Racial tensions erupt at Schenectady City Council meeting – The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY — Long-simmering tensions between city council members boiled over on Monday when several lawmakers accused each other of racism following the last-minute cancellation of a public meeting scheduled for last week.

Monday’s public fallout is the latest in a series of incidents that have highlighted the racial divide between the all-Democratic council that dates back to last year’s election, and marks the second time this year that a member of the practicing council of color accuses a white colleague of being racist.

The latest incident dates back to last Friday, when the city issued a notice of postponement of a public meeting scheduled weeks ago to hear residents talk about housing issues, just hours before the meeting was to start, in due to “unforeseen circumstances”. .” The notice said the meeting had been rescheduled for October 5, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Shortly after the notice was published, Councilor John Polimeni issued a press release criticizing the postponement and the rescheduled date, accusing Council President Marion Porterfield and members Carl Williams, John Mootooveren and Damonni Farley of having moved the meeting at the last minute because they either wanted to exclude fellow legislators and community members from attending, or because they forgot the meeting was scheduled.

The statement said Polimeni and board members Carmel Patrick and Doreen Ditoro were “surprised” the meeting was postponed without their input and said the postponed Yom Kippur holiday date showed a “gross lack of inclusiveness.” and respect”.

“It appears the town hall was canceled to prevent owners and/or council members from present, or simply because council members Williams, Farley, Porterfield and Mootooveren forgot the meeting,” the statement read. “Once again, the lack of leadership and intentionality from board members Williams, Farley, Porterfield and Mootooveren is appalling. The public deserves far better.

On Monday, Williams, who has championed holding town hall for months and was the main organizer of the event, read a prepared statement taking responsibility for the confusion created by the postponement, which he said was necessary because he and his 15 month old child were sick and his wife was out of town.

But he lambasted Polimeni for his statement, which he said misinterpreted the reasoning behind the meeting’s cancellation and only served to banish members of the colored council, which, he said. said, Polimeni has done so repeatedly in recent months.

Williams, Farley and Porterfield are black and Mootooveren is Guyanese. Council members Polimeni, Patrick and Ditoro are white. The council has been split into two factions in recent months, with lawmakers of color representing the more progressive wing, while white council members represent a more moderate faction.

“It is truly unfortunate that the events surrounding the recent cancellation of Friday’s town hall have been grossly misrepresented by Councilor Polimeni, who continues his narrative of banishing people of color from council,” Williams said. “It ironically seems that the individual most opposed to this event happening is now the loudest voice and criticism of this cancellation.”

Williams has pushed the idea of ​​holding quarterly city council meetings outside city hall since January, an idea opposed by Polimeni, Patrick and Ditoro, who have argued that meetings should be held at the center of city government. the city. It was Polimeni who suggested holding a community town hall instead.

Polimeni fired back in a self-prepared statement, in which he criticized a statement Williams had released a few days earlier on Talk1300 AM, in which Williams allegedly said Polimeni disputed that a majority of the board was made up of people of color. .

The daily gazette was unable to obtain a recording of the comments and Williams declined to provide a copy of the statement to the newspaper on Tuesday. He, however, said his comments were “misinterpreted”.

“I prefer to put this incident behind me and move on to a bigger issue that our residents have entrusted to us,” Williams said.

Polimeni, meanwhile, called Williams a liar and demanded a public apology.

He said he’s had enough of Williams accusing other lawmakers of being racist every time they disagree with his ideas, which he says will stunt economic development, make the city less safe and will increase property taxes for residents.

Polimeni pointed to how the board has allocated millions of dollars to American Rescue Plan Act funds in recent weeks as an example of bad policy and an excuse for how Williams has sought to deflect blame.

Polimeni criticized the ARPA process, accusing some council members of funding their political allies with the funds instead of advancing repairs to the city’s infrastructure.

“All your antics only incite racism that must be eliminated from this land,” he said. “Your actions are disgusting. One day, like all of us, you will have to answer to your creator. My ethics and my morals dictate it. I know where I am. I sincerely hope that you will make atonement for your despicable deeds.

