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The Long Vacation

by David King on March 31, 2011 · 1 comment

Albany has been through the shame wringer this past month: the “Kegs and Eggs” melee, which made another one of Albany’s abandoned neighborhoods the butt of national jokes, and then the DWI arrest of Albany Police Department spokesman James Miller, which also led to national attention. The levels of irony involved in these events were not lost on the national audience. But the immediacy of the events did seem lost on one individual particular—the guy whose job it is to make sure Albany isn’t a joke, that its neighborhoods are not forsaken, that its police force carries itself in a professional manner— Mayor Jerry Jennings.

Jennings appeared on YNN on the morning of March 26, 14 days after the “kegs and eggs” drunken-student-destruco-fun-time party. The appearance was a supernaturally orange-colored cherry on top of Albany’s embarrassment sundae. The almost iridescent Jennings explained his initial absence to YNN’s Julie Chapman: “I was on my annual vacation, which is something I look forward to . . . although when you are away you are not totally away.”

There are situations that arise in any job—clerk at a convenience store, brain surgeon, journalist, even mayor—during which it is not the best time to take a break. Sure, it is in all of our nature to think, screw it. It’s my vacation. I’m out of here! But responsible individuals realize, maybe it would be best if they canceled their plans, stuck around, demonstrated commitment, made sure everything turns out OK.

With so much at stake, with a neighborhood, an entire city, reeling from chaos, in desperate need of leadership, Jennings simply retreated. I can’t blame Jennings for not being in town when Miller was arrested, but perhaps he could have been around to expedite some of the organizing of the community response to the “kegs” incident. Most mayors would not have had the stones to up and leave the city after such an embarrassment. Most mayors have to worry about being reelected, about facing tough questions from the press. They have to think about how nearly two weeks of vacation will look after such controversy.

Albany’s mayor looked haggard on his YNN appearance, despite that odd orange glow of his—weathered, like maybe he’s had enough. Perhaps it was Chapman’s tone, serious and pressing, that threw Jennings off his game. The mayor is not used to being pushed by Albany’s press. The area’s mainstream publications do their best not to ask Jerry the tough questions. Better not to piss off the boss. But Chapman pressed Jennings on his response to the riot and Miller’s arrest, and the mayor seemed flustered.

However, the media were quickly back to making excuses for Jennings. YNN’s Sabina Kuriakose introduced her segment on Jennings’ return from vacation thus: “You think the guy would be able to take a vacation, right?”

Well yeah, but not, you know, now!

I know where I see Jennings most, and I know where my friends in the political world say the mayor spends most of his time. But I’m curious: Readers, where do you see the mayor? Is it at ribbon cuttings, City Hall, walking neighborhood streets, driving around town in a city vehicle, at the bar? It’s not hard to spot the tan man, so where are you spotting him? To the residents of Pine Hills: Is the mayor in your neighborhood helping to organize, offering ways forward?

I would like to hear about your interactions with the mayor, your Jennings sightings. Feel free to post them on our blog or Facebook page, or e-mail them directly to davidhowardking@gmail.com if you would rather not have the whole world see; I promise to be discreet. Heck, get a picture of yourself with the mayor around town and post it to on our Facebook page.

I’d love to hear that Jennings is out on the town solving the city’s problems, talking to constituents and meeting with people who care about making Albany a better place. But you know me, I’m skeptical. I’ve watched Albany lose one neighborhood after another to blight and indifference under Jennings’ long tenure as mayor.

Remember bustling downtown Central Avenue? It would be wonderful if the kegs and eggs event could bring together the invested citizens of the city, as councilwoman Leah Golby hopes, to see if community activism—not new laws—can turn a neighborhood around, if not the entire city. I get a sinking suspicion that Jennings is not the man to look to for leadership in that area. He looks like someone who he wishes he were still on vacation. Perhaps it’s now, in these hard times, that Albany can find some new leadership. Leaders who won’t abandon ship when things get ugly.

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