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March 10
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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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March 10, 2009

The Mayoral Waiting Game Ends

Finally! But now we have a split race as two viable and competent
candidates take on the current mayor of Albany . . . and each other

For the past four months the potential candidates for mayor have been talking and maneuvering through the political circles in the City, bouncing off each other like bumper cars. And there have been secret meetings, along with secret meetings that were not so secret. But until this month no one has made a formal announcement. And as of this writing, the incumbent has not formally announced His intentions.

Last Tuesday I bopped on down to the Crowne Plaza, the hotel on State Street with no proper front door, to hear Corey Ellis, who was born and raised in Albany and is a former South End resident, become the first candidate to publicly announce that he intends to ask the voters to elect him Mayor of Albany this coming September.

Corey Ellis Announces His Run For Mayor Of Albany
Corey Ellis Announces His Run For Mayor Of Albany

It was a well managed event with a fair sized enthusiastic crowd and the media in full attendance. The mood on the podium, though, was mostly serious, an attitude which reflects that of the recent Obama presidential campaign, with which Mr. Ellis is closely connected. The clear message from the candidate and his supporters on stage was that the City of Albany is in very serious trouble and we need someone serious to put things right.

First ward Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro gave an enthusiastic endorsement speech, in which he said that Mr. Ellis is the one member of the council “whose commitment to good government matches my own.” That would be a lot of commitment, and a powerful endorsement.

Dominick Calsolaro Endorses Corey Ellis
Dominick Calsolaro Endorses Corey Ellis

Sad to say, as I reported on February 28, Dominick has declined to take City Hall for himself. He has wide name recognition in the City and a record to be proud of over his two terms as the progressive leader the of Common Council. In a fair contest Dominick would have kicked Jerry’s Butt. And Jerry knows it.

Mr. Ellis’ announcement speech was solid, a well considered short and to the point statement why the current administration has got to go, and why he is qualified to do a much better job. Here are some excerpts, first Mr. Ellis’ assessment of Jerry Jennings:

Too many opportunities have been squandered, even during a time of great economic expansion... For the past 16 years, we have seen a dramatic loss in our population and ever-increasing property taxes. We have seen entire neighborhoods given up on, given over to crime and demolition by neglect.

And in response to these problems, this administration has grown inward, more secretive, less transparent.

Instead of working proactively to develop new sources of revenue and create new opportunities for our residents, we’ve remained dependent on shrinking state aid and payments and from a landfill that’s almost full.

What is the plan? Where is the vision? Getting more handouts from the State? Building a convention center? Shall we re-capitalize Albany yet again?

For too long, the people have been shut out of the process. You have not been given access to information. You have been treated as though you can’t make a contribution.

That’s no way to lead this city.

Right on, I couldn’t have said it better or more concisely. My only quibble with the above statement is that over the past 16 years Jennings did not merely give up on entire neighborhoods, He actively tried to destroy entire neighborhoods. My own immediate neighborhood for example, which has had to put up with not only calculated neglect, but has been under tremendous destructive direct pressure from City Hall.

Seriously folks. If you haven’t been living in downtown Albany under the Jennings regime you might think that I’m exaggerating. I won’t bore the reader right now with a list of attacks against my neighborhood by City Hall, I’ll save that for another post. But I will say that quickly composing a short list of all the things that Jerry Jennings has personally done to downgrade and ruin my neighborhood is shocking. How did my neighborhood survive?

Current Mayor Jerry Jennings
Current Mayor Jerry Jennings

About five or six years ago Jennings began to change his tune. What happened is that more and more of the angry citizens of this City started to organize and fight back against Jennings. Actually, some of us had been openly defiant and receiving the consequences for several years. But after the turn of the millennium public opposition began to approach critical mass.

Jerry Jennings may be vicious and power hungry, but he is not stupid. He perceived the inevitability of the rising popular tide against Him before any of us understood our strength. Starting around 2004, Jennings began scrambling to change his approach to City government, trying to repair some of the damage that he caused.

