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Sunnyside Down

Brian Scavo draws controversy, challengers, and a breakfast snub

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on March 16, 2011

The delicious buffet was the only thing that New York State Sen. Neil Breslin and Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo agreed on at a tumultuous organized-labor breakfast last fall. The two politicians argued in the foyer, after which labor leaders were asked to tell Scavo that he was no longer welcome at the  breakfasts. But Scavo says nobody has informed him he was persona non grata.

Breslin is still a regular at the breakfasts. Scavo attended occasionally before quarreling with Breslin, but this winter, he hasn’t shown up at all. “I don’t go to labor breakfast on a regular basis,” Scavo said. “The labor breakfast is not my world.”

The morning meals take place on the first Friday of every month at the Quality Inn in Albany. For $15, tradespeople and union members eat and schmooze. During the meal, everyone has a chance to stand up and talk about whatever is on their mind.

On the day the argument occurred, Scavo spoke about the Albany County Renewable Energy Authority, which the county legislature established in 2008. He told the crowd that Assemblyman John McEneny intends to move the legislation forward at the state level once Breslin does the same in the Senate.

“I called out Neil Breslin,” Scavo recalled. “I told him Jack McEneny’s on board; now we’re waiting for you, Neil. He took offense. He was oversensitive. That’s what got me in trouble.”

“When I addressed the people, I was very polite and eloquent,” said Scavo. “Out in the hallway, it was a whole different matter. We were in a heated debate. Sometimes men, they get a little carried away. He put his finger in my face and threatened me. He was about an arm’s length away. He started off the whole conversation in an angry, raging tone and it degenerated from there.”

Breslin, however, said that he approached Scavo in the hall to ask that the legislator not put him on the spot in front of the whole room without advance warning, and that Scavo responded with some choice words.

“I told him that I have been involved with the legislation,” Breslin said. “I said, ‘If you have something, run it by me ahead of time.’ It would have eliminated the necessity of you speaking to the crowd.”

“He addressed me with expletives from about 10 feet away. I turned away from it. I retained my composure. He appears to be unstable.”

Scavo denied using obscenities during the altercation, and claims that dredging up the incident now is just another attempt by his political enemies to undermine him.

“This was three or four months ago,” Scavo said. “There’s a coordinated campaign of character assassination going on against me. They’ll do anything to tear a good man down. You’ve got to wade through the bull. Kathleen Scales runs the labor breakfast with the federation. She’s backing my opponent. They’re desperate for negative publicity.”

Scales, who is executive director of the New York State Labor Federation, said she does not run the breakfast, that the Michael Burns Labor Parade Committee does, and that she did not bring the incident to the attention of Metroland.

“I do support Noelle Kinsch,” said Scales, but “I am not interested in my candidate getting elected based on negative smears toward Mr. Scavo. I believe that she is the better qualified candidate and will better represent the people in the district.”

Scales attended a fundraiser this month that generated more than $10,000 for Kinsch, who is after Scavo’s District 7 seat this November. Also at Kinsch’s fundraiser were Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Albany County Executive Mike Breslin.

On March 31, Albany County Democratic Committee members representing the election districts within the 7th Legislative District will interview Kinsch, Scavo and Jack Sullivan and decide which candiate to endorse. Then it will be up to the candidates to win the voters’ allegiance in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.

Asked about the incumbent’s behavior, Kinsch said, “There have been a series of allegations against him that my neighbors feel are unbefitting of a public servant. He conducts himself in a manner that I don’t think people take him seriously. . . . I am focused on bringing accountability, professionalism and integrity to this office.”

Kinsch, who is president of the board of directors of Equinox, has been a regular at the labor breakfasts. She’s also been attending meetings of all five neighborhood associations in her district and sessions of the county legislature.

The third contender for the Democratic endoresment, Sullivan, served as Albany County’s budget director for 11 years in the 1980s and 1990s. He worked for the city of Albany after that as a financial officer for the Department of Development and Planning until his retirement at the beginning of this year.

“I’m running, first of all, because I think I can do a better job than the incumbent or anyone else,” said Sullivan. “It seems to me that the incumbent really doesn’t understand the job of being a county legislator. With all the distractions that have been going on, I don’t think he should continue to serve.”

Sullivan said that unless he is chosen as the preferred candidate on March 31, he will not go up against Scavo.

“If I do not get committee support, then I’ll walk away. . . . A three-way race would allow the incumbent to stay in there.”