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November 24
, 2008


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 24, 2008

The Next Mayor Of Albany

The blogger asks a rude question, hoping to find
out who wants to run the City

*UPDATE* The Hearst Times Union claims that Mayor Jennings is launching his reelection campaign, but all The Mayor is doing is holding a fundraiser. He has not announced.

You may think that the elections are over. But next year here in the City of Albany, The Mayor and the entire Common Council are all up for reelection along with several other citywide positions. If you carefully read the back pages of the local newspapers and listen to the political chatter around town then you don’t need to be told that the 2009 races have already begun.

Mayor Jerry Jennings and his loyal minions are exhibiting signs of nervousness. We are seeing Common Council members, who have never shown any signs of life other than voting as The Mayor tells them to, are suddenly attracting attention in the local media. “See? We ARE alive after all!” It’s almost as if some of these elected representatives are actually representing their constituents.

The Mayor, you see, is very aware that out here in the wilderness, beyond the bogus security checkpoint at the door of City Hall, there are some very serious people who are plotting His overthrow. And the voters in Albany, like voters everywhere, are dissatisfied with the usual incompetence and are ready for change.

Mayor Jennings
Mayor Jennings

The big topic of conversation around town is whether Mayor Jennings will run for another term or not. Is The Mayor burning his bridges by spending the City into oblivion so He can go out with a bang, which is what His predecessor Thomas Whalen did ? Or is He spending our money like crazy to prepare for the reelection of Himself and His minions? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

Perhaps He Himself doesn’t know yet. My thought is that He is waiting to see what sort of person is going to announce a run against Him and how much money that person has. Jennings has a sputtering but still functioning political machine at his disposal, and he is sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, he’s the incumbent. He doesn’t need to be first to signal his intentions.

But listening to Him at the opening of the Neighborhoods Work conference at First Lutheran Church this past Saturday morning, He plunged right into a commentary about the City of Albany’s financial condition. Jerry Jennings sure sounded like He planned to stick around.

“Things are only going to get worse,” He said. “We are going to have to make some tough decisions. There is a lot of work ahead of us. Let’s come up with solutions.” The Mayor then explained at length to the auditorium full of neighborhood activists that the public school system is the cause of most of the City of Albany’s problems.

Jennings knows perfectly well that anyone who wants to run for Mayor had better announce soon if they are serious. Like, in the next few weeks, certainly no later than the end of this year. Mark my words, folks.

The other big conversational topic around town is who has enough stature to run against The Mayor and win. In my opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of other people there is only one person. My own first ward common council member, Dominick Calsolaro.

Dominick Calsolaro: Albany's Next Mayor?
Dominick Calsolaro: Albany's Next Mayor?

Will he run? The other day I asked Dominick, “Do you want to be mayor?”

He threw his head back on his shoulder and rolled his eyes. “Do I want to be mayor? I don’t know if I do. But somebody has to do the job so I might have to run.” He also indicated that he has to consult some more with his family.

My impression is that Dominick doesn’t know yet either. Like the current mayor is doing, he is waiting as long as he can before making a time consuming life churning commitment. But he indicated that he knows perfectly well that if he wants to run, he can’t wait much longer to announce.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing escalating rumors that Common Council President Shawn Morris is about ready to announce her own run for mayor. Word is that she is busily preparing an organizing committee, lining up funding sources, etc. All this is supposed to be secret, of course, but such doings are necessarily public and thus hard to hide.

The other day I sent an email to Ms. Morris titled, “Shawn - Quick Question, Please.” My inquiry was brief: “Are you planning to run for mayor? The rumors are intensifying, you know.” Here is her entire reply:

That's neither a quick question, nor one that can receive a quick answer.


Well, that covers a lot of ground, eh? Mostly you will note that the president of the Common Council did not say “no.” I should also add that this is one of her longer emails. She is not known for openly pouring her thoughts into the internets ad nauseum like certain characters do.

