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February 20, 2012


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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February 20, 2012

Albany Mayor Kathy

Mayor Jerry Jennings is ripe for an electoral takedown and there is one woman who can do the job

*Update* An Albanyweblog exclusive:
Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin makes a statement about running

Whether you want to think about it or not, the 2013 campaign for the next mayor of the City of Albany has already begun. You probably haven’t heard much about that yet. But the prime challenger to current incumbent mayor Jerry Jennings is already laying the groundwork for an upset victory.

...Did you catch that? I did not say “challengers,” it’s not going to be like last time. The array of pro-Albany political forces are quietly lining up behind a unified candidate, so it doesn’t look like we’re going to have another miserable three way campaign like we did in 2009.

It looks like incumbent mayor Jerry Jennings is going to face a solid, competent challenger who has both the ability and the support to drop Him like a wounded elephant.

Ladies and gentlemen, readers of this blog, allow me to be the first to introduce to you City of Albany Treasurer Kathy Sheehan as The Next Mayor of the City of Albany:

Kathy Sheehan... Mayor Of Albany?
Kathy Sheehan... Mayor Of Albany?

Okay, the September 2013 primary is a long ways away, but that’s how you have to play the game to win. We didn’t see this kind of long-range planning among the two challengers to the incumbent back in 2009, rather both challengers waited to announce their campaigns until the last possible moment. Some say they both waited until too late.

That’s not going to happen this time, not with Kathy Sheehan. Everyone can instantly see that the Treasurer is not waiting for chimeras and she’s not kidding about becoming mayor. Anybody who is planning to announce a run for mayor will be arriving after Kathy, and that includes the incumbent.

Of course it’s too early for her to officially announce. This past December, after watching Kathy give an all too fast and detailed presentation of the City annual budget for the amount of time allotted to her at a public meeting, I asked her one final question. “I keep hearing rumors” I said, “from certain people that you are going to run for mayor. Is there any truth to these rumors?”

Kathy Sheehan On January 22
Kathy Sheehan On January 22

Caught her by surprise I did. She hadn’t settled on a pat answer at that point and after some hesitation replied, “Who are these people you’ve been talking to? You’ve got to stop listening to rumors.” Which was funny, because she knew exactly which people I’d been talking to.

So, how can the first term Treasurer who is holding her first elected office even presume to run for mayor? Why exactly would a voter choose her rather than choose one of the experienced Old Boys who are currently still imbedded in City Hall?

I’ll mention one good reason that pretty much says it all. After only one year in the Treasurer’s office after ousting Jerry’s creature Betty Barnette, Ms. Sheehan was able to report good news to the Common Council, as related in these excerpts from the Hearst Times Union report:

A year after a parking-ticket scandal roiled City Hall, Albany has collected nearly $1 million more in parking fines and surcharges so far this year -- despite the fact that its parking enforcement officers are writing fewer tickets, Treasurer Kathy Sheehan said... Overall, collections were up 36 percent, or $915,540, through Sept. 30 of this year, Sheehan told city lawmakers...

"It's the benefit of having a 21st century computer system," said Sheehan, who took office in January and immediately oversaw the implementations of the changes... Through July, the total number of tickets written was down about 4,000, or seven percent over last year, and the total dollar value of those tickets was down 27 percent, Sheehan said.

To put it plain and simple, Kathy Sheehan booted Jerry Jennings’ minion out of the Treasury and almost immediately the City had an extra million dollars to spend. You could almost call that cause and effect. Imagine the wave of efficiency that would engulf our government if Jerry and all of His minions were booted out permanently. Imagine how many more dollars of revenue would suddenly... not disappear anymore.

It’s hard to argue with efficiency and honesty. Kathy Sheehan has already demonstrated that she can be more competent than Jerry Jennings. For that reason I think she has a very reasonable expectation of winning a mayoral election against the lumbering incumbent. I believe that Ms. Sheehan has exactly what the voters want.

