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November 5, 2007


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 me.

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November 5, 2007

Neil Breslin Looks To Washington

Our State Senator will announce his run for the 21st Congressional District - an Albanyweblog exclusive report

UPDATE: Columnist Carl Strock of the Daily Gazette confirms this report.

The announced retirement of Michael McNulty after 20 years in Congress stunned most people around Albany NY. Among the stunned are most of the local political creatures and all of the corporate media content providers. At first glance no one appears to be prepared to take his seat. We have a wide open field and no designated succesor.

Michael McNulty Announcing Retirement
Michael McNulty Announcing Retirement

McNulty is not walking away from his job, though. He still occupies the office until the end of his term. In his own words, at his official announcement last Monday, "I am going to serve every hour of every day. I am going to be your representative until January 2009."

We are all still McNulty’s constituents until January oh nine. Therefore, we all have a solemn civic duty to light a fire under his butt and make him work for us. After all, as a lame duck, he need no longer fear anybody or anything... parties, corporations, corporate media, imaginary phantoms, Dick Cheney or Hillary Clinton. That leaves us, the voters.

But first, let’s discuss his successor. The Hearst Times Union generated an almost random list of possible contenders for the seat. It was, of course, meaningless. And several names that should have been contemplated were carefully left off the list. Indeed, when I heard the news, one name came to my mind:

Congressman Dominick Calsolaro.

Congressman Dominick CalsolaroCongressman Dominick Calsolaro

No,” said Dominick. I asked him a second time, this past Saturday night at a house party. The Albany First Ward Common Council member repeated that same word. “I don’t want to go to Washington,” is all he said.

But at this Saturday night gathering at a house uphill from Buckingham Pond, a rumor ignited. It flashed around the office holders, their spouses, and the various political hangers-on such as myself and The Wife. I dropped my paper plate and slipped into the kitchen, where Assembly member Jack McEneny was holding forth about something or other for a tight circle of elected progressives.

I put my hand on Senator Neil Breslin’s shoulder. “So Neil,” I whispered, not wanting to interrupt the lecture. “When are you going to announce?”

Senator Neil Breslin
Senator Neil Breslin

He laughed and stepped aside. “Well, I have to talk to some people, so I’m not sure yet,” he said. “Test the waters, my staff has to do some polling. If all goes well, we’re looking at an announcement in two or three weeks.”

He sounded real serious to me. For a rock solid confirmation I asked Ellen, his spouse, “Are you looking forward to being the congressman’s wife?” She rearranged her face into an expression that she will no doubt be presenting to thousands of tactless questioners like myself in the coming year. “I think it’s a great idea, and if he wants to do it I’m behind him all the way,” she told me.

So there you have it, folks. His wife approves. Unless he changes his mind, or somebody comes forward and runs a hard, nasty Democratic primary, Neil Breslin will be the next congressional representative for our 21st District.

Helen Desfosses, 2005
Helen Desfosses, 2005

Who would challenge Mr. Breslin? Another name missing from that random Hearst list was political science professor Helen Desfosses, radio commentator and former Albany Common Council President. She had dropped into the Saturday night house party, but was clearly ill with some sort of bug or flu. She left long before the Breslins showed up.

Word is that Ms. Desfosses has been seriously giving thought to running for McNulty’s seat. She certainly has wide name recognition, and with some organization could run a credible campaign. I didn’t get an opportunity to ask her intentions, but I haven’t heard of her making any denials.

Just for fun, let’s run through Hearst’s randomly generated names. Oddly enough, Neil Breslin’s name came first. [Update: The Wife pointed out that the list is in alphabetical order.] No doubt the Times Union managers and content providers will claim that this was deliberate. Next name:

Assembly Member Ron Canestrari He’s clawed his way to number two in the Assembly behind Sheldon Silver. He’s not likely to give that up.

M. Tracey Brooks, aide to Hillary Clinton Who? What?

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings HAH! Hee hee, hoo hoo hah. Tears are streaming down my face, I’m laughing so hard. This is the guy who held fundraisers for Republican wife beater John Sweeney. So many people hate Jennings that he could actually LOSE to a Republican.

Green Island Mayor Ellen McNulty, Michael’s sister Well, maybe, but only if no one else steps forward. They breed political McNultys in a secret warehouse in Green Island. Don’t make any bets on her, though.

Common Council President Shawn Morris We all like Shawn here downtown, but no one knows her outside the City. On Saturday night, she had nothing to say on the subject.

Albany County DA David Soares He’s currently in the first term of his first elected office, and unjustly considered controversial. Such a move on his part would be untenable and uncharacteristic.

Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton He certainly looks like a congressman. And of course, his late father was McNulty’s predecessor. But he is fighting hard this week to retain his job, not a good platform from which to launch a career move upwards. Anyway, Schenectady desperately needs him to stick around for a while.

Paul Tonko He left the Assembly for a State appointment this past year. That is not a display of ambition. Does he even live inside the 21st?

And it goes without saying, in our 21st Congressional District, the Conservative, Green, Working Families, Socialist Worker, Marijuana Reform and Republican Parties do not stand the slightest chance. I mean, who would vote for James Tedisco? The immigrants he hates so much?

Congressional District 21

Neil Breslin is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this sudden opportunity. He has the name and the experience and he has the staff. If he wants to be our next congressional representative, he’ll take it. And that’s fine with me.

As a State Senator, his major focus lately has been the cost of health care. Last year he released a stunning analysis of Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) profitability in New York State. From his own press release:

The study shows HMO profits increased 93 percent from 2001 to 2005, from $672 million in 2001 to a record $1.3 billion last year. During that five year period, HMOs in New York recorded total profits of more than $5 billion... However, this growth in premiums outpaced increases in medical payments by more than $1 billion, fueling the surge in profits...

