Watching The Big Primary (Part One)

August 24, 2009

A review of Corey Ellis’ battle to bring Albany into the 21st century, part 2 will be about the ward races and other Citywide races

* * * UPDATE * * * Current mayor Jennings is getting financial assistance from billionaire Republican mayor of NYC Bloomberg

* * * Guest Editorial * * * Tom McPheeters, who is working on the Ellis campaign, presents his take on the obstacles that the campaign is fighting to overcome

The winners of the Democratic Party Primary in the City of Albany are almost always the winners of the general election in November… almost always. The Republicans at most a third party in the City of Albany, that is because the City Re-pubs are actually a powerful faction of the City Democratic Party. This Re-pub faction is usually called “The Machine” although these days it is proper to refer to these subsumed Republicans as “The Jennings Machine.”

For this upcoming Primary on Tuesday, September 15 Current Mayor Jerry Jennings and His machine are up against the wall like never before. Jennings’ bloated ego is not allowing Him to step aside quietly and let someone who cares about Albany and it’s citizens take over the government. Like His role model Erastus Corning The Third who is currently burning in Hell for all of his crimes against the City of Albany, Jennings is out for one last hurrah and damn the City.

Let’s start with the mayoral race, and Corey Ellis’ uphill battle to pry the incumbent out of the now heavily guarded and virtually inaccessible corner office of City Hall. I’ll be posting a review of the ward races and other Citywide races in a week or so. And you’d better believe that this following overview of this election is a guaranteed one hundred percent partisan exposition of my own opinion. Corey Ellis

It is generally understood that if Corey Ellis wins the mayoral primary then come January there will be a revolution at all levels of City government. By revolution I mean the introduction of pragmatism and common sense in public policy, things that are almost nonexistent in the current regime. We will see a massive shift away from spending City revenues to enrich outside speculators and line political insider’s pockets, and the beginning of a policy of directing taxpayer money toward the citizens of Albany and our small, local businesses.

Even Mr. Ellis’ detractors concede that if he wins The Machine will finally lose political control of the City once and for all. A remnant of The Machine will continue to hold power in some of the uptown wards, but the old machine boys will be rendered hapless without a strong willed dictator to tell them what to do and what to think. Don’t be surprised if they all bolt from the Democratic Party and declare themselves obstructionist Republicans.

But like I said, Mr. Ellis has an uphill battle all the way. His first and possibly biggest problem is that his opponent is an entrenched incumbent who is shamelessly using taxpayer funded City resources to promote His candidacy. And as I’ve pointed out in a recent post, Jennings routinely depends upon naked threats and voter intimidation inside the polling stations to win elections.

I can report that Mr. Ellis and his campaign are totally prepared to fight in the polling stations across the City for voter access, and I mean fight. In Corey’s 2005 3rd ward Common Council campaign, Jennings’ minions used every nasty trick to retain control of the voting stations, from intimidation to physical threats to throwing out poll watchers. Mr. Ellis had anticipated these attempts to block access and that day he fought Jennings’ minions to a standstill.

That primary campaign resulted in the arrest of ward leader and Jennings activist Jamie Gilkey for voting fraud, and also a police investigation that helped clean up voting procedures in the 3rd ward. In short, Corey Ellis is a real nice guy but you don’t want to mess him around. He knows how to fight back. Despite His public posturings, Jennings is well aware of Corey’s strong spine, and He understands very well that the challenger has the personality to effectively handle the office of mayor.

Ken Screvin Confronts The Candidate Ken Screvin Confronts The Candidate

Another big problem for the challenger’s campaign is that Jennings has, reportedly, ten times the cash on hand that Mr. Ellis has. Personally, I believe He has a lot more. Of course, a good chunk of this cash has to be spent on ward races and other Citywide contests. However, there is evidence that Jennings’ mountain of money is spreading thin, financing His dependents is the cost of political control.

Where comes this money? Jennings is a hardcore promoter of “privatization,” that is, the selling off of public assets to privateers and pocketing the difference. In this view, government exists merely to keep citizens docile so that they can be robbed peacefully. That’s why I call Jennings a Republican, “privatization” is the defining characteristic of all Re-pub politicos and a depressingly large number of Democratic politicians.

The privateers who benefit from this policy of forced disintegration appear to be terrified of Corey Ellis. Through back channels and through public “campaign contributions” we see outfits like Picotte and Barry Bette Led Duke giving lavishly to the Current Mayor. The favored developers have even set up their own campaign committee to support Jennings.

Clifton Park Resident Thomas Carroll Clifton Park Resident Thomas Carroll

Of particular note is welfare queen Tom Carroll’s outfit Brighter Choice, a so-called “charter” school corporation that has benefitted lavishly from Jennings’ almost slavish support. Brighter Choice has publicly given back to Jennings quite a pile of cash. And Tom Carroll is running attack ads against Corey Ellis for which, typically, Carroll refuses to take personal responsibility.

