Schenectady councilman may face opposition from his own party

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
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— It turns out some Democratic committeemen don’t want a councilman who sometimes agrees with the opposition.

Councilman Carl Erikson is in danger of not being endorsed for a second term when the city Democratic Committee meets next week. His term is up this year, and without an endorsement he can’t run for re-election unless he wins a primary or takes an endorsement from another party.

Generally, incumbents are endorsed without debate. But this time, some committee members are upset that Erikson doesn’t always vote with his party — and on those occasions, he seems to agree with the only non-Democrat on the council.

Committee Chairman Richard Naylor said committee members aren’t happy with that “dynamic.”

Last year, Erikson voted with Democrat Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard and independent Councilman Vince Riggi to block the purchase of police vans for the evidence technicians.

In that case, Erikson insisted on cheaper vans, criticizing the purchase of what he considered to be luxurious and unnecessary SUVs. Eventually, when the police agreed to buy cheaper vans, he voted to support the purchase.

On other occasions he and Riggi have both criticized legislation. Although Erikson usually went on to vote with the Democrats while Riggi voted “no,” Erikson’s critical comments have raised eyebrows, especially when they aligned with Riggi’s votes.

“Some neighborhood leaders and committee members have noticed a dynamic,” Naylor said.

He added that committee members are not rejecting Erikson solely because he voted unsuccessfully against the city-county sales tax contract and supported John Mootooveren over Marion Porterfield when the two Democrats were vying for appointment to the council last year. Those were the two biggest controversies of the year.

Instead, they’re upset with smaller issues on which Erikson criticized city officials but eventually voted to support them.

Naylor also said that some committee members want to keep Erikson on the council. “He certainly has supporters, and he certainly has some opposition as well,” Naylor said. “There has been some dissension but we don’t know what level it’s at.”

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who also needs an endorsement to run on the Democratic line this fall, said she couldn’t understand why Erikson wouldn’t be endorsed.

She said committee members are wrong to think that Erikson is a firm Riggi ally.

“I don’t think he votes because Vince Riggi is voting that way,” she said. “I firmly believe he votes in conscience.”

She added that she thinks Erikson is a valuable council member.

“We all bring good things to the table,” she said.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, who has butted heads with Erikson at times, said the council has sometimes struggled to avoid tied votes in which Erikson considered voting against legislation that she supported.

But, she said, it wasn’t fair to solely blame Erikson for those situations.

“I wouldn’t pin that on Carl,” she said. “I don’t always agree with Carl, but Carl always does his homework. He bases his decision on what he feels is best for the city.”

And, she added, getting rid of Erikson won’t guarantee that the Democrats will never again disagree.

“I think there are issues we don’t always see eye-to-eye on, but that will always happen,” she said. “Although I am a very, very proud Democrat and the majority of my beliefs align with the Democratic Party, I am still an individual. My job is to vote as best as I see fit.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy, who argued vehemently with Erikson on the sales tax contract, said he supports Erikson too.

“He offers a different perspective,” McCarthy said, adding that he has mentored Erikson, who was his campaign treasurer.

“He just left the office,” McCarthy said. “I gave him some advice. You’ve got to put your head down and keep pushing forward.”

McCarthy said he wasn’t lobbying behind the scenes to get Erikson off the council.

“I am not going to get into the debate. I’m not looking to participate in it,” he said. “I have not said anything to anybody.”

County Attorney Chris Gardner, who with McCarthy is one of the strongest voices in the local Democratic Party, said he also isn’t gunning for Erikson. He said he isn’t holding a grudge over the sales tax contract that he negotiated and pushed through despite Erikson’s opposition.

“There have been a lot of councilmen over the years that have voted against tax deals I worked on, and some have been my good friends,” Gardner said.

And he noted that Erikson didn’t succeed in killing the deal.

But it came close. Riggi voted no. So did Erikson. Had just one more council member switched sides, the contract would not have passed.

That’s the sort of Riggi-Erikson vote that caught some committee members’ attention.

Riggi laughed at the idea that Erikson is a close ally, noting that Erikson often voted with his party even though he had expressed concerns about the issue.

“He shows some independent tendencies, but a lot of times, when push comes to shove, he goes along with his party,” Riggi said.

He suspected the committee was simply trying to rein in Erikson’s “independent tendencies.”

“My opinion is they’re trying to get him in line,” Riggi said.

Erikson said he’s learned how to negotiate and push for change slowly.

“This is one of the jobs that can be incredibly frustrating at times, because we’re trying to get important things done and they don’t have easy answers,” he said. “But it can be incredibly rewarding when you can make a difference.”