But redirecting the City government takes time, and old dogs like Jerry are slow to learn new tricks. At the end of 2006, for example, Jennings ordered his obedient minions on the Common Council to spot zone a piece of land near my house so that he could impose an unwanted corporate drug store chain onto our neighborhood. And as late as 2007 the City snowplow crews were still under standing orders to block cleared sidewalks in my neighborhood.

And Jennings is still trying to destroy large parts of the South End by selling it off, which is what the ridiculous unwanted Convention Center is all about. And He is still trying to destroy the Albany Pine Bush Preserve (again!) by expanding the Rapp Road “Landfill,” an issue that Mr. Ellis made a special point of mentioning in his acceptance speech.

Corey Ellis

Okay, anyone who has stayed informed knows that overall, Jennings has caused much more harm than good and should have been booted out a long time ago. But who or what should take his place? Corey Ellis believes that he has what it takes. From his announcement:

We must make sure City government is accountable to the public. We can’t afford another budget that is veiled in secrecy. Instead, we need a transparent plan that clearly presents every dime of spending to taxpayers.

We can’t afford four more years of missed opportunities – to strengthen our neighborhoods, to create new opportunities to lift people out of poverty and despair to find ways to ease the growing tax burdens of homeowners, and to partner with our schools and support them.

I’ve been speaking out about these issues, and proposing solutions – like instituting a fair assessment on vacant and abandoned buildings, developing a gang violence prevention program such as Chicago’s Operation Cease-Fire, and establishing Albany as a hub of the green economy to create new jobs.

For the past four months, Common Council president Shawn Morris has been ready to announce her candidacy for mayor any day now. By mid January I’d become downright sick and tired of hearing rumors about her plans. Finally, Ms. Morris made her commitment this past Sunday, five days after Corey Ellis made his announcement and Dominick Calsolaro officially stepped down.

Shawn Morris At CANA
Shawn Morris At CANA

I caught Ms. Morris at the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA) meeting the day after Mr. Ellis made his announcement. She gave us neighborhood representatives what I consider her best speech ever. Which fortunately The Wife recorded on her iPod.

Here’s a good sample of her speech. After noting that whenever Albany citizens participate in public planning sessions, they usually end up talking about how they want Albany to be more like Portland Oregon, St. Paul Minnesota and Eugene Oregon, all noted as walkable, bikable “livable” cities. Here’s what Ms. Morris had to say about those communities:

What they all have is really open accessible government. And that’s something we need.

Each of these cities got to where they are because the people pointed the government in the right direction. Each of these cities has a structure of government that provides for the kind of checks and balances that we need, they have the transparancy that the citizens demand.

And most important, each has a level of public engagement that’s intrinsic to the operation of government. It’s the law to engage the public.It’s not a public relations move, it’s not an afterthought. It’s not just a phase we’re going through. It’s what people expect.

I didn’t attend Ms. Morris’ announcement at an obscure location off New Scotland Avenue because I wasn’t invited. The only reason I knew about the event ahead of time was because I cornered the president at the CANA meeting. And she conceded this information to me with a great deal of reluctance.

Isn’t that strange? For Corey Ellis’ announcement I received about twenty emails, a half dozen phone calls and several personal invitations from his supporters. I’ve so far received a pile of emails for other declared candidates for City elected posts. Hell, I’ve even been invited to several of Jerry Jennings’ recent fundraisers. I’m sure He’d gladly accept my money.

Corey Ellis Meets The Media
Corey Ellis Meets The Media

Nothing public from Shawn Morris. Yet the media showed up in full force for her announcement, obviously they were invited. Naturally, the candidate wanted to carefully stage manage the event, but there is such a thing as too much control. And too much control over a campaign can be fatal.

Guess it’s just as well that I didn’t crash the party, I hate to be a bother. What I did notice is that her candidacy was announced the Friday before on one of the Hearst Times Union blogs. And as far as I know, other than a quick mention buried inside a Delaware Avenue Neighborhood Association (DANA) event listing, there was no other public announcement.

It appears that the Hearst Times Union editors rewarded Ms. Morris for announcing her candidacy through them by featuring her event with a favorable article and carefully selected favorable photo right on the front page of their Monday rag.