Polimeni also apologized to Farley and Mootooveren for saying they were involved in the cancellation of the meeting.

Tensions between city council members have been apparent for more than a year and first emerged in the run-up to last year’s election, which was shrouded in racial overtones, accusations of oppression and discrimination. calls for a new party leadership.

Earlier this year, Mootooveren told the Daily Gazette he believed white council members were fueling racist incidents at city council meetings, pointing to an incident last year when a group of candidates of color made an announcement of campaign and were disrupted by a group of white candidates.

Porterfield also addressed the incident on Monday, saying the contestants — including herself, Mootooveren, Farley and Williams — never asked for an apology for the incident. She also said someone on the council told her they “shut down” whenever racial issues were raised, although she did not name the individual.

“We all have different feelings about different things,” she said. “But I don’t want it to be misinterpreted that only people of color have a problem in this council because that’s not what’s happening here.”

Since last year’s election, the Board has mostly adopted procedural items and has yet to address any substantive matters apart from the allocation of ARPA funds, which has been widely criticized by community members for its lack of transparency.

There have been discussions about lowering the speed limit, stabilizing rents, and cracking down on noise and litter, but no formal legislation has been approved.

City Republicans, meanwhile, released a statement on social media calling the meeting an “embarrassment.” Several members of the organization, including Claudia Cavanagh and Vice President Tom Kennedy, have come out in favor of Polimeni.

“Last night’s City Council meeting highlighted racial and political divisions among Democrats,” the committee wrote on Facebook. “Overall it was a disgrace.”

Patrick, meanwhile, said she was disappointed by Williams’ “unfounded accusations” against Polimeni, which she said extended to other white members of the Council.

“I’m thoroughly tired of Mr. Williams subtly and not so subtly playing the race card. Although his comments were directed at Mr. Polimeni, I too feel personally betrayed,” Patrick said. personally attacked, and I feel frustrated that a majority of this council acts as if it were the only one representing all the people of Schenectady.”

Ditoro called for unity among lawmakers and said council members must put aside their differences to move the city forward.

“All I know is we’re all good, man. We are all fine,” she said. “So let’s start acting like we’re good. Let’s start working together. Enough is enough is enough.

But Farley defended Williams’ comments, saying Williams’ statement is not just an opinion, but rather an opinion based on facts, adding that the Polimeni’s decision to accuse lawmakers of color of conspiring to canceling last week’s meeting was just the latest example of racism being demonstrated. These last months.

He also said Polimeni’s past comments calling people of color “colored” and accusing lawmakers of using ARPA money to fund political allies demonstrate a pattern of behavior that must be called out. Polimeni on Tuesday said he had never used the term “colorful” and said Farley was repeating a claim that was not true.

“We have four women on our board. We have two colors – people of color – and we are very fortunate to have such diversity on the council,” Polimeni said during a State of the City address two years ago, while touting the diversity of the city council.

He later apologized for what he called “mispronounced words” saying his “brain got ahead of his mouth”.

“You can’t use the terms you use, you can’t make the accusations you make, and you can’t associate all people of color with a situation that you think is inappropriate because it’s problematic, and yes, it’s racist,” Farley said. “And those around you who don’t tell you allow it.”

He added: “All of us – none of us are perfect and none of us should be afraid to be better. But what you did was wrong. What you did was racist and you have to stop and you have to control yourself.

Mayor Gary McCarthy, meanwhile, urged lawmakers to put aside their differences and work to move the city forward.

“We have a pretty impressive record in this city,” said McCarthy, who is also a Democrat. “People come here to see what is being done in the police department. Things that are done in the fire department. Some of the engineering stuff that we do, some of the smart city stuff.

“I’ll tell you right now, there’s no one calling the city to see how the city council is run. I would ask you to collectively reconsider some of the things that you are doing, to leverage your strengths, your talents, and to develop an agenda to move us forward and chart things out.

Contact journalist Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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