Shawn Morris
Shawn Morris

Ms. Morris would certainly be a serious candidate. She holds a visible Citywide post, thus her name is familiar to the voters. That’s a large part of the battle right there. She even racked up a higher vote total than did Jerry Jennings in the last election.

But voters do indeed consider individuals as better qualified for one job rather than another. Simply because the voters are satisfied with Shawn Morris as president doesn’t automatically mean they would want her to be mayor. Consider the case of State Assemblyman Jack McEneny, who made the only serious run for mayor against Jennings back in 1997.

Jennings defeated McEneny by a landslide. Smelling blood, Jennings raised and financed an obedient candidate for McEneny’s Assembly seat the very next year. But the voters happily reelected McEneny by a wide margin. And they have returned him to the Assembly every two years since.

Jack McEneny
Jack McEneny

Speaking of Jack McEneny, earlier this year he was making vague noises about running for mayor. About a month before the November elections, I accosted him while he was filling out a slip at the Trustco Bank on Madison Avenue. “So Jack,” I asked, interrupting him. “I’m hearing that you might run for mayor. Is that true?”

He looked up with a big grin. “Right now I’ve got about fifteen hundred dollars in my campaign bank account, which I’m going to spend on lawn signs. That’s where I am right now.”

Sure enough, when the newspapers listed campaign expenditures for this last election, McEneny’s declared total was a little over $1500.00. I seem to recall that his opponent declared nothing spent. I think it is safe to say that McEneny has settled into his Assembly seat and has no strong desire to run for mayor.

Corey Ellis
Corey Ellis

Who else? I'm hearing multiple stories that third ward Common Council member Corey Ellis is considering a run for mayor. Mr. Ellis, who is serving the first term of his first elected office, is strongly progressive with a sharp, independent mind. He recently served as chair of Albany for Obama. He won his seat three years ago in a hard knock down battle against the decayed remnants of Jennings' machine that was still in control of that part of Arbor Hill.

But a Citywide run by Mr. Ellis would surely prove quixotic at this time. He doesn’t have a name that is easily recognizable outside his ward like Mr. Calsolaro and Ms. Morris have. One should not dismiss Corey Ellis, though. After reelection and a few more years experience he will surely evolve into a formidable political force in the City.

There was silly talk about former Comptroller Tom Nitido running, but he’s quit City government for a State job. I’ve heard second hand that recent congressional candidate Darius Shahinfar expressed interest in running, but clearly that would be a vanity run. And then there’s former mayoral candidate Archie Goodbee, who told me a while back that he may run again for mayor in the future.

I accosted former Green Party mayoral candidate Alice Green while she was selecting a loaf of bread at Honest Weight Food Coop. “Alice,” I said, “Are you going to run for mayor?”

She gave me a big smile. “Not if I can help it,” she said. But then she added, “Somebody has to.”

Ms. Green has never resolved one of her biggest political contradictions. You see, in the past she has run under the Green Party, which allegedly puts environmental issues in the forefront. Yet she is happily married to millionaire developer Charles Touhey, who spent twelve years fighting a successful legal battle to destroy land in the Pine Bush. Let me repeat that... twelve years. For his, and for Ms. Green’s personal profit.

Neither Mr. Goodbee, who didn’t run much of a campaign, or Ms. Green would have much of a chance of beating Jerry Jennings. But if either one decided to run this time around, they could act as effective spoilers for any serious candidate who decides to take on the incumbent. This could be a particular problem for Shawn Morris if she decides to run.

The City's Principal
The City's Principal

Jerry Jennings carefully cultivates a benign paternalistic image which entices a large part of the elctorate to support him. Yes indeed, The Mayor will gladly raise your assessment and plant no parking signs around your house if you displease Him, as I know very well. Yet for many of his supporters He is the benign school principal for the City who only wants you to graduate and succeed in life.

Make no mistake, Shawn Morris is quite capable of running a tough, cut throat campaign, as she had to do to gain and retain her original seventh ward common council seat. But as we saw with Phil Steck’s recent Congressional primary campaign, being ruthless is not enough to get elected. Can she charm enough voters with her smile to overthrow the incumbent? Can she offer the voters an alternative to Jennings’ paternalism?

