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The Last Person Standing

The race to fill the 109th district Assembly seat has been anything but boring

by Erin Pihlaja on September 12, 2012

Forget your favorite reality television show. This year’s local political races had all of the colorful personalities, the action, and the drama that the networks scramble over one another to capture. The race for the 109th assembly district has kept those in the Capital Region on pins and needles; most anxious are the residents of Albany, Guilderland, Bethlehem and New Scotland, who will be represented by whichever candidate is voted in.

The contenders are numerous: There are eight people vying for the seat that includes the prized state capital, left open for the first time in 20 years after Democrat Jack McEneny announced that he would not run for reelection earlier this year. Only two of those on the ballot are not Democrats: businessman and Republican Ted Danz, and Joe Sullivan, who is endorsed by the Conservative Party.

The remaining six on the ballot are: Margarita Perez, the chief of staff for Sen. Jose Peralta; attorney William McCarthy, who is on unpaid leave as assistant attorney general to New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman; Jim Coyne, former county executive and county clerk; county legislator Chris Higgins; Albany Common Councilman Frank Commisso Jr.; and Patricia Fahy, former Albany school board president and labor department official at both the state and federal levels.

The latter four were responsible for the most screenworthy moments of the race. Jim Coyne is best known locally for his work with the construction of the former Knickerbocker Arena, now the Times Union Center, and the reincarnation of the Washington Avenue Armory. He brought the celebrity factor to the table when Phil Jackson,a demigod in the world of professional basketball, endorsed his candidacy. Coyne carries a lot of clout—and a criminal record. He served time in a federal prison after being convicted of bribery, extortion, conspiracy, and mail fraud in 1992. He has always maintained his innocence.

The two frontrunners, Commisso and Fahy, have earned the most press time, thanks to plenty of mudslinging. An anonymous e-mail was released in late August attacking Fahy’s record on public education, a cornerstone of her campaign. Fahy publicly accused the Commisso camp for its creation and circulation, an allegation denied by Commisso, who has been vocal in his criticism of Fahy.

“Pat [Fahy] has referenced her record and experience, but she didn’t register to vote until she was 36 years old to begin with,” Commisso said, only days before the primary on Thursday. 

Fahy responded to the new attack and claimed that Commisso’s camp was referring to her re-enrollment as a voter in Cook County, Ill., after moving back from Washington, D.C. in 1995. “I can guarantee you that I voted in the presidential election of 1976 for Jimmy Carter,” she said. “I’m the daughter of immigrants—it was a point of pride.” Fahy maintained that the voting records in that county had not been digitized at that time, and that the county was unable to investigate the issue for her on such short notice. Commisso’s supporters believe Fahy is being deceitful; Fahy’s contend that she is the victim of dirty politics.

“There are candidates that have knowledge or understanding of certain issues, which I have,” Commisso said, “but, even more important, beyond that there are leaders with conviction, who can act on data and evidence. I’ve shown the ability to do that.”

Commisso has openly stated that he would not support another Assembly term for political powerhouse Sheldon Silver because of Silver’s alleged involvement with the Vito Lopez sex scandal. “I have the courage and conviction to stand up against political pressure,” said Commisso, “and not merely be a proxy for New York City.”

“The negativity has been the hardest part,” said Fahy, who is running her first campaign for a partisan office. Fahy acknowledged that her record has been repeatedly attacked and said that “leadership means tough decisions and tough plans.” She said that she has spent many years concentrating on labor and education, “the two most important issues facing the district.”

While Fahy and Commisso have been occupied by one another, Higgins has garnered enough attention to be considered a threat. In 2007, Higgins, then a virtual unknown, was elected to the Albany County Legislature as a representative of the 5th legislative district. “Five years ago, nobody thought I had a shot in hell,” Higgins said. “After a long summer, I won that primary 65 to 35.”

Still, this particular race has been a challenge. “Raising money is not easy,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of door-to-door campaigning. I ask folks to look at my record. Aside from Jim Coyne, in this race I have more government experience than the other candidates.”

 

This article has been changed to read, “Commisso has openly stated that he would not support another Assembly term for political powerhouse Sheldon Silver because of Silver’s alleged involvement with the Vito Lopez sex scandal.” A previous version read, “Commisso has openly stated that political powerhouse Sheldon Silver should be ousted from the assembly for his alleged involvement with the Vito Lopez sex scandal.