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Executive Decisions

Republicans lose their assumed candidate for Albany County’s top seat and are slow to embrace a new one

by Taylor Morris on June 2, 2011

The race for Albany County executive has had an eventful few weeks. After some internal jockeying for the Democratic nomination, Albany County legislator and firefighter Dan McCoy accepted the party’s nomination, with the support of the county’s most powerful Democrats. Roughly a week later, as reported here and elsewhere, the Albany County GOP was all but set to officially announce Jen Whalen as its candidate. Then Whalen suddenly dropped out of the race before ever really getting in.

The vacant GOP nomination quickly became of interest to Nathan Lebron, 2009 candidate for Albany mayor and the information technology manager for Whalen’s never-actually-a-campaign campaign. Lebron has received some apparent support from Albany GOP chairman Don Clarey, who called the potential GOP candidate a “positive contributor to Albany politics” but who is still openly looking for another candidate to challenge McCoy.

After a weekend meeting with the Albany County Independence Party on May 21, Whalen sent out an e-mail that officially ended any intentions she had of running. Clarey then questioned Whalen’s temperament and ability to run a large campaign, just over a week after telling Metroland that Whalen’s “campaign abilities are off the charts.” Whalen thinks Clarey is “very enthusiastic about his duties” and said that “he was disappointed,” noting, “he’s got a big job to do and a lot of races to run in Albany County.” Whalen maintains there are “no hard feelings” between the two, and is still confident in her abilities. “I have a great temperament for running a campaign; I won two primaries,” Whalen said of her 2010 run for Assembly.

Whalen’s decision to not run for county executive was based on her family, she said. “It would have been a very spirited race,” she said, but she couldn’t put her family through months of around-the-clock campaigning two years in a row. “Life is too short with your children,” the mother of two said. “I couldn’t do that to them again this year.”

Passing on the nomination for county executive isn’t the end of Whalen’s political life, not if she has her way. The Colonie-based attorney and real-estate agent has her eye on the seat that eluded her in 2010. Given the right circumstances and beneficial redistricting, Whalen intends to run for the 109th District Assembly seat again next year.

With Whalen officially out, and the GOP without a candidate, Lebron has officially announced his own intentions to run, and is hoping for the support of Clarey and the nomination of the Albany GOP.

“The GOP knew of my intentions . . . but really wanted Jennifer Whalen,” Lebron said, noting, “I was going to be the technology guy.” But when Whalen’s campaign fell apart, he says, “it left me interested in the position.”

The looming challenges facing a Republican run in a predominantly Democratic city, in a county with a 2-to-1 Democratic-to-Republican voter-enrollment ratio, don’t seem to faze Lebron. “I want to actively seek out disenfranchised Democrats,” Lebron said of his potential strategy, adding, “I’m the best crossover candidate to put together a fusion campaign.”

“It’s a great time for the right candidate to say . . . we need a political truce here, to take out ideology,” Lebron said of his independent spirit—a spirit he hopes will sway anti-establishment, anti-Albany voters in his favor. But Lebron is aware of the financial challenges a campaign, especially a campaign without party backing, can bring: “Without the nomination I’m going to have to pull back. A fusion candidate without party backing faces more of an uphill challenge.”

Meanwhile, Don Clarey and the Albany GOP are still searching for their perfect candidate. Emphasizing a “fair and equitable” interview process, Clarey has assured Lebron that he will be given a candidate interview. “I like Nathan a lot,” Clarey said, calling Lebron a “good friend,” but continued, “We’re still looking for a quality candidate. . . . I don’t want to put anyone on the spot right now. . . . but I’m feeling reasonably good about finding someone.”

On the Democratic side of things, the Dan McCoy campaign is finding its way. “We’re doing grassroots campaigning. . . . We’re reaching out to district leaders throughout the county . . . and we’re setting up different areas to go out and start the petition process,” said McCoy.