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November 3, 2018
Some Albany Democrats want GOP elections official out
Criticize Democratic elections commissioner for remaining silent
By Amanda Fries Hearst-Owned Albany Times Union Tuesday, October 9, 2018
ALBANY - Outside the doors of the Department of Motor Vehicles on South Pearl Street on a misty Columbus Day morning, Albany Democrats and community leaders expressed outrage over remarks made by an Albany County Board of Elections official about the South End.
Some called for elections Commissioner Rachel Bledi to resign, questioning whether she’s fit to ensure that all people in the county have the right to vote.
“I think her remarks are racist,” said Albany Legislator Wanda Willingham, deputy chair of the county Legislature. “It’s insulting to not just the South End, but to all of Albany County. I’m calling for her resignation because I don’t believe that she can make decisions clearly to how the people in Albany County will be able to vote.”
Others criticized Democratic Elections Commissioner Matthew Clyne for refusing to comment on the matter.
Bledi said the South End was a “bad, dangerous neighborhood” during an interview with the Times Union about county plans to relocate the Board of Elections to the current site of the DMV at 224-260 S. Pearl St. The elections office rents space on North Russell Road, off Central Avenue, and a move to the South End could save county taxpayers more than $350,000 annually, said County Executive Daniel McCoy.
Clyne has avoided comment since and did not return calls for comment Monday.
“When you have a Democratic elections commissioner who is silent about an attack in an area he used to work in, it questions his fitness to be in leadership at this critical time in history,” Albany Legislator Merton Simpson, a Democrat, said.
Elaine Frazier, CEO of the Capital Area Urban League, did something she rarely does – speak out on a growing partisan issue.
“I’m stepping out here today because I just can’t take this anymore. The source of these remarks reflects people who have no idea how Albany got to be Albany,” she said. “The thing that fascinates me is that people who have no idea of the DNA of this city will talk about their mama so bad.”
Bledi stood firm on her statements, saying “you cannot say there is no crime in that area” and suggested elected officials are deflecting from the “real issue, which is that they’ve been derelict as elected officials in these areas in addressing rising crime in the city of Albany.”
Still further, Bledi has said the DMV building isn't laid out for the needs of the elections board.
Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who was one of over a dozen elected officials, clergy and community leaders at Monday’s news conference, said crime isn’t a solely Democrat or Republican issue.
“Let’s stop polarizing, let’s stop pointing fingers, let’s stop making assumptions based on the way we look,” Sheehan said. “Let’s get to know one another because if you come down here and do that you will find a city you will fall in love with.”
Albany County Republicans bristled at the Democrats’ outcries and noted that the Democratic Party doesn’t control who the Republican elections commissioner is.
“They don’t control who our commissioner is,” said Christine Benedict, chair of the county Republican Committee. “Do I think it’s going to lead to voter suppression? No, not a bit.”
Democrats have said in the past that they’ve often gotten more assistance from Bledi than from Clyne. It was part of the impetus behind opposition to reappointing Clyne in 2016 as elections commissioner.
Bledi said any suggestion that her remarks had a “racial undertone is clearly false.” She pointed to her working with legislators like Willingham to add an additional majority-minority district and adjust polling sites to improve voter experience and turnout.
“If you talk to county legislators, they’ll say I’ve been very helpful to them over the years with a party that kind of shunned them,” she said. “I think this boils down to internal issues in the Democratic Party that they can’t get a handle on.”