This is not a good start. By not encouraging us great unwashed to walk in off the street for her announcement (like Corey Ellis did) Ms. Morris seems to be indicating that she is AFRAID of the public. And by making her event primarily for the media she is indicating that she is planning to run a media based campaign.

In my opinion that’s not a good idea here in Albany, where candidates gain public office by climbing as many front porch stoops as possible. An endorsement of a candidate by the corporate media, particularly by the Times Union, has traditionally been more of a negative than a positive among City voters. In any case, mostly old people pay attention to the corporate media anymore, candidates are unlikely to impress anybody under the age of forty through the old media information channels.

If the Hearst Times Union continues to support her campaign with positive copy, that would raise the possibility that Shawn Morris has made some kind of “horsetrading” deal with Hearst publisher Mark Aldam. Personally, I think it extremely unlikely that she would do something that dumb.

Shawn Morris Announcing Her Candidacy
Shawn Morris Announcing Her Candidacy

Perhaps this apparent error of trusting the corporate media more than the voters comes because of the influence of her husband John Wellspeak, who is an important background player in national Democratic Party electoral politics (or so I’m told.) Indeed, one potential serious candidate for mayor has told me more than once that he/she has declined to run partly because he/she is afraid that Mr. Wellspeak could cause him/her to lose his/her employment and career.

Mr. Wellspeak may or may not have such power, but it speaks volumes that political insiders in this City believe that he does. The prevailing opinion is that her husband is Shawn Morris’ biggest asset in this campaign, a conduit for outside money and influence. But if Mr. Wellspeak is in fact directing Ms. Morris’ campaign, then we shall see if he can apply his national electoral knowledge properly to an insular podunk like Albany.

Of course, Corey Ellis has his own big outside connection sitting in the White House in Washington DC. Mr. Ellis headed the Albany for Obama campaign and fought hard all the way back when the Senator from Illinois was a laughable long shot candidate with no chance of catching up to the designated crown princess Hillary Clinton.

Politicians, I’ve noted, rarely forget their early supporters, the ones who pulled the bandwagon rather than jump on it later. That’s potentially a lot of political capital if Mr. Ellis knows how to use it.

One more odd thing. I can’t find the Shawn Morris campaign website, other than the Facebook page. Corey Ellis, in contrast, is all over the internet with all kinds of contact information, biographies, policy statement, speeches, etc. Perhaps the campaigns of Ms Morris and Mr. Ellis will shape up to be the old way of campaigning versus the new.

Dominick Plans To Campaign Vigorously For Corey Ellis
Dominick Plans To Campaign Vigorously For Corey Ellis

Speaking of the old way of doing things, current mayor Jerry Jennings has not yet announced that he is running for another term. Over the past few months the Hearst Times Union has several times reported that both Jennings and Ms. Morris have announced their candidacy. Clearly, the Times Union was deliberately lying in order to confuse the voters. Very typical of Hearst.

But what’s the deal with old Jerry Jennings, when will He announce? It looks like He has been waiting for His challengers to reveal themselves before announcing himself. If that was His plan, then He’s won that round.

I suppose that we should assume that His Majesty is delighted with two major challengers rather than one. Then again, maybe He isn’t. After all, we have two competent challengers who are not only perfectly capable of running the City, according to their own public statements both of them have a much better grasp of the City’s problems and where to look for solutions.

All those secret meetings over the past four months were directed toward producing a single unified candidate to knock off the incumbent. I attended some of those meetings for awhile, which included some of the leading progressive campaigners and activists in our community along with interested elected officials.

So yeah, for a while I was sitting in the smoke filled back room with the political kingmakers. Only, there was no smoking and the alleged kingmakers proved incapable of producing a unified mayoral candidate. The group did manage to register a fundraising PAC, produce a website and give themselves a name, Albany Neighborhoods First.

