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Redistricting makes for a tumultuous primary challenge in Albany County’s now-6th legislative district

by Jason Chura on June 23, 2011

It’s been a chaotic race for the candidates in the Democratic primary for Albany County’s newly defined 6th legeslative district seat. Incumbent Brian Scavo said he will run again, but it was unclear who would challenge him until earlier this month, when the boundaries of the district shifted beneath the candidate’s feet. With the redistricting lines finalized, the field has narrowed to a three-way primary race for what is sure to be an important term for the legislature.

A perennial lightning rod, Scavo is currently facing felony forgery charges. He has also faced numerous accusations of stalking and harassment and has been generally regarded as unprofessional while in office.

“These allegations have no merit and are politically motivated,” said Scavo, who listed off a number of achievements as legislator, including the creation of Albany’s cyber-bullying law.

According to Scavo, he has advocated for the Albany County nursing home and for renewable and low-cost energy, and fought against any tax or fee increase. “I wish to continue to serve the people of the 6th district as their hard-working county legislator,” said Scavo. “I am all about helping people.”

Scavo’s challenger to beat appears to be Noelle Kinsch, the only candidate in the race who specifically set out to challenge the incumbent when she announced her candidacy.

I am running because we, the city and the county, are facing a number of serious issues,” sayd Kinsh. “I am a very hard worker and am interested in representing everybody in the district and, right now, none of us have someone who’s really advocating for us in an effective way.”

An attorney, Albany County Democratic Committee member, and president of the board of directors for Equinox, Kinsch drew a lot of attention when she pulled in more than $10,000 at a well-attended fundraiser back in March. High-profile Albany Democrats, including Mayor Jerry Jennings, County Executive Mike Breslin, Albany Common Council President Carolyn Mclaughlin, and city treasurer Kathy Sheehan were among those present and giving.

Though some have claimed Kinsch is the “machine candidate” because of these associations, the mother of two claims the support of many progressive Albany Democrats as well, including Dominick Calsolaro, Catherine Fahey, and Leah Golby.

“We want a representative that is professional, qualified, who is attentive to the people,” said current ward 7 leader Kathleen Scales. “Our current legislator does not attend the public comment period during legislative sessions. He waits until very late to show up for meetings. [Kinsch] is a professional and she’s committed to work in the community. We would like to have somebody like that representing our district.”

Before district lines were redrawn, Maureen O’Brien had been tapped to succeed George Infante in what is currently Ward 1 after Infante announced that he would not seek another term. After redistricting, O’Brien was shifted into the race with Scavo and Kinsch. After meeting with Kinsch, O’Brien announced that she was dropping out of the race in order to ensure a more stable front against Scavo’s incumbency.

“I think that more than two people in that race jeopardize that race. Noelle and I are basically philosophically and politically the same, “ O’Brien said. “Given that she’d been working on it for most of the last year, it would be most fair to let her keep going with it. That was my choice.”

Newcomer Janis Gonzalez was also transplanted into the race from the Ward 1. According to her campaign website, Gonzalez currently serves as board member, organizer, and volunteer for numerous agencies, including the National Hispanic Policy Institute, Albany American Little League, Somos El Futuro, and the Albany Police Athletic League.

“My focus is a direct conversation with my neighbors and a concentration on ensuring that the new district is all-inclusive—relative to political participation, policy, examination of the County budget, appropriations, and much needed discretionary spending that fails to trickle down to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Gonzalez in an email response. “We’re not looking for a hand-out. Instead, we seek a leg-up.”

Like her opponents, Gonzalez, a mother who formerly served in the U. S. Navy, has adopted a door-to-door, personal campaign in hopes of securing a spot on the primary ballot.

When asked about the concern expressed by Maureen O’Brien that multiple challengers for the 6th district seat could split the opposition and lead to Brian Scavo taking the race, Gonzalez was confident.

“I do not perceive any danger from outreach to a community that has been underserved, underrepresented, neglected, and disconnected,” Gonzalez said.