Wednesday, February 29, 2012

City Council letdown

The Schenectady City Council had a big decision to make Monday night and didn't make it. But, while there is likely much hand-wringing and finger-pointing throughout the Electric City this week, the truth is, the Council should never have been put in the situation in which it found itself.

The Council appeared ready to fill a vacancy on the seven-member body that was created when Gary McCarthy was elected mayor. Simple enough, right? Not in Schenectady.

In a display of either arrogance or political stupidity — or both — the Schenectady Democratic Executive Committee anointed community activist Marion Porterfield as the heir apparent to McCarthy's Council seat — months before Election Day. Apparently, the thinking was that McCarthy would win his mayoral race (which he did, by a handful of votes) and that the four Democratic Council candidates would sweep to victory. Except that the voters had other ideas and failed to elect political newcomer John Mootooveren, who ran on the Democratic ticket.

Damn those voters, always trying to affect elections!

Well, the six remaining Council members — who, by the way, are the only ones who have a say in filling the vacancy, according to the City Charter — were split Monday. Three felt Mootooveren, who had been a good soldier and garnered more than 4,000 votes in November, should get the vacant seat. The other three decided to back Porterfield. A 3-3 tie, and the seat stays vacant.

Both Porterfield and Mootooveren would probably make fine Council members, though sources tell me Mootooveren was informed by Democratic leaders that he's done politically for refusing to step aside when it became clear the Council couldn't reach a consensus.

But why were the Council members' backs against the wall in the first place? And why did Porterfield and Mootooveren have to ride the Democrats' political rollercoaster? The answer to both questions, of course, is that party leaders refused to let the Council do its job. Oh, they will stay away when the unpopular decisions have to be made, like a tax increase or a program cut. They head for the hills then. But, give them an opportunity to play party boss; well, they can't resist.

This was far from the first time the party has meddled in the Council's business. But it was one of the most public and, in the end, cost Schenectadians full representation.

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