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Schenectady Councilman under fire for comment many feel was pejorative

Schenectady Councilman under fire for comment many feel was pejorative

Polimeni has since apologized for his remarks
Schenectady Councilman under fire for comment many feel was pejorative
Schenectady City Councilman John Polimeni is shown after taking his oath of office on Jan. 1, 2016 at Proctors GE Theatre.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Outrage is mounting in the black community after a city lawmaker tripped over his words when touting the City Council’s diversity.

“We have four women as members of our council. We have two color — people of color — and we are very fortunate to have such diversity on the council,” said city Councilman John Polimeni.

Polimeni made the remarks during the city’s annual reorganizational meeting and Mayor Gary McCarthy’s State of the City address.

Many attendees at the jam-packed event gasped audibly in the aftermath. 

“I was stunned,” said Angelicia Morris, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission. “I was blown away.” 

The term "colored" is widely considered to be out-of-date and pejorative.

Polimeni delivered his remarks when defending his decision to support City Councilman John Mootooveren as new council president over Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who fell short in her attempt to lead the seven-member body. 

Mootooveren is the first-ever Guyanese to lead the body; Porterfield is black. 

“For someone who works with a diverse constituency, he needs to be culturally aware of what people may find offensive,” Porterfield said. “It’s definitely something he should take a look at, as he works with people of various cultures and ethnicities in the city.”

Polimeni’s comments were discussed during the last Schenectady NAACP meeting. 

Attendees felt like the lawmaker was being dismissive when he told the Times Union reaction to his comments was being politicized and those criticizing him were tied to Schenectady NAACP, Porterfield said.

“It took other people to point it out to him that what he said was offensive,” Porterfield said.

Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Isaacs, a longtime community activist, said she hadn’t heard such language since the 1960s and called on Polimeni to formally make a public apology.

“This should not be happening at this time,” Isaacs said. “He is a dog - he’s shameless. He has no respect for anybody.”

Others said the comment was only the latest in a series of controversial comments by the lawmaker, including referring to undocumented immigrants as "illegals.”

“There is no surprise here,” said Jamaica Miles, state organizing and training director at Citizen Action of New York.

Polimeni attributed his comments to a “misunderstanding.”

“I apologize for any misspoken words and to those who were offended,” he said. “My brain got ahead of my mouth.”

Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas said she is “fully supportive” of her colleague and that his remarks were unintentional and the result of being overly excited over a historic moment for City Council. 

“Everyone at some point in their career has misspoken," Zalewski-Wildzunas said. "There was no malice in this in all — he was just trying to highlight a very good thing happening in Schenectady.”

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