Corey Ellis In 2009
Corey Ellis In 2009

Let’s look at what happened in the 2009 mayoral election. Those campaigns (all Citywide and Common Council seats are up at the same time every four years) brought Ms. Sheehan into the Treasurer’s office with a big landslide. But naturally most of the media focus was on the mayoral race.

In 2009 the final challenger to Jerry Jennings on Primary Day was Corey Ellis, who lost with 44 percent of the vote to the incumbent’s 56 percent. Despite the wide margin few people used the word “landslide.” Even Jennings Himself did not play up his win as a resounding affirmation of His policies.

Jerry Jennings Voting In September, 2009
Jerry Jennings Voting In September, 2009

His win was not a victory, you could see it on His face. He knew better than anyone else that He had been returned to office by default and not by public support. The very public lack of unity by the various pro-Albany opposition was the only reason He won.

But as the final challenger on Primary Day, the sad fact is that Corey Ellis did not inspire enough public confidence to overcome that disunity. Mr. Ellis is simply not a good public speaker, nor does he have the ability to effectively project himself into an audience like the mayor does. In other words, he has absolutely no public charisma, hardly a hint.

I still believe Corey Ellis would have made a good or possibly excellent mayor if he had won. He would have brought wide reform to City Hall, but with a new style that would not have depended on the mayor’s personality. But today I can see the flaw in my thinking.

I’ve noted that most voters vote for confidence and political competence rather than issues. Except for certain minor and very loud partisans, for the most part issues are secondary to the voters. Most voters choose to vote for someone who demonstrates the political skills needed to handle the job, they know instinctively that a public job like politician needs a skilled public face.

Buffalo Lawyer Carl Paladino
Buffalo Lawyer Carl Paladino

I’m not saying issues are not important to the voters, but rather that voters see issues through a lens of competence. For example, last autumn NY State gubernatorial candidate Carl Palladino proclaimed during his campaign that he wanted to incarcerate poor people in unused prisons (!) so as to “teach them hygiene because they never learned.”

The general reaction among people I talked to, I noted, was “What an idiot for saying something like that out loud! He can’t expect to win if he says things like that.” Outrage at his inherent viciousness toward a large segment of the taxpaying population was comparatively marginal. But he went down in flames anyway.

Paladino clearly understood that confidence wins elections, thus the “outrageous” spoutings. (His plan backfired because his comments were invariably stupid.) Confidence and competence is why Barack Obama is our president, that along with his false promises to protect our civil rights, close Guantanamo, end the wars in Asia, end corporate bailouts, etc.

But see, if issues were of prime importance to the electorate then Obama would have been arrested by now and sent to a midwest CMU along with all his fellow Republican politicians. But Obama’s solid confidence put him in the White House, and the obvious lack of competency among the current batch of Re-pub challengers will probably get him reelected this year.

Jerry Jennings Hangs Close To Newly Elected Lt. Governer Duffy And Governer Cuomo During Obama's Visit To Schenectady, January 2011
Jerry Jennings Hangs Close To Newly Elected Lt. Governer Duffy And Governer Cuomo During Obama's Visit To Schenectady, January 2011

I mention Obama because it was his presidential candidacy upon which Corey Ellis modeled his own mayoral candidacy. Mr. Ellis headed Albany For Change back when Obama’s candidacy was considered a joke. He came out of that experience of seeing his candidate go from nothing to everything inspired to duplicate that feat on a local scale.

If it was a matter of issues then Corey’s call for a radical reorganization of City Hall was way overdue and should have swept him into office. His comprehensive list of buried and pointedly ignored issues should have been brought up decades ago. That no one did before Corey ran for mayor, and that so many people have been content with the degenerate status quo shows how badly our City has declined under the incumbent.

If the voters chose candidates on the basis of personal record, then Corey also had the qualifications. He was born in Arbor Hill and raised in the South End, left Albany for school and opportunity like so many young people do, and then chose to move back home. Since then his constant activism on behalf of the City fills a long resume, including a notable term on the Common Council. But that meant little to the voters.

