A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add
or would like to make an empty threat, please contact
UPDATE: There's a great discussion of this issue going on at the RFK site, lots of hollering and lots of talk about suing. Click here to see.
September 30 , 2006
Party Chairman Commisso
A powerful backroom politician comes out of the shadows
The Wife and I are Democratic Party Committee persons. Supposedly
this means that we represent a part of our immediate neighborhood
to the local Democratic Party. Other than that it doesn’t mean
much of anything to anybody.
So why do we do it? Mostly to keep an eye on the neighborhood voting
stations during election time. But also we are committee persons
so that we can attend Democratic Party functions and keep an eye
on the politicians.
At the recent Albany All-County Democratic Party meeting at the
Polish Community Center out on Washington Avenue Extension in the
Pine Bush, I watched Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings make the rounds
among the 600 or so committee persons before the meeting started.
Most everyone was standing and circulating, committee persons, politicians
and corporate media content providers. There was lots of buzz, lots
|A practical but tenuous
alliance keeps them in control
Watching a guy like The Mayor work a crowd is sort
of like watching a pinball bounce off the bumpers as it moves down
the table. I wondered if he would make a wide bounce around me and
The Wife. After all, she has twice led succesful efforts to stop
his dump from expanding, and is currently leading a third. And I’ve
been known to say uncomplimentary things about him on this blog.
But no, he zigzagged through the crowd toward us to score ten points.
He stopped suddenly in front of us, leaned back and spread his arms
in a gesture that I could best describe as expansive mock apprehension. “Uh-oh,” he
proclaimed, “At least it doesn’t stink like garbage in
here.” We laughed, shook hands and he moved on. He knows better
than to let The Wife start talking.
A moment later I watched The Mayor plant a kiss on the cheek of
Fourth Ward Common Council member Barbara Smith, who is definitely
not his political ally. He stopped kissing The Wife’s cheek
a while ago.
What was it like to attend that All-County Party meeting the other
day? Try this experiment at home. Don’t flush your toilet for
an entire day, but use it frequently. Just before bedtime, get down
on your knees and stick your head in the bowl as far as it will go,
and agitate. The meeting made me feel filthier than that.
Without going into tedious details, what happened is that the Big
Old Boys got together to pull a really slimy trick and managed to
cling to control of the County Party. Immediately there was talk
of a lawsuit and of public displays of defiance, but what good would
that do? We’ll see what transpires in the next few weeks, but
I suspect nothing will happen. For now.
What happened that night is that Mayor Jennings had made an alliance
with Frank Commisso. As a result, Commisso has become the new Chairman
(person?) of the Albany County Democratic Party. These two are the
biggest personal power centers in the Party. Apparently they have
come to an understanding, an alliance based on mutual interest. As
long as they maintain their agreement, there is every reason to believe
that they will hang on to power and freeze out their mutual enemies,
The Breslin Brothers, Mike and Neil.
We all know more than enough about Jennings, but Frank Commisso...
ah, Commisso. Not as flashy as Jennings and not at all used to daylight,
Commisso is every bit as powerful.
He is not merely an Albany County legislator, he is the Majority
Leader, a very powerful post. He is not merely the Ward Leader of
the Fifteenth Ward (which includes the Pine Bush) he is the effective
dictator of the Ward, having installed over the years a series of
Fifteenth Ward Common Council members who are nonentities that he
easily controls. Sort of the Dick Cheney of the Fifteenth.
Now he can add Party Chairman of a split Democratic Party to this
About halfway through the meeting a decisive procedural maneuver
got approved on technical grounds. Immediately both Jennings from
the front of the hall and Commisso from the back began working their
ways along the center aisle taking congratulations, both smiling
radiantly. The voting for chairman had not even begun, but everybody
knew it was all over.
Then came a revealing moment that went almost unnoticed. Jennings
and Commisso, each surrounded by a glad-handing circle of admirers,
met each other in the aisle. For a moment the circles merged, and
Jennings leaned over to whisper something brief into Commisso’s
Neither man smiled. In fact, Commisso looked irritated. He gave
a quick nod and the circles moved apart. Both men went back to happily
receiving admiration. Separately.
