SCHENECTADY — With about a month until Election Day, five of the six City Council candidates gathered at Proctors on Tuesday to share their ideas for the city’s future.
The Daily Gazette hosted a forum for candidates vying for the three open seats on the City Council. All six candidates whose names will appear on the ballot in November were invited, and all but one attended.
Candidates were given one minute to respond to questions, and were allowed opening and closing statements. Topics included taxes, public safety, neighborhood development, blight and each person’s pitch for why he or she should be elected. About 75 residents attended.
The candidates in attendance were Rima Cerrone, Damonni Farley, Mohamed Hafez, Marion Porterfield and Karen Zalewski-WIldzunas. John Mootooveren was not in attendance because of a business obligation.
Here are some highlights of ideas from candidates at the forum:
Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas: The casino and ongoing developments on the surrounding Mohawk Harbor provide potential for growth in the city. That, coupled with getting foreclosed properties back on the tax rolls, would lead to lower taxes.
Marion Porterfield: Porterfield focused on continuing economic development and increasing home ownership and employment for city residents. In addition, the city should work with the City School District to help secure more state funding, since school taxes account for much of a resident’s tax bill.
Mohamed Hafez: Hafez was critical of some of the ongoing development in the city, saying it hasn’t led to affordable housing for residents. The city needs a shared-services plan to lower costs, and needs to renovate blighted properties.
Rima Cerrone: In recent years, property values have been stagnant in the city while taxes remain high. Rent has climbed, making finding affordable housing difficult for some residents.
Damonni Farley: The city is seeing some great economic improvements, but numbers don’t tell the entire story. There are ongoing developments in certain city neighborhoods, but city leaders must ensure the funding for those developments leads to jobs for residents and other local investments.
Public Safety Commissioner
Zalewski-Wildzunas: Former Commissioner Wayne Bennett went beyond the basic duties of the position in many ways. “It’s going to be a very difficult position to fill.” It’s too soon to tell whether Bennett should be replaced.
Porterfield: Before making a final determination on the future of the role, the council will need to discuss its importance for the future. “More than anything the safety of our citizens is a major concern. People need to feel safe in the neighborhoods.”
Hafez: The funds for the position should be reallocated to the Police and Fire departments. The money should be used to focus on programs like community policing and looking at hot spots for crime, or on implementing a satellite police station on Crane Street.
Cerrone: She said she was unfamiliar with all the specific responsibilities of Wayne Bennett in the role of public safety commissioner. She said she’d need to determine what would be lost without the role, and then assess what to do about it.
Farley: “I would like to see funds reallocated to more community policing. When people are familiar with law enforcement, you feel that camaraderie with them. The first time you talk to a police officer shouldn’t be in the midst of a crisis.”
Rivers Casino & Resort
Zalewski-Wildzunas: The casino revenues should stabilize by its third year in business. It’s just one part of a larger development along the river.
Porterfield: While she voted against the casino proposal a few years ago, she’s supportive of the overall harbor development and the jobs it’s providing.
Hafez: The city didn’t do its proper due diligence on the casino proposal and the potential for crime, poverty and addiction that could come with it.
Cerrone: While she’s skeptical of its initial returns, she supports the jobs the casino has brought and the fact that the former Alco site along the river is cleaned up and being put to use.
Farley: Farley was generally supportive of the casino, saying it provides employment for city residents.
Zalewski-Wildzunas: Upper Union Street and Eastern Avenue are in good shape, and Mont Pleasant will be the next major focus, with a new library on the way. “Everything takes time. We have to be realistic with expectations.”
Porterfield: The city has stabilized downtown, and will now look to improve neighborhoods. Demolishing the worst of the blighted properties and turning previously unsightly lots into green space or usable community developments are some solutions.
Hafez: Some neighborhoods aren’t getting their fair share of funding and development. “Go down Crane Street, and go down Upper Union Street. You see a huge difference. That’s because of the intentional neglect of some city administrators.”
Cerrone: There are many blighted houses in every neighborhood throughout the city. “We need to work to ensure houses don’t remain vacant for so long.” Some vacant homes pose a danger to residents or children passing by.
Farley: Residents need job opportunities to spur development and investment in city neighborhoods. The city is making investments,but gainful employment will ensure more residents are part of the city’s growth.
Zalewski-Wildzunas: Working on sales of $1.2 million in city-owned properties is an accomplishment Zalewski-Wildzunas cited, as well as her work on improving city parks.
Porterfield: Porterfield cited her work as chairwoman of the Health and Recreation Committee, and her role in the city hiring an affirmative action officer to increase opportunities for minorities and women.
Hafez: The existing council has served as a rubber stamp on many decisions, Hafez said. He argued he would change that, and would focus on reducing crime and taxes.
Cerrone: Cerrone works as a budget performance manager for the Albany County Airport Authority. Her finance background and time with community organizations would make her a good voice, she said.
Farley: “This is who I am,” Farley said of his years spent volunteering and working within the community. Engaging with the community is a bare minimum for being a good representative, he said, and is something he’s been doing naturally for years.