The Egg. The Empire State Plaza. The Capitol and the Million Dollar Staircase. Dutch traders. Tulips. There are certain things that are synonymous with Albany, and for anyone who has lived here during the past 20 years, there’s another: Mayor Jerry Jennings.
The bronzed Democrat has been the city’s emblematic leader for five terms that started in 1993, and on Tuesday night (May 14), he announced, via an e-mailed letter to the media, that he would not pursue term number six. This came just days after he sat for an interview with the Democratic Party’s candidate review committee to presumably seek an endorsement in this year’s mayoral election. He won their support, even though he never announced a formal intention to run. Six of the city’s 15 wards also endorsed Jennings.
In his letter he said, “After countless hours of deliberation and evaluation, I have decided not to seek re-election as your Mayor. Although every day I still find joy in the work I do and the people I serve, the time has come for a new chapter to be written.” That new chapter will likely prove to be groundbreaking for Jennings’ “All-American City.” The two most prominent mayoral candidates are Kathy Sheehan and Corey Ellis, and the election of either would be a first for Albany—Sheehan as the first female mayor, Ellis as the first black mayor.
Jennings’ decision not to run is a game changer for both Sheehan and Ellis. The strong incumbent is the second-longest seated mayor in Albany’s history and, although Ellis took 44 percent of the vote in his bid against Jennings in 2009, Jennings has seemed, in the past, unbeatable.
“I’m sure it was a difficult decision for him,” said Sheehan. “For 20 years he has been a true public servant.”
“I was a bit surprised,” said Ellis. “He loves being the mayor, and the job, and this city.”
Both noted that the race will be easier in certain respects—namely with less people running—but that they are focused on their goals and recognize that the race will still be difficult. Each camp has been busy on the ground, going door-to-door to speak with voters.
“With him not running, it’s not catching me off guard,” said Ellis. “I’m still talking with everybody. I’m committed to being mayor of this city.”
Sheehan said, “I’ve had multiple discussions with ward leaders and committee leaders throughout the city.” Even in wards that endorsed Jennings, she added, she has good relationships with the people there.
Sheehan and Ellis both said that the city was ready for change.
“Change is a good thing,” Ellis said. “When things begin to change people look at a city differently.” He added that when one person holds a specific office for so long, things get stuck. “People begin to feel like there’s a political barrier there.” Ellis also said that he would continue to support term limits, even if he is elected.
“It’s very exciting,” said Sheehan. “Diversity is important. My leadership style is what the city needs in this point in its history. I can work across lines and bring people into city government. It’s so important for us to address the challenges we are facing.” Those challenges will include dealing with the hundreds of vacant buildings in the city, as well as several serious aging infrastructure issues, in a difficult economic climate.
Jennings, in addition to serving as mayor, was a teacher and high school vice principal in the Albany City School District, and a member of the Common Council for 13 years.