recent years, but added that he still believes the amount discourages homeownership, which leads to limited investment from residents in what happens in the city.

He also suggested a need for better youth programming, saying younger city residents could benefit from more entrepreneurial and technical opportunities.

“The things that are going on in the city of Schenectady aren’t always unique to the city of Schenectady,” he said. “So what we have to do is focus on the conditions that create those issues. We have to take a systemic approach.”

Farley, who is a community engagement specialist for the Schenectady City School District, joins Mary McClaine, an 84-year-old who frequently speaks out at City Council meetings and has unsuccessfully run for office before, as an outside candidate challenging incumbents John Mootooveren, Marion Porterfield and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas.

The Schenectady Democratic and Republican committees finalized their endorsements in recent weeks for upcoming county, city and town elections. For the City Council race, the Democrats endorsed the three incumbents, while Republicans endorsed Rima Cerrone and Mohamed Hafetz.

Farley, a member of Miracle on Craig Street, Boys Day Out: Youth Enrichment Services and other local groups, accepted there are some challenges with being a first-time candidate and facing incumbents with party support. However, he said, he embraces the underdog role.

“Anytime you’re running against incumbents and endorsed candidates, you’re up against a machine,” he said. “I don’t have nearly the number of volunteers or amount of money that some of the candidates in this race have, but I believe in people. I really do.”

Prospective candidates must acquire signatures from 5 percent of city residents enrolled in the party they are seeking to run under. The percentage is based off enrollment numbers as of April 1.

For example, there were roughly 15,000 registered Democrats in the city of Schenectady just prior to April 1, so Democratic candidates will need about 750 signatures to make it onto the ballot.

Candidates must file completed petitions between July 10 and 13. If more than three candidates turn in a petition for a party, a primary election will be held Sept. 12. 

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