SCHENECTADY – Critics accuse a county legislature candidate of engaging in dog-whistle race policy when he is not over a campaign poster alleging his black opponent is speaking in favor of defusing the police.
Brendan Savage, a white candidate for the Schenectady County Legislature, sent out an email promoting his police bonafides.
The literature does not name his challenger in the upcoming Democratic primary, Omar McGill, but it does say: “Some activists who support my opponent talk rather recklessly about disempowering or abolishing the police.”
McGill, who is Black, did not request compensation from the police.
“Trying to associate that with my name as a person of color is wrong,” said McGill. “I’ve always said we need to improve the relationship between the community and the police, and I’m sticking to it. What we have to do is not to withdraw them, but to give them more resources to support them. “
McGill said he was supporting more resources for social workers, leading crisis calls to mental health workers, as well as youth mentoring and after-school programs.
“But there has to be an accountability factor, too,” said McGill. “The police must be accountable for progress, just as we must with ours.”
Chad Putman, a member of the State Committee of the Working Families Party who supports McGill, called it “the racist politics of the dog whistle.”
“Because he’s going up against a black person, he’s sending this flyer to create fear in the community,” Putman said.
The mail says: “As your candidate for District 1, I have a simple message: Don’t excuse the police.”
The literature also shows community police liaison officers smiling with a colored child wearing a police uniform. The back features criminal headlines from local media, including the Times Union, as well as pictures of a body outline and a yellow police tape.
Several city council candidates also blew up the letter.
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“I think it’s scare tactics,” said Damonni Farley. “As a black candidate in city politics, I know that if your opponents fail to win the battle of ideas, they use Willie Horton-style racist dog whistles. But that’s a new low. “
In urban and district politics, racial divisions have long been a problem under the surface. In the meantime, all but one member of the 15-member district legislature are white.
Police Chief Eric Clifford said the Savage campaign had not asked for permission to use the photo. “If they did, we’d say we’d prefer not to use our images during campaigns,” said Clifford.
However, Clifford said the department frequently shares photos of themselves and recognizes that if they make pictures of themselves public, they can be used by anyone – including candidates.
In a lengthy statement, Savage said he had knocked on over 1,000 doors since the flyer was published four weeks ago and no one thought he had racist undertones.
“I thought it was important to make my position against the defunding of the police clear after our position was asked in an interview with the Working Families Party,” said Savage. “One panelist asked if I would support police debt relief – I said I do not, but I support more accountability, education, community police and better mental health and drug treatment services.”
He also called on McGill to condemn activist Jamaica Miles’ rhetoric that the police should be “abolished”.
“I think if extreme rhetoric comes up we should publicly denounce what I’ve done,” said Savage.
Miles, who supports McGill’s campaign and has called for funds to be shifted from the police force to community programming, made a brief appearance with McGill at a campaign rally on Saturday.
“Savage has proven from the start that he has no integrity and is simply run by the Democratic Party,” Miles said, pointing out that local police efforts are run by the city – not the county, which does not patrol the streets in District 1 which includes the Stockade, Goose Hill, Bellevue and GE Realty Plot neighborhoods, as well as parts of downtown and Mont Pleasant.
“Had he stayed on his way to getting a role with the City, this would be a topic that would be relevant,” Miles said.
Savage, backed by the county’s Democratic Committee, briefly tossed his hat in the ring for the city council earlier this year, but ran for the county seat, which was vacated by veteran lawmaker Peggy King. His mother, Susan Savage, was a Democratic Party leader and previously chaired the district parliament.
Early voting started on Saturday and will last until Sunday June 20th. The Democratic and Working Families Party primaries are on June 22nd.