Make no mistake about it, Frank Commisso is not controlled by anyone.
His predecessor as Party Chairman, Betty Barnette was widely seen
(quite correctly) as an obedient appendage of Jerry Jennings. Barnette
and Jennings were wildly unpopular outside the City, having managed
over the past few years to alienate large sections of the County
Party and spawn rebellion among the committee persons. Having become
politically isolated, Barnette knew better than to try for re-election.
In a sense this is a comedown for Jennings. True, Commisso could
not have eked out his win without Jenning’s support. His winning
slate of candidates included Second Ward Common Council member Carolyn
McLaughlin as secretary, sort of the tail end job. But, as Carolyn
is fond of saying, it’s a seat at the table.
Carolyn is a close ally of Jennings, so she will now function as
Jennings’ conduit to the Party leadership. The corporate media
called her “diversity” because she is a) black and b)
female. I guess that is part of her job, to provide “diversity.” The
rest of Commisso’s slate consisted of old timers like Bruce
Shultis as First Vice Chair, who represents short fat balding white
More important than her appearance, Carolyn brought
in key votes in a close race, probably the winning factor. You see,
we voted in the auditorium by standing, which allowed everybody to
see who voted for what and for whom. I gazed with amazement and grudging
admiration as Carolyn’s 20 or so Second Ward committee people
stood or sat at her command. (I’m in the First Ward, we sat
in the back row right behind them.) In the close vote, Carolyn’s
committee people were responsible for Commisso’s win.
Commisso’s rival for Party Chairman was Dave Bosworth, who
recently led the Town of Guilderland Democratic Party to electoral
success. His more “diverse” slate
included Common Council President Shawn Morris, recently graduated
from the Seventh Ward, and Barbara Smith, who is newly elected to
the Fourth. But neither Shawn nor Barbara control their committees
like Carolyn does hers. Most of their people stood for Commisso.
The majority of my own First Ward voted for Commisso. I asked a
fellow committee member, a guy who I knew had no ties or axes to
grind, why he voted the way he did. “Frank’s been in
there a long time,” he told me. “I don’t know this
guy Bosworth, who he is or if he can do a good job. I just think
that the guy who knows the job can do it best.”
Really, it all came down to familiarity. That was the edge that
gave Commisso the job, not the “City versus suburbs” crapola
blathered by the corporate media. Indeed, both slates included members
from both the City and the suburbs. As for Commisso, he lives in
the Fifteenth Ward, which geographically is a panhandle inserted
into the suburbs. He may reside inside the city limits, but he definitely
does not represent the needs and interests of downtown Albany.
After the voting, Commisso gave a standard acceptance speech, in
which he took pains to say that he would “be inclusive” and “form
committees that would represent all factions.” Almost half
the auditorium sat sullen, unimpressed.
Chairman Commisso is indeed a local master of political manipulation,
as was stunningly demonstrated at the Polish Club meeting. I have
no doubt that he can continue to outmaneuver his rivals and retain
control of The Party for as long as he wants to. As we can see, even
Jennings has learned to never turn his back on this guy.
But the new Chairman is not accustomed to declaiming on the stage,
he is used to directing the show from behind the curtains. He is
now going to be scrutinized in a way that he has never experienced
before. And quite a few of the people monitoring him from up close
are going to be hostile.
Once upon a time, the position Chairman of the Albany County Democratic
Party was indeed a job that operated in the shadows, but not any
more. Betty Barnette found this out the hard way. Nothing has changed,
if anything the resentments among committee persons have deepened.
Starting immediately, the new Chairman is going to have to factor
public exposure into his political calculations. He’d better
learn how to do that fast. Can the Old Boy learn new tricks?
I strongly suspect that Commisso believes that he can move the job
of Chairman back into the shadows. If he does think that, then he
is going to become rudely distressed. Just like his predecessor.
Jerry Jennings could give him some acting lessons. But judging by
that quick exchange in the aisle at the Polish Club, I don’t
think Commisso has any intention of taking advice from The Mayor,
or anyone else for that matter. A new job does not automatically
confer a new personality.
Prior Post *
* * Next Post
This site maintained by Lynne
Jackson of Jackson's