Shawn Morris Announcing Her Run For Mayor, 2009
Shawn Morris Announcing Her Run For Mayor, 2009

For much of the 2009 Primary race there was another candidate, then Common Council President Shawn Morris (not to be confused with the County legislator with a similar name.) For many months before the September Primary Ms. Morris and Mr. Ellis opposed each other in public and butted heads behind the scenes. Meanwhile the incumbent used the time to rally His declining political machine.

Neither challenger would budge, neither would withdraw from the race and let the other campaign. Both Ms. Morris and Mr. Ellis thought that their own Time Had Come, and the only thing standing in their way was each other. Both appeared to believe that all they had to do was stare down the other and thus win the election.

There was an attempt to unify the two campaigns which I got to watch. In the spring of 2009 a group was formed by some respected activists to coordinate the various “progressive” campaigns, i.e. candidates opposed to Jerry and His minions. Both Mr. Ellis and Ms. Morris were invited to participate with the hope of bringing about some sort of resolution between them.

Citizen Action Leads A Protest Against Tax-Dodging Verizon Corporation, February In Albany
Citizen Action Leads A Protest Against Tax-Dodging Verizon Corporation, February In Albany

But Citizen Action (CA) was also invited to sit with the group, and true to form they swamped the group with their own people and took it over by the third or fourth meeting. Again, I agree with most of CA’s issues and with their lobbying work, but their biggest strength is their biggest weakness. Their top down corporate structure can get specific things done very efficiently, but that self-serving corporate structure is very much a running contradiction of their progressive agenda that can easily harm or destroy the very things they advocate.

Both Mr. Ellis and Ms. Morris observed the CA hijacking of the group with alarm. I watched both candidate’s faces as they quickly caught on that CA was planning to use the group as a vehicle to control the campaigns. Pretty soon both candidates were keeping as far away as possible from the purported unity group (although Mr. Ellis eventually accepted help from CA out of desperation.)

That was the end of unity and the rest of the miserable campaign is history. According to independent polls taken during the summer months, the two challengers had a bigger vote total when added together than the incumbent did. Clearly the voters were dissatisfied with the incumbent, and for a moment it even looked like a real three way race. Then reality set in.

Casualties Of Jerry's War: Houses Across The Street From Schuyler Mansion
Casualties Of Jerry's War: Houses Across The Street From Schuyler Mansion

Shawn Morris became the Uptown Candidate and Corey Ellis the Downtown Candidate. This amplified the artificial split in the City landscape that had kept Uptown Jerry in the mayor’s office for the prior 16 years. Jennings has always pursued the interests of uptown neighborhoods against downtown neighborhoods, a pursuit He has always conducted like a war of attrition.

For a lot of people this has translated into Rich White Uptown versus Poor Black Downtown. Of course this perception is total nonsense, for example there’s plenty of rich white people living downtown and lots of poor black folks living uptown. But this quietly nurtured false perception has been the lynchpin of Jerry Jennings’ electoral hold over the City.

So for me it was very distressing to see the two challengers fall into this bullcrap artificial division between uptown and downtown. It would be no exaggeration to say that Jerry Jennings framed their campaigns years ago so that they could not win. Partly because of the situation in which they found themselves and partly because they were butting heads with each other, neither challenger could avoid being snared and categorized by the framing.

Jerry's Uptown Legacy: View From The Top Of His Rapp Road "Landfill"
Jerry's Uptown Legacy: View From The Top Of His Rapp Road "Landfill"

Well, Shawn Morris suddenly shut down her campaign about a month before the Primary because she didn’t think she could win. Ms. Morris had attracted a number of people who campaigned for her as a career opportunity. These were the folks who were the most angry at Ms. Morris for quitting, I heard more than one complain of having wasted valuable time.