Remarkably, skyrocketing profits have come even as HMOs lost 14 percent of their customers, many of them undoubtedly priced out of the market. "What other business can lose one of every seven customers, and still manage to double their profits?" Breslin asked.

[Click here to download a pdf of Senator Breslin’s report on HMO Profits.]

You always suspected the health insurance companies are ripping us off left, right and sideways, right? Senator Breslin and his staff collected the data and proved it. This news barely blipped through the corporate media and was immediately “forgotten.”

One more interesting point that his study discovered. It seems that this profit discrepancy has been powered by big corporate health combines that have been moving into the State, driving local providers out of business. This is not the sort of report that is going to please Big Health. But Senator Breslin put out the report anyway.

Several years ago I asked him what he thought of single-payer health insurance for America, which would eliminate the useless parasitic insurance companies. He harumphed and straightened his tie and told me that it might be the best thing for all of us but that it was unlikely to happen in the near future. I’d be very interested to find out what he has to say on the subject today.

Senator Breslin Receives An Award From Environmental Advocates Director Rob Moore
Senator Breslin Receives An Award From Environmental Advocates Director Rob Moore

As for the Senator’s stand on the environment, allow me to quote from an article I wrote for the Save the Pine Bush (SPB) newsletter back in 1996:

Mr. Breslin summed up his personal attitude... by saying, "The only way we can tell these corporations what's right is with legislation", emphasizing that citizens groups such as Save the Pine Bush are essential to the process of governing, guiding legislators toward doing what's right...

In answer to a question Mr. Breslin presented himself as an advocate of citizens lawsuits. "I am strongly in favor of the right to sue," he said. Also in answer to a question, he said, "I have not and will not take money from tobacco companies or the NRA".

Neil Breslin And Carol Wallace Last Saturday Night (Photo by Maureen O'Brien)

It was in 1996 that I met Mr. Breslin for the first time, at the house of Dwight and Carol Wallace. Carol, who was our First Ward Common Council member at the time, was holding a fundraiser for long-shot candidate Breslin. I remember putting twenty bucks in the basket by the door. (The house party near Buckingham Pond was for Carol and Dwight, who were back in town from Portland Oregon to visit their old friends, and use up frequent flyer miles.)

Mr. Breslin had decided on his own to challenge the incumbent State Senator, a spineless Republican Party hack named Hoblock. This guy had been shoehorned into office by a fluke, a result of some outrageous bribery scandals that caused voters to withhold their votes for an old boy Democratic candidate. Neil Breslin smelled blood. Despite lukewarm support by the moribund local Democratic Party, he pursued an underdog campaign for the Senate.

I was impressed by Neil, and I had a bright idea. “Would you be willing to come to our next Save the Pine Bush dinner,” I asked him, “and if we invite Hoblock, would you debate him?” He looked surprised and said, “Sure, I’ll debate him anytime and anywhere.”

So I started following around SPB president Rezsin Adams and bugged her until she invited both to the next dinner. To our surprise, Hoblock accepted the invitation. Last time we’d invited him to a dinner, he didn’t even bother to reply. In hindsight, it was obvious that Hoblock knew that he was in trouble and needed to do something extraordinary to save his incumbency.

Mr. Breslin easily wiped the First Presbyterian Church floor with Hoblock. This turned out to be the first of a series of public debates that are generally agreed to have brought Mr. Breslin the win. Sad to say, no established media bothered to show up for this first debate, and it was immediately buried. But I reported on it, and Mr. Breslin remembers.

The Senator is not a spring chicken, he is currently 65 years old. That means he comes with his own built-in term limits. McNulty was effectively appointed to the job by the Party boys when he was in his early forties. But his old health problems have caught up to him. He’s only 60 years old. Most people assumed he’d stay there another 15 or 20 years.

Neil has his share of health problems, particularly his bad back. He told me he’s doing acupuncture at a clinic here in town. “It works great, I’m feeling better than I have in years.” As long as he lets his staff lift those heavy appropriations bills, he ought to be fine.

Congressman McNulty

As for Congressman McNulty, we will see how he spends the coming year. His new freedom works both ways. Will he still remain accountable to his constituents?

Elsewhere I’ve speculated that the reason McNulty has not signed on to Dennis Kucinich’s bill to impeach Evil Dick Cheney is because that would be offensive to Hillary Clinton. If that’s true, then there’s nothing for him to worry about now. What’s Hillary gonna do, sabotage his reelection?

As everybody knows, McNulty smartened up about the pointless War Against Iraq. He is still rather lukewarm about civil liberties, though. I’m proud to say that I once ruined his visit to the Labor Day picnic in Menands by following him around and demanding that he explain why he voted for the so-called “Patriot” Act. He still needs to be watched here.

Meanwhile, back at the Saturday night house party, I casually asked Dominick Calsolaro if he might run for Neil Breslin’s State Senate seat if it becomes available. To my horror, he said he might do that.

“You mean you want to go rot in the State Senate?” He smiled and nodded vigorously.

Yikes. If Dominick runs for Senate, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Mayor Jerry Jennings campaigns for him. Anything to get him out of City government.


UPDATE: Mr. Calsolaro was most annoyed with the suggestion that if he were to become a State Senator that he would "rot." He called me up on the phone and shouted in my ear. Upon further reflection, I agree that he surely would shake up the moribund Republican majority in the Senate the same way he has rocked The Mayor's Majority Minions occupying the Albany Common Council. I still say he should stay in the City and run for mayor.

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