Schenectady councilman may face opposition from his own party
SCHENECTADY 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.”