After two years, he finally got the city to change its purchasing policies, putting bid announcements online to get more bidders and thus get lower prices. The sales tax deal that he opposed last year also included one item he wanted: the county has partnered with the city on purchasing.

That consolidation, plus his regular criticism of contracts that had only one bidder, has finally started to bear fruit.

The chemicals that the city must buy every year have gone up in price regularly, with just one bidder each time. But this year, the price went down — and there were multiple bidders.

“It’s a little thing,” Erikson said. “But when you take into consideration all the purchasing going forward, it adds up to something significant.”

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February 27, 2013
6:16 a.m.
safny says...

Jerks. Keep spending our money unnecessarily til no one's left. I'd vote for him or Riggi, none of those others.

February 27, 2013
7:06 a.m.
justapto says...

Bung of self serving greedy people who say Tow the Party Line and to he'll with the city tax payers. How many of these one bid contracts went to special interests with us overpaying with our tax dollars.
I only wish Neal Golub and Roger Hull would re-emerge. I will gladly pound the streets and get out the vote for them.
Golub put his money into a headquarters in Schenectady. Thank You one thousand time.
Vote the McCarthy 'team players' OUT!!!

February 27, 2013
9:28 a.m.

Golub put OUR coupon bait n switch funds into our city and philanthropic hedges. They deserve no special note. Mayor, council president, and Erickson are only ones smarter than their party chair. Riggi reigns by dint of perseverance and other's lassitude about Bellevue.

February 27, 2013
9:42 a.m.
fjcjr says...

Carl Erickson has more intelligence and ability than any other person in City government. The fact that he is capable of independent thought is a huge benefit to the tax payers in Schenectady. It's obvious why the party wants him out - he thinks for himself. Hence, Erickson is not the problem, it the rest of the leadership that has to go!

February 27, 2013
9:55 a.m.
comanche says...

Hows that for doing what you feel is best for the city. Follow and get in line with the majority democrats even if it leads into a ditch, or we leave you behind. Makes the Republicans look like Boy Scouts.

February 27, 2013
10:03 a.m.
reader1 says...

Brilliant - the Council person with the strongest resume and experience re: running a business the size of the City and some want to get rid of him.

Wrong headed, political partisanship at its' worst.

February 27, 2013
10:04 a.m.
schdyres1 says...
(This comment was removed by the site staff.)
February 27, 2013
10:09 a.m.
schdyres1 says...

If Carl continues on his path of thinking for himself, and supporting legislation that is researched and fair to the taxpayers, he'll have my vote whether supported by his party, or not.
There's been too much "sticking together," such as the county sales tax distribution which Carl rightly saw as detrimental to the city.
Stay on the course, Carl.

February 27, 2013
10:12 a.m.
schdyres1 says...
(This comment was removed by the site staff.)
February 27, 2013
11:21 a.m.
cidbil says...

Oh yeah, Carl is a real pioneer for independence.......all he's done is ask a few questions, and then vote along party lines anyway...........not exactly a renegade IMHO..

February 27, 2013
11:50 a.m.
cidbil says...

A few more thoughts on the "rebel" Carl:

This is staged. It's part of the show. It is a manufactured controversy to give an appearance the Democrat Party is diverse with many opinions within the party, and the city is not "one party rule". No need to vote republican because there are democrats that are critical of their own members and can check their own power.

At the end of the day, after playing make believe that he's a rebel democrat, he will get the endorsement and go back to walking lockstep with the party until next election.

February 27, 2013
12:37 p.m.
justapto says...

Seems some of the posters here are 'afraid' that the truth is finally coming out concerning the special interests and the Democrat party. If not for the city unions, (who depend on their pay checks off the backs of taxpayers), and the insider dealers with the city, (check the purchasing history and you will find several well known connected and influencial merchants), the Democrat party would lose every election.
Go ahead and bash Golub for moving people from Rotterdam to the city and all the work Roger Hull put into getting Union college to volunteer to do clean ups, revive Seward place and finally his decision to retire here instead of Florida.
Why these two great men work selfishly for Schenectady is beyond me. After the last election was rigged and corrupted against them with the smear campaign doesn't surprise me that they are now low key. Vince Riggie is an elected councilmember who is shut out of all meeting, decisions and knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors. This is Democracy at work??
Property values continue to decline, sales are still rock bottom, the taxes are the highest in the state, the county is the smallest in size yet we have the biggest government expense. Bless you all if you still invest in Schenectady and are proud to say so in the company of other local leaders from Albany, Saratoga, Glens Falls etc.

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