The voters who were supporting her were also upset. “She quits when the going gets tough,” is what they saw. As for us reform-minded supporters of Mr. Ellis, we all said among ourselves, “See? She’s not interested in fixing the City, she only wants to advance her career.”

And to add unnecessary insult to injury, she refused to endorse Mr. Ellis, telling me after the Primary, “I don’t think he’s qualified to run the City.” I have heard from several sources that to her very upset supporters she quietly endorsed Jerry Jennings. Apparently Ms. Morris had no objection to the way Jerry Jennings runs the City.

And the uptown voters responded to Ms. Morris and voted for the incumbent but not for the final challenger. I’ve repeatedly asked uptown former supporters of Shawn Morris why they didn’t vote for Corey Ellis, and repeatedly I’ve been met with “Oh, you wouldn’t understand” pitying looks. I learned a long time ago that such behavior is a symptom of self-deception.

Occupy Albany Hangs A Sign On City Hall, Dec. 28
Occupy Albany Hangs A Sign On City Hall, Dec. 28

Meanwhile, despite having collected most of the real reformers and progressives in the City as his supporters, Corey Ellis had fallen into the role of Downtown Candidate. The problem with this batch of reformers and progressives was that they couldn’t bring in sufficient resources to fuel a decent media campaign. And not enough of them lived uptown.

Finally racism reared its ugly pus covered head in the form of rumors spread by certain persons who delight in doing such things. (He fools with and impregnates white women, he hates gays because he’s an inner city black, etc.) I observed that a lot of white people gladly utilized these rumors to justify their votes against Mr. Ellis, but mainly as an afterthought. That’s how casual racism usually works these days.

The final nail in the electoral coffin was the debate between Mr. Ellis and the incumbent, which took place a week before the Primary. There in front of the cameras, at the main library, was a very vulnerable Jerry Jennings with His 16 year record of anti-accomplishments. All Mr. Ellis had to do was throw His many failures back into His face and grind them in.

But Mr. Ellis did not display the debating skills needed to take down the tottering elephant. That’s what the voters saw. So there was no last minute miracle and Jerry’s Old Boy Machine collected the winning votes one more time.

Jennings Ellis Debate 2009
Jennings Ellis Debate 2009

We are definitely not going to see Shawn Morris run for mayor again or for any other Citywide office this time around. She left too many bad tastes in too many mouths by her withdrawal from the 2009 race. I’ve talked to too many local political activist people who can’t hear her name anymore without clenching their teeth.

As for Corey Ellis, I doubt he will run this time. At the same public meeting in December where I embarrassed Ms. Sheehan with my rude question, I later got a chance to ask Corey if he planned to run (after she had left the room.) “Yes!” he automatically replied to the crowd. But a moment later he confessed that he was “reconsidering options.”

That was the first time I’d ever heard him say that. I take this to mean that he is not actively pursuing an elected position at this moment, which means he is effectively out of the picture as a serious mayoral candidate this time around. Besides, the man is quite busy with projects such as the Capital District Black Chamber of Commerce, he does his best work out of the spotlight.

Carolyn McLaughlin Visits Her House
Carolyn McLaughlin Visits Her House

So who else might run? Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin has been repeatedly mentioned by the local corporate media as a possible candidate. But she has yet to say one word about the subject that I’ve heard. Right now any media rumors of her candidacy are less than vapor ware.

But as President she is vice-mayor, she immediately takes over City Hall if Jerry drops dead or goes to prison. Thus she currently occupies the most prominent launch pad to blastoff a mayoral campaign. Plus, in 2009 she successfully ran a citywide battle against a candidate supported and financed by Jerry Jennings which she won by a landslide.

So Carolyn could run for mayor if she has mind to. She ignored my email query about her potential candidacy, but that means little. If the President is thinking of running for mayor then the last thing she needs at this point is to talk to bloggers. [See *Update* above.]

Carolyn McLaughlin At Work
Carolyn McLaughlin At Work

For twelve years Ms. McLaughlin represented the Second Ward on the Common Council. She is a native of the Second Ward which is mostly South End, and she is related to at least half the people in the old neighborhood. Everyone knows Carolyn down that way, she’s part of the scene.

