It’s hard to for me to not comment on local affairs when stories like this, written by Recorder superstar reporter Jessica Maher, are begging for further commentary.
One theme brought out in the story is whether Amsterdam should continue to have wards, or elect representatives on an “at-large” basis. I have to agree with that sentiment.
This year, all Common Council races were contested. Unfortunately, many races saw candidates who would be an asset to Amsterdam, but they couldn’t win because of the ward system
By way of example, here’s what I thought of the candidates, from strongest to weakest:
1. Julie Pierce
2. Gina DeRossi
3. Kevin Phelps
4. Joe Isabel
5. Chad Ahr
6. Robert Martin
7. William Wills
8. Robin Raciborski
9. Diane Hatzenbuhler
10. Ronald Wierzbicki
11. Richard Leggiero
12. Mark Capone
If the city voted on the candidates based on the order I have listed, the 1st and 2nd Wards would have the majority representation on the council. However, if you added two at-large positions, there would be another 3rd Ward representative and someone from the 4th Ward.
The 5th Ward, as it stands, would have no direct representation, but the problem there is while Leggiero is fantastic at addressing the so-called “hyper-local” needs of his constituency, I have to agree that the 5th Ward is mostly a South Side district.
So why get rid of the ward system? Easy.
Pierce and DeRossi were, in my opinion, head and shoulders over every candidate for the council. Phelps lives in “the suck” of Amsterdam, but his experiences in the roughest neighborhoods of the city give him the know-how when it comes to dealing with the city’s toughest problems. There’s no question that Isabel, who could show more leadership on the council, really cares about the community and wants it to do well.
I was also impressed by Ahr, who, while being a salesman, has some “outside the box” ideas that could help this community.
Here’s the kicker. Amsterdam lost out on having guys like Kevin Phelps and Chad Ahr serving on the council because they ran in wards that featured stronger candidates.
Meanwhile, in the 4th and 5th wards, voters there were stuck with weaker candidates because they had no choice.
I understand the argument against doing away with wards because it leads to the possibility of one section of a community controlling the rest. In Kinston, N.C., where I worked before I came back home, all city council seats are “at-large,” but three council members are literally neighbors and all vote in the same voting precinct.
However, as shown in the last election, Amsterdam lost out on having some solid government representation because of its antiquated ward system.