Few observers with their ears to the ground think that Jennings will simply announce his retirement and leave the field wide open to any comers, like outgoing Congressman Michael McNulty did early this year. The general feeling is that Jennings has too many embarrassing and possibly illegal insects and rodents squirming underneath the City budget, vermin he doesn’t want anyone to examine too closely. The last thing He wants is for a hostile successor to catch these critters after He’s gone and dangle them in front of the media.

If Jennings decides to not run for reelection, most observers figure that He’ll run a loyal minion as a stand in. The idea would be to graft a new head on the crumbling political machine, a head that can be easily controlled by the former mayor. But could such a transplant clone monster win?

Back in November 2007 I speculated that Police Chief James Tuffey might be being groomed as the royal successor. But the Chief is not a natural politician, he’s a cop. He hasn’t been making lots of friends in the City, and besides, he’s not the kind of guy that Jennings can control.

John Rosenzweig
John Rosenzweig

The name that keeps popping out of the political rumor mill is 8th ward Common Council member John Rosenzwieg, a loyal and obedient Jennings minion serving his first term. He has no real experience and is not readily familiar to the voters, but that doesn’t matter. If Jennings tells his uptown supporters to vote for Rosenzweig, many of them will do as they are told.

Several of Jennings’ minions on the Common Council are mighty vulnerable right now. After all, most of them do absolutely nothing except carry out The Mayor’s orders. Somehow, these zeroes have got to get some positive press, and they have to get it fast.

So The Mayor has been assigning some of his most vulnerable minions bits of controversial legislation to introduce into the council. Most of this legislation is nonsensical, a waste of everybody’s time. But the purpose of these proposed ordinances is to create a public reaction, thus drawing attention to the designated minion and giving the impression that he or she actually does something.

Glen Casey's Car On South Swan Street
Glen Casey's Car On
South Swan Street

11th ward council member Glen Casey, for example, introduced an ordinance outlawing supermarket plastic bags in the City of Albany. On the surface this appears worthy, following the lead of several big cities and other nations. It’s true that Casey has the highest absentee rate on the Council, sneakily reads magazines during important debates and probably doesn’t live in the City of Albany. But gee, he must be pro environment because he introduced that plastic bag thing.

Except that the legislation is designed to fail. The legislation calls for punishing the supermarkets with a $1000.00 fine... for each plastic bag that they give to customers! Something tells me that such an idiotic ordinance, if passed, would be unconstitutional and would invite some very big lawsuits from some very big supermarket chains.

But sure enough, the plastic bag industry people reacted to Casey’s nonsense as they were expected to, putting out press releases to the corporate media and showing up to lecture the Common Council during the public comment period. TV cameras followed the plastic bag industry representative into the council chambers. Clearly this was supposed to be Casey’s big media exposure moment.

But TV “news” content providers get bored easily, especially after business hours. The first speaker at the public comment was none other than The Wife, who is a natural TV camera magnet when she lectures City officials about the Pine Bush. By the time the plastic bag spokesperson got an opportunity to speak, the cameras where long gone, thus blunting the full effect of The Mayor’s little media manipulations for Casey.

Jimmy Scalzo
Jimmy Scalzo

And then there’s 10th ward member Jimmy Scalzo, who put down his drink long enough to introduce an ordinance that compels all citizens to register their bicycles with the City. For safety reasons, of course. And of course there will be a fee for the privilege of registering, a bicycle tax. “I’m not looking to raise money with this,” said Scalzo. Right.

Scalzo’s bicycle tax, if passed, would be an expensive logistical nightmare to administer and enforce. Sure enough, the Albany Bicycle Coalition came out in force to point out these obvious facts to the Common Council. But the “controversy” got Scalzo’s name in the paper, and that’s all that matters.

