AMSTERDAM -- The Amsterdam Democratic Party Committee will interview candidates for the city's 3rd Ward council seat Wednesday night, a week after the committee's first choice was rebuffed by Deputy Mayor James Martuscello.
The seat is to be vacated by 3rd Ward Alderman Chad Majewski, who announced his intent to resign as of July 1. After that, the Common Council has 30 days to fill the seat.
The city charter requires the council seat be filled by someone of the same party as the most recently elected alderman from that ward -- in this case, a Democrat, but the Common Council has the authority to choose the Democrat.
A subcommittee of the city's Democratic Party Committee initially chose Irene Collins, the former deputy comptroller for the city of Mount Vernon, to fill the spot, but Martuscello favors former alderman Art Iannuzzi.
Martuscello said he doesn't like how the city committee formed its candidate search committee -- without including himself and Fourth Ward Alderman Rodney Wojnar, both of whom are elected Democrats. He said the committee's choice to interview candidates now is an insult to both Collins and Iannuzzi, because committee members have already expressed support for Collins.
"[The Democratic Committee] handed me a letter and said, 'This is who we recommend.' So, I took the letter into consideration," Martuscello said. "I know of her because she ran for comptroller. She's a nice woman. My family knows her; they talk very highly of her, but I've never met her."
Fabrizia Rodriguez said Martuscello is a member of the city Democratic Party Committee, but he doesn't come to their meetings. She said if he had come to their most recent meeting, he could have voted against endorsing Collins and voted in favor of Iannuzzi, but he did not. She said the committee has decided to address Martuscello's criticisms of the process by interviewing interested party members for the seat Wednesday, at 128 Market St., but she said she believes the committee remains committed to Collins.
"Everybody was invited to the meeting on the 13th where we were going to talk about it and discuss, and [Martuscello] didn't show up," she said.
Rodriguez said members of the city committee believe that if Collins is appointed to the 3rd ward seat, she will be the first person of Hispanic descent to serve on Amsterdam's Common Council.
Wojnar said he has received pressure from members of the Democratic Party Committee to support Collins or face the possibility of a Democratic Party primary opponent. Wojnar is a registered Democrat but was elected as an independent. He said he believes there is lingering animosity between members of the committee who were associated with former Mayor Ann Thane's administration and the current elected Democrats.
"The city committee has its own agenda. Most of those people are from the Thane administration, and for whatever reason, there is some type of hardship there. I can't put my finger on it," he said.
Rodriguez said she is not aware of any Democratic party primary political threats to Wojnar or Martuscello.
"I haven't heard anybody say that, but I will tell you that our bylaws say that any county Democratic member can not publicly endorse somebody that the committee has not," she said.
Whoever is appointed to Majewski's seat will only serve until January, unless he or she is elected in a special election in November. The winner of the November election will serve the final year of Majewski's term in 2019, during which there will be another election in November of 2019 for a full two-year term for the council seat.
Martuscello said that, although he likes and respects Iannuzzi from their time serving on the council together, he has not decided whether he'll vote for him or Collins. He said one one issue that will be important to him is who intends to run in November.
Both Collins and Iannuzzi told The Daily Gazette Tuesday they intend to run in November for the 3rd ward council seat, regardless of whom the council chooses to replace Majewski in July.