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The Green Lining


‘You’re the only reporter who’s been nice to me.” It was 2005, and I was interviewing candidates for Albany’s Ward 7 Common Council seat. This was my first conversation with Brian Scavo. He was not making a great impression, having apparently not thought of any answer to the question of how he was going to “not increase taxes” while dramatically increasing police presence, two of his main platform points. But apparently he was just pleased that someone was listening to what he had to say at all.

“Can I take you out to dinner?”

“Well, that would be inappropriate,” I told him, expecting him to say “Oh right, of course. Oops,” and then finish answering my most recent question.

“What, are you married?” he replied.

Well, as it happens, yes, I answered, but that wasn’t the point. I was a journalist covering a race in which he was running. We were, in fact, in the middle of an interview and I would later be weighing in on the paper’s endorsements. So him buying me dinner, or promising to, constituted a conflict of interest, albeit a small one.

Even with that explicit explanation, he never understood. He persisted in talking (at length) about my being “offended” by his offer and insisting he’d be happy to “buy my husband dinner too.”

As it happens, I don’t find people asking me out to dinner offensive, even when I don’t want to go. But I do have a problem with the idea of elected officials who can’t grasp the concept of conflict of interest. So when Metroland wrote its endorsements, we included this story as one reason we were not endorsing Scavo.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. I happen to live in Ward 7, and when I went to vote in that election, Scavo accosted me outside the polling place to tell me he was “disappointed” by the endorsement, which he thought was unfair, but that we could still be friends. He tried to hug me. On my way out, he began shouting at me from across the parking lot: “Hey baby, give me a kiss. Hey, reporter lady.”

Allow me to repeat that. The candidate for office was shouting “Give me a kiss” at a reporter outside the polling place on Election Day. I couldn’t have made this up if I’d tried.

What’s worse, there are plenty of people in my neighborhood who were not surprised to hear this. Plenty of them have their own similar stories about Brian Scavo, some worse than mine.

So you can imagine that I was not thrilled to find that this fall Scavo had handily won the Democratic primary for District 7’s Albany County Legislature seat.

And you’d be right. Mostly.

After the head-smacking eased off, I came to think that it might not be such an awful thing. On a sort of meta-level, it’s always nice to be reminded that old- fashioned door-to-door campaigning really can make a serious long-shot into a winning candidate, even in the land of entrenched incumbents (and even when one would have preferred he stay a long-shot). Working the doors is something Brian Scavo does know how to do.

On a more immediate level, since the incumbent chose not to run on a third line, it means that what we have going into the general election is basically a two-way race between a Democratic candidate with, ahem, serious flaws, and a stellar Green Party candidate, David Lussier. (There is also an independent candidate, but I haven’t seen much presence from him.)

(This is, perhaps, an appropriate point to make perfectly clear to those who don’t always pay attention to their newspaper sections, that this is an opinion column, and not a news story. Anyone wanting something other than my opinion should check the Newsfront pages and/or the endorsements.)

Even putting social maturity levels and grasp of ethics aside (which we shouldn’t), Lussier is a much better candidate. You can look up the details, but let me give one very basic example: He knows what office he’s running for. He has a platform and plans that have to do with county issues, such as reforming our miserable city-county foreclosed buildings process that is hamstringing the city in trying to deal with vacant properties and creative approaches to Medicaid spending. Scavo on the other hand, is still talking about issues that belong to the Common Council (increased police) and the school board (increased school security guards).

I fully expected to come to this election knowing Lussier was the best candidate, and knowing that most voters would be too scared of the specter of Scavo on an independent line to do anything but vote for the not-bad Democratic incumbent. Whatever one’s personal feelings about the whole “spoiler” issue, it doesn’t take too much work to see that with Scavo on the Democratic line, the Green candidate has the chance to capture all those people who would never have voted for him in that first scenario. (Delaware Avenue is in fact sprouting Lussier lawn signs left and right.)

About two years ago (Nov. 17, 2005), I speculated in this space that Albany might be slouching toward a true multiparty system, with the assistance of the Working Families Party and the Greens. Even though the outcome of the District 7 county legislature election is not a sure thing, and it could lead to someone not fit for office taking office, it’s still actually pretty exciting to see that I was not entirely blowing smoke.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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