Sandra Fox
Sandra Fox

But so far The Mayor hasn’t given any media tidbits to 15th ward common council member Sandra Fox, who is, in my opinion, the biggest zero I’ve ever seen hold an elected position. Perhaps He does not think Fox will be facing a challenge next year, or maybe He thinks that she couldn’t handle introducing legislation into the Council all by herself. Surely someone out in the 15th ward is disgusted enough to make a run for her seat.

The Common Council aside, the most important elected position that the City taxpayers need to recapture is mayor. And I’ll say it again, the person best qualified for the job is Dominick Calsolaro.

I have repeatedly heard Mr. Calsolaro say that he is more interested in advancing good government in the City of Albany than in taking the mayor’s job for himself. He is willing to support a candidate for that office if he feels he or she is qualified and has a chance to win. “But I may decide to run if no one else does,” he told me.

Dominick (at left) Demonstrates that He Can Cut Ribbons As Well As The Mayor (in suit)  (Click on photo for full size)
Dominick (at left) Demonstrates that He Can Cut Ribbons As Well As Jerry Jennings (in suit) (Click on photo for full size)

I have one small concern about Mr. Calsolaro running for higher office, a problem with image that I think is a very interesting question. He is... how can I put this delicately... not a good public speaker. Sometimes he is impossible to understand. This can be really frustrating because most of what comes out of his mouth is important and needs to be heard.

I have to confess that for about the first two years that I knew Dominick I couldn’t understand approximately half of anything he said. Sometimes he would speak to me and I would just look at him blankly. I wonder if he began to think that I was some kind of functional idiot, all the time staring at him like that without comprehension.

Apparently this elocution problem did not handicap him in getting elected to the Common Council. But perhaps his speech making abilities could become troublesome during a Citywide campaign. Surely if I have trouble making sense of his speech, then others do too. Could this translate into lost votes?

Then again, maybe not. Dominick’s speech patterns are part of his genuineness, his independent desire to make the right choices. He’s not a show horse. He’s still the guy who got into politics because he got fed up with tripping over the busted sidewalks on Second Avenue. Maybe the problem is me, why can’t I understand plain spoken Albanian American when I hear it.

And do we really want to give Dominick elocution lessons so that he sounds like Jerry Jennings? I mean, next we’ll be wanting to stick him into a tanning bed.

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Posted by: Common Sense
Posted on: 11/26/2008
Don't put too much credence into the supposed name recognition of Shawn Morris. To the 99% of people who don't closely follow local politics, she is a name. Being a common council member who doesn't really do anything doesn't help. Neither does being from out of state in a city where everyone knows everyone from 3rd grade.

In recent conversation with a few friends who are fairly up to speed with national and state politics, but not city stuff, nobody had a clue who she was. One person thought she was a black man, another mistook her for Ms. McLaughlin and another thought she was a white guy.

Another factor is the phoney "progressive" moniker -- which doesn't have any legs. Economic conditions are going to force Obama to abandon or forget about many of the things that the progressives thought he promised to do. That will take some wind out of the progressive sails.

Posted by: Terry O'Neill, Esq.
Posted on: 12/06/2008
Mr. McEneny had as much as $1500 to spend on lawn signs for the single reason that the Republican Party put me up as a candidate and he had to get off his flat ass and raise some money for a change. He can do it if he's motivated. He is very well regarded in the community, but Im sure he can do better -- in the corner office in City Hall.

Posted by: L'Archivista
Posted on: 12/12/2008
Great shot of the interior of my old apartment; seeing it made me smile!

A good friend of mine has lived just off Second Avenue for several years, and a few days ago, I asked him what he thinks of his neighborhood these days. He says that, if anything, Second Avenue has improved since he moved to Albany four years ago: several houses that were once in bad shape have been purchased by people intent on sprucing them up and making the neighborhood a better place. He lives pretty close to the intersection of Second and Delaware, so what he has to say might not be true of Second Avenue as a whole. However, its good to hear that at least part of Second seems to be getting better, not worse.

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