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What Would You Do to Improve Albany?

A forum brings together Albany voters and mayoral candidates to discuss the issues and the way forward for the city

by E.S. Cormac on August 7, 2013 · 1 comment


“I know what causes Albany’s small business owners to struggle. Every other week it looks like we have another small business that closes,” said Alex Portelli, the Libertarian Party candidate for mayor.

A gathering of voters and five mayoral candidates took place at the Main Branch of the Albany Public Library on Monday evening (Aug. 5). During the first hour of the forum, voters asked more than 45 questions concerning vacant buildings and lots, education, economics, and equality. The candidates responded during the second hour. The forum was hosted by Occupy Albany.

“How about we meet the needs of our community before we meet the needs of Omni Development Group or BBL?” asked Jesse Calhoun, the Republican candidate, during his time for commentary.

Omni Development Company Inc. and BBL Construction Services are involved in many of the development and construction projects in and around the city of Albany.

“We heard it over and over again, ‘They’re building in our community and we’re not getting the jobs’” said Corey Ellis, a Democratic candidate.

Five of the candidates running for mayor attended the forum: Kathy Sheehan, Marlon Anderson,  Ellis, Calhoun and Portelli. Joseph Sullivan, the Conservative Party candidate, did not attend the forum and did not return calls to Metroland in time for publication.

“I need the people who will be helping to move our city forward to look like our city,” said Sheehan. “We currently have a city government where every commissioner appointed by the mayor is a white male.” Democrat Sheehan, the current city treasurer, stressed that diversity was the way forward for Albany.

“This is leadership versus politics as usual,” Marlon Anderson, a community activist and an independent candidate, said in describing his campaign for mayor.

Ellis, who polled 44 percent of the vote in losing the 2009 mayoral primary to Jerry Jennings, described his frustrations while sitting on the Albany Common Council prior to that race.

Many of my plans “didn’t  happen,” he said. “Why? I wasn’t mayor. I could make an argument. I could make a plan. I couldn’t make it happen.”

For Calhoun, a motivating issue was the SWAT training that Albany Police conducted at the Ida Yarbrough public housing complex in March of this year. “That’s why I got involved, that incident at Ida Yarbrough, I’ve seen stuff like that happen all over the country and I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t watch,” he said. The incident at Ida Yarbrough drew sharp critism from the community. Many residents of the housing complex said the training frightened them, and seemed to be an attempt to intimidate them.

Occupy Albany hosted the forum to allow the public to speak directly to the candidates running for mayor, according to a press release issued by the organization. Occupy Albany does not endorse candidates, parties, or campaigns, said the same press release.

Richard Berkley of the Hudson Park Neighborhood asked the candidates how vacant buildings impact property taxes and what they candidates see as a solution to the problem.

“Most of the issues that people have spoken about today are interconnected, and the foundations of those issues is the employment issue in the city of Albany,” Anderson said.

The audience applauded at one point when Portelli suggested one way for the city to save money. “You should not have a pension if you’re an elected official, you do your time and you go back to your job,” he said.

“We have everything we need to be a successful city, we just lost sight of it,” Sheehan said during her commentary. Sheehan discussed many ways of improving Albany by focusing on smaller projects rather than larger, costlier plans.

Ellis will face Sheehan in the Oct. 10 democratic primary. According to a Siena College/YNN poll released July 31, Sheehan leads Ellis by 54 to 23 percent.  The poll had an overall margin of error of 3.2 percent.

Anderson became disqualified from running as a Democrat when 225 of his 1,125 petition signatures were ruled invalid by the Albany County Board of Elections. A person must have 1,000 signatures to gain position on a political party’s ballot.

Calhoun works as a preschool teacher and hosts a web-based radio program. He also participated in Occupy Albany rallies and is a musician. He moved from Ohio to Albany five years ago.

Portelli is the owner of Portelli’s Joe and Dough on Central Avenue. He is on parole after serving almost 18 months in state prison on a drug conviction. Although he cannot vote in the election, he is still eligible to run for office, according to New York state election rules.

Lesley Tabor, a member of Occupy Albany, moderated the event. The organization chose Tabor because she is not a resident of Albany.

“I wanted to hear what they had to say and about their future goals for Albany,” said Velvet Garriques of Northern Boulevard, who attended the forum.  A resident of the West Hill neighborhood, Garriques said she had not decided on any candidate yet. “They could have touched on a lot more issues and their answers could have been more definitive,” she said.