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3 newcomers take on City Council incumbents

3 newcomers take on City Council incumbents

6 candidates vying for 3 open seats
3 newcomers take on City Council incumbents
Schenectady City Council candidates.
Photographer: Gazette file and provided photos

SCHENECTADY — This year’s City Council race sees three Democratic incumbents and three political newcomers vying for three open seats.

The lead up to this year’s election has had its share of drama. Damonni Farley’s efforts to force a Democratic primary were thwarted following a challenge by the party itself. He was thrown off the primary ballot due to invalid signatures, prompting he and his supporters to speak out against the city Democrats who orchestrated the challenge.

The Working Families Party primary results have yet to be certified. Farley and John Mootooveren are expected to appear on the party line in November, though the third qualifier remains a mystery until absentee and write-in results are finalized by the Schenectady County Board of Elections.

On Nov. 7, polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. City residents will have the opportunity to vote for up to three candidates.

Each of the six candidates who filed petitions to appear on the ballot spoke with The Daily Gazette about what they believe are the most pressing issues facing Schenectady, and why voters should support them in November.

Rima Cerrone

Parties: Republican Party, Reform Party, Conservative Party, Green Party

Place of residence: 12309 neighborhood

Occupation: Budget and performance manager at Albany County Airport Authority

Key issues facing the city: “First off, the taxes. They’re extremely high in Schenectady. The quality of life is also an issue, and the protection and safety of our residents here in Schenectady.”

Why she’s running: “I’ve been on neighborhood watch the last three years, I’ve been involved with the neighborhood association and the heroin task force for the past two years. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the community and people that live here in Schenectady.

“I think I can make a difference because I’m one of those people where you can’t just talk about it, you have to do something. I’ve been a budget and performance manager for 20 plus years at the airport, so I can bring something different to the table that other candidates cannot bring.”

Damonni Farley

Parties: Working Families Party, Green Party

Place of residence: Woodlawn neighborhood

Occupation: Community engagement specialist with Schenectady City School District

Key issues facing the city: “We need to lower property taxes. We do that by getting these run-down properties back on the city tax roll, and at the same time providing a safer neighborhood for families. A safer neighborhood means less crime, and a real shot at dealing with this opioid epidemic and domestic violence.”

Why he’s running: “People should vote for me because I am who I say I am. Serving my community is who I am, not just something I do. I have dedicated the last 15 years to improving the quality of life of people who live in Schenectady long before politics was a thought. I’m a life-long resident that remembers the feeling of community that’s seemed to escape us in recent years.”

Mohamed Hafez

Parties: Republican Party, Reform Party, Green Party

Place of residence: Woodlawn neighborhood

Occupation: Owner of Crane Insurance Services

Key issues facing the city: “We do have serious problems with the property taxes that they talk about but aren’t seriously addressing. Crime has been another big issue, and public safety. There’s also the issue of ignoring certain neighborhoods like Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill and now Bellevue, and not giving these neighborhoods their fair share of tax money and development.”

Why he’s running: “I see a need for new blood on the council because some people have been there for years. They’re just rubber stamping decisions made by other people. We need to address serious issues like crime and property taxes more than the way they’ve addressed it in the past.”

John Mootooveren (incumbent since 2013)

Parties: Democratic Party, Conservative Party, Working Families Party, Independence Party

Place of residence: Mont Pleasant neighborhood

Occupation: Accountant for M+W Group USA

Key issues facing the city: “Some of the things I’d like to see continue to happen is I’m very committed to our neighborhood revitalization. It’s very important we don’t turn our backs on the community, and at the same time we have to be supportive of our investors and continue to look at how we can invest in our neighborhoods and downtown and expand our tax base.”

Why he’s running: “I am very progressive, I like to see things get done. Schenectady is on the right track, and we can’t deviate from this progress. We need to keep the current council in place to continue the progress in our city.”

Marion Porterfield (incumbent since 2012)

Parties: Democratic Party, Independence Party

Place of residence: Hamilton Hill neighborhood

Occupation: Director of Job Matching Pathways, a neighborhood employment program

Key issues facing the city: “I think that taxes are huge. The other part is making sure we provide services to our residents in terms of garbage, overgrown weeds, at a point where residents find them acceptable based on the level of taxes they’re paying. Quality of life is a major issue.”

Why she’s running: “I believe I’m a strong advocate for the community and that people can come to me. I think there are various strengths on the council, we all bring our own strength, and we need people with different strengths on there. I also have years of experience, and I’ve been able to be very instrumental in helping bring on board our affirmative action manager.”

Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas (incumbent since 2016)

Parties: Democratic Party, Conservative Party, Independence Party, Women’s Equality Party

Place of residence: 12309/Central Park neighborhood

Occupation: Commercial real estate and lending consultant

Key issues facing the city: “I’m still focused on the finances. We need to ensure that the city moves forward in a good, fiscally responsible manner. We need to make sure we’re cutting property taxes as much as possible without jeopardizing the services we have in place.”

Why she’s running: “I think I’ve added value in my short term on the council. I don’t want to say everything’s been resolved, but we’ve had a great start to resolving constituents’ concerns.

“I think from a fiscal standpoint, my financial background has certainly helped in looking at how we’re moving forward. I’ll get more into it as we approach the budget season, but I think all in all I’m the right candidate with my background.”


If you go

Interested in hearing from the candidates themselves? The Daily Gazette is hosting a candidate forum on Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. at Proctors. The event is open to the public.

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