But outside the South End few people know much about her, except that she comes from downtown. Even in parts of the South End such as my own neighborhood, she has little recognition. By the time you get uptown she’s merely a name in the local media.

I don’t think she can overcome that lack of recognition in a campaign, even one launched from the President’s chair. Nor do I think she has much of a record of accomplishments that she can point to that would interest anyone outside the South End. And without being specific, she has a number of vulnerabilities that will most definitely come back to bite her butt during a dirty campaign.

But Carolyn is quite ambitious and may grasp at opportunities. She might acquire (or already have) a financial backer, or possibly even decide that the end justifies the means and make a shady deal with incumbent Jerry to help him split the vote. Who knows? Or maybe she plans to stay President and run for reelection. We’ll see.

Dominick Calsolaro With Shanna Goldman After She Was Pepper Sprayed During The Attack Against Occupy Albany, Dec 22
Dominick Calsolaro With Shanna Goldman After She Was Pepper Sprayed During The Attack Against Occupy Albany, December 22

Oh, one more candidate worth mentioning. I can say with one hundred percent certainty that Dominick Calsolaro will not run for mayor. He might not even run for his Common Council seat again. “Twelve years is enough,” he told me. So Dominick may retire from politics the same year that Jerry goes down and Kathy takes over. That’s the passing of an era.


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Posted by:And So It Goes
Posted on:03/11/2012
Jerry will be the next Mayor...

Its easy to criticize (Kathy Sheehan), hard to govern...

Jerry is smart, charismatic, and knows how to win.

If he wants to run again, the office will be his...

The opposition is too divided, too negative, and too chaotic to put together an effective campaign...

That's just the way it is, your article kind of summarizes this point..

I've not a vendetta against the Mayor, so I can be a bit unbiased, as this article is not...

Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:03/12/2012
And So It Goes - All of my articles are biased. I never pretend to be objective, which is impossible. So I always reveal my biases so the reader can judge the articles in proper context. I consider the "mainstream media's" claim to objectivity to be their #1 lie, a blanket to hide their hardline corporate agenda.

Posted by:GH
Posted on:03/13/2012
I have circumstantial evidence that she's correct about how updating the computer system would increase revenue from parking tickets. A few years ago, when I was living in the city, I got a parking ticket for failing to switch sides on sidewalk cleaning day. When I went to pay the fine, they didn't have my name in the system. I would have been happy to pay that fine.

Posted by:Cincinnatus
Posted on:03/27/2012
I have read your blog for years and admire your truth-telling on a variety of issues but on this one you are mistaken.

I think the Mayor also has to go--but Kathy Sheehan is not the answer. Kathy represents a reshuffling of the deck away from the conservative democrats (Jennings, McCoy, some members of the Common Council and County legislature)--which is good in itself--toward the phony progressives (some of the Council, some of the legislature). In one case, the City sinks, in the other, the City still sinks (while being blamed on the predecessor, not altogether wrong there) but we have a new computer system.

In my opinion, the only real thinkers on the Council are Calsolaro and Commisso (some other members are right some of the time), both of whom have pointed out that the Emperor has no clothes, particularly concerning the City budget. As we see in today's news, the Mayor is up at the Capitol grovelling for the State aid to be given to the City--and during the Albany Budget deliberations last Fall, both Calsolaro and Commisso ripped the Mayor and his Council minions for signing off on this debacle.

My point is, Kathy has taken no real stand against the lunacy that is our budget and budget process, and is clearly trying to not displease any constituency in the belief that she will coast to victory (just look at the way she has saddled up to Police and Fire on their ridiculous--and unsustainable--0% contribution toward retiree health, a benefit given nowhere else, anywhere, to anybody).

Please rethink Kathy Sheehan, she is not really progressive and has no interest in changing the status quo in the way that it requires.

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