I want to know if these “contributions” from Brighter Choice to Jennings come directly from us taxpayers the same way that we pay for their advertising. But despite being 100 percent funded by the taxpayers, Brighter Choice is not required to make their finances public like public schools do so we may never know.

This array of corrupt power and dirty money is not the only problem that Corey Ellis has to overcome. When Common Council President Shawn Morris dropped out of the mayoral race in July, she did not endorse Mr. Ellis. The generally understood reason that she did not endorse is because she is angry at Mr. Ellis for running and interfering with her own chances. This can only be interpreted as a calculated move on her part to throw her support behind Jennings… without seeming to do so.

Shawn Morris Shawn Morris

That hurts, but much more damaging is the bizarre behavior of some members of Shawn Morris’ now unemployed campaign staff, a surprising number of whom are openly hostile to Corey Ellis personally. Of particular note is a former senior staffer who calls himself 11thWardDem who has been filling local message boards with reams of personal invective against Mr. Ellis. 11thWardDem has turned into one of Jerry Jennings’ most vocal supporters.

This is beyond sour grapes or mere disappointment, I can only guess what’s in their minds because they aren’t explaining themselves. I’ve listened to certain people who were, early on, spreading nasty rumors about how Mr. Ellis conducts his personal life, and an utterly false rumor that he is homophobic. It seems to me these are the sort of rumors that play very well into certain kinds of stereotypes, and act as convenient excuses for undermining his campaign. That’s as far as I’m going with that.

Indeed, it has become evident that 11thWardDem and the former Shawn Morris staffers are actively encouraging progressively minded voters to passively reject Mr. Ellis. All I can say is that if Mr. Ellis does not win the Primary, the loss will be on the heads of Ms. Morris and her former staff. I hope for their sakes that Jennings rewards them all for their timely support, and perhaps some of them are expecting exactly that.

Here’s one more problem. A week or so back the Hearst-owned Times Union put a phony baloney smear story about Mr. Ellis on the front page of their corporate sheet, complete with a bad photo of the candidate. It has come out that as a member of the Common Council Mr. Ellis was given a placard for his car so that he could park near City Hall or elsewhere when conducting City business. Despite this, he was (accidentally on purpose?) issued some 19 parking tickets, all of which were dismissed as errors. Nothing secret here, this is an open policy.

Well, the Hearst content provider who wrote the article very clumsily connected this bit of nothing to the notorious Ghost Ticket Scandal that has become the defining characteristic of the Jennings regime. Most notably they prominently featured the phrase “no-fine tickets” to describe the erroneous parking violations issued to Mr. Ellis.

The Times Union has been using this same phrase “no-fine tickets” that they invented to describe the Ghost Tickets, so clearly their intent was to confuse and mislead the readers. The impression deliberately conveyed by the title and the lead paragraphs of that article is that Mr. Ellis is supposedly a hypocrite who used and benefitted from the now famous Bullet Stickers just like every one of Jerry’s friends, and minions.

It sure looks like Jerry Jennings and Times Union Publisher George R. Hearst III (yes, you read that right) have been doing a little “horse trading,” the somewhat sanitized phrase used by the Hearst Corporation to describe their dirty deals and shakedowns of elected officials.

George W. Hearst III And Jerry Jennings George W. Hearst III And Jerry Jennings

I can safely predict that the Times Union will officially endorse Jerry Jennings, I think the reason is obvious. No, I don’t mean skin color, although I’m sure that the lily white editors of the Times Union prefer orange to dark brown. I mean that Jennings is a known quantity, corrupt and easy to manipulate by the guardians of a dying media outlet for the benefit of their corporate masters.

Corey Ellis, on the other hand, is extremely unlikely to cut any horse trading deals with Hearst, and that scares them. He is more likely to follow the example of President Obama, who has openly refused to take orders from Rupert Murdoch’s FOX network, letting them lie and slander and then lie some more to an ever decreasing audience. Besides, Mr. Ellis is young enough to understand that the Times Union can no longer control local politicians the way they controlled the hapless former Congressman Michael McNulty, their bag of air is deflating and soon they will be gone.

It is hard to say if either candidate is helped or hurt by being either smeared or endorsed by the Hearst Rag. I tend to think that the smearing hurts because there are probably a handful of voters in the City who still take the Hearst Rag seriously. Perhaps the endorsement will hurt more than the smear. Who can say for sure?

Finally there is an oft repeated line which has become the mantra of passive opposition to Mr. Ellis’ campaign. “I’m not seeing or hearing much about Corey Ellis’ positions on the issues, he’s not getting his message out.” One former campaigner for Shawn Morris who posted this line during a discussion on Democracy In Albany (DIA) snottily informed me that it was my job “to get his message out!” Apparently, it sure wasn’t her job.