Neither Mr. Ellis and Ms. Morris have shown any inclination whatsoever to work with the group on their respective campaigns. But the group has been managing to find candidates to challenge some of the lamest and most useless of Jerry's Kids on the Common Council

One funny thing. When the group scheduled the first meeting last summer, one person who was invited to participate leaked the information to Jerry Jennings, who in turn leaked it to the Hearst Rag (which obliged The Mayor by putting the leak on the back page of section E.) I am 99 percent sure I know exactly who did the deed, a naive fool who thought that he/she was trading information for access to power.

In the end, no harm was done by revealing the “secret” meetings. The rumors of organized opposition to the current regime have had more of an all round effect than the group itself has had so far.

The Wife Loudly Harangues The Candidate
The Wife Loudly Harangues The Candidate

Our anonymous friend DIA over at Democracy In Albany has been leading some lively discussions over the merits of having two strong challengers instead of one unified candidate. DIA believes that three candidates will allow, indeed will force vital issues to be aired in public. This is bad news for The Mayor our mystery blogger tells us, because an open airing of issues is exactly what will reveal the incumbent’s record of failure.

The opposing viewpoint, of course, is that a split vote guarantees another four years for His Majesty. However, if The Mayor wins because of a split vote with two strong candidates, his win will almost certainly be by less than 50 percent of the total, not a mandate. After such a victory, Jennings would have to face a sullen and angry populace that would make His next four years a living hell. Guaranteed.

Like I said, Jennings is no fool. If He is not looking forward to four years of open warfare with increasingly organized hostile citizens, he may choose to step to the rear and run a loyal minion in His place, such as John Rosenzwieg. Perhaps this is why He has not announced yet. Perhaps... He is still wrestling with His nerves.


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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by: alfrednewman
Posted on: 03/12/2009
Well written Dan.

I heard a rumor the other day that Ellis may be switching gears and running for Morris' seat instead.

Either way, I am not sure that either Morris or Ellis can get, either combined or apart, enough votes to make a difference. Maybe if they decided to take their fight to the general election but not in a party primary

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on: 03/12/2009

Let me put THAT rumor to rest right now. Corey Ellis is running for mayor, no ifs and or buts.

And you may recall that four years ago Mr. Ellis was forced to take his campaign successfully to the general election because our current Mayor carried out a successful campaign of voter intimidation against Mr. Ellis in the September primary. Sometime in the next month or two I'll have an article about my personal eyewitness encounters with Jennings' vote suppression tactics.

Posted by: alfrednewman
Posted on: 03/12/2009
Dan, personally I don't see how Ellis could win a primary against Morris or Jennings. He doesnt (yet) have the following outside of the minority wards.

Four years ago the WFP flooded the third ward with volunteers that they shipped in and they invested a lot of money in Ellis' campaign. Now, four years later, they seem to changed their focus away from NYS and I dont see them making the same effort.

Intimidation? In Albany? In the 21st Century? Say it isnt so!

(sorry for the discussion)

Posted by: Laurie Schaible
Posted on: 03/12/2009
You might be surprised at who knows Mr. Ellis - outside of the minority wards. Many people who work in Albany read the newspapers too, follow the local gossip, and can see who is doing what (or not) for Albany.

I am betting he (Corey) will surprise, especially with Dominick's endorsement.

Posted by: Roger Green
Posted on: 03/18/2009
SIGH...I'm still depressed about it. I'm convinced that either Ellis or Morris would have cleaned Jennings' clock one-on-one. A split progressive vote will get Jerry his 40%, enough to win the primary and the general election -- unless the GOP abdicates and WFP endorses Ellis or Morris, and he or she stays in the race until November.

Dan, the populace has been sullen for at least the LAST four years over the fact that Jerry's garbage deals have totally screwed the city. Him winning to deal with an angry populace is cold comfort.

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on: 03/18/2009

Yeah, Rog, but Jennings is not an immutable force. He's older and more tired than he used to be, and by His own admission the job of mayor keeps getting harder. By no means is He a pushover, but it's no fun being the center of attention if everybody keeps throwing shoes at His head.

Now the Feds are making noises that they are not going to allow His Dump to expand. One more "insolvable problem" for Him::

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