So, like, don’t any of these people have access to the internet? Anybody can read Mr. Ellis’ positions off of his campaign website if they care to look. These are basically the sort of common sense ideas that have been hammered out by various citizens committees over the past few years, common sense ideas that are completely absent from the Jennings regime.

Corey Ellis At The Top Of Morton Avenue Speaking At Dominick Calsolaro's Announcement Corey Ellis At The Top Of Morton Avenue Speaking At
Dominick Calsolaro’s Announcement

Here’s a quick summary Corey Ellis’ main positions as I interpret them:

1) Public Safety This is item number one. Corey has correctly identified the short term cause of spiraling crime as the wide chasm and lack of respect between the Albany Police and most of the citizens of the City. His solution is to closely connect the police to the neighborhoods so that they can effectively deal with crime before or as it happens. In addition, he would implement an effective system of police accountability, this is essential to restore confidence in the Albany Police.

2) Opportunity “Ideally, the most positive and productive way to reduce crime is to offer opportunity.” The long-standing problem is that crime is spreading relentlessly uptown, to Pine Hills and beyond. Young people turn to crime because they have no reason to care about themselves or the world around them. We cannot afford to ignore our youth any longer, we need to offer them a stake in society so that they can grow into productive citizens.

3) Education Work with and respect the public school system and the Board of Education. Mr. Ellis has stated that he does not intend to eliminate “charter” schools, but it is clear that he intends to shift public support away from the useless extra layer of bureaucracy imposed upon the taxpayers by “charter” school corporations in the City. It’s time to stop beating on the public schools and give them the support that they need.

4) Buildings and Codes The livability of our neighborhoods depends upon the condition of the buildings in our neighborhoods. The simple and easy way to prevent buildings from decaying and becoming vacant is to enforce existing building codes, and to do so fairly and universally, not occasionally and selectively. Along with fair code enforcement the City needs to promote the restoration and renovation of our many vacant buildings.

5) Promote Growth “Direct investment and development funds toward our neighborhoods to promote the restoration and preservation of residential housing and the growth of small neighborhood businesses instead of giving disproportionate tax breaks [cash subsidies, legal services, etc.] to large commercial interests.” Small businesses create some 80 percent of new jobs. Create decent housing for taxpayers and City revenues go up.

6) Efficiency Conduct an audit of City departments to find out how to eliminate duplication of services and waste. Stop issuing bonds to temporarily balance the budget. Overhaul property tax assessments to be fair and consistent. And take a good hard look at the garbage importation scheme called the Rapp Road “Landfill” which is a big money loser. In other words, bring the conduct of City government out of the 19th century and into the 21st.

7) Transparency Last item, but possibly the most important of all. Without transparency, government exists merely to serve itself. Citizen participation in and citizen oversight of government are absolutely essential not only if we want to eliminate corruption, but also if we want policies that benefit the taxpaying citizens instead of outside speculators and corporations. However, we the people cannot observe and participate without access to the machinations of our public servants. Secrecy is corruption.

Every one of these items listed here and on the Ellis campaign website are straightforward and practical, a common sense approach to good government. None of them merits more than a minor quibble about details. Yet every single one is a radical departure from the policies of the Jennings regime. We have lived with rotten government in the City of Albany for so long that most of us can’t even imagine having an honest administration in City Hall.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that one of the reasons that I am excited about Corey Ellis as Mayor of Albany is that he is a native of the South End. He began life on Alexander Street and grew up in Creighton Story Homes on Third Avenue. A certain fellow about the neighborhood who grew up with Mr. Ellis is fond of proudly telling people that “Corey is the one of us who graduated out of the projects.”

Mr. Ellis left town to earn a college degree and pursue a career in organizing and activism down in NY City. But unlike so many other young people who leave Albany never to return because of the lack of opportunity here, Corey returned home when he got older to apply what he learned to the enormous problems of our community.

Talking To Chet Hardin Of Metroland Talking To Chet Hardin Of Metroland

Since I’m making predictions I’ll make one more. If Jerry Jennings manages to edge out Corey Ellis in a close contest, look to see Corey continue to campaign vigorously right into the November elections.

This is entirely my own speculation, I don’t have any insider information on this. But hey, he did exactly that back in 2005, and won. Jennings scared away enough voters in the 3rd ward Primary to eke out a win for His two-term incumbent candidate, but the challenger won handily in the general election. Will history repeat? Will Corey go all the way?

Corey Ellis has taken on all of the rot and indifference, not merely the corrupt old boys but the so-called progressives who are secret admirers of Jerry Jennings. There are few people in Albany politics who have the guts and the will to fight the power, most are quite happy to help prop up the status quo by ducking their heads in fear.

My final prediction is that Mr. Ellis is here to stay. His mayoral campaign has revealed the fatal weaknesses of the Jennings Machine and revealed His secret supporters. In or out of office, Corey Ellis is the new and permanent force in Albany politics, and all of you players had better revise your calculations accordingly.

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