Up a Fight
day in the life of Democrat Mike Russo’s long-shot campaign
for the seat of former Sen. Joe Bruno
In a political race, being the under dog means long days of
campaigning and fund-raising, hitting the streets, cold-calling
voters, hustling from media event to media event by yourself
or with a small, tired, caffeinated staff. It’s no different
for Democrat Mike Russo. He has spent the past few months
charging across Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, home to
the state Senate’s 43rd District that he hopes to represent,
and down to New York City looking for money, interrupting
the hectic schedule only briefly for sleep.
Russo started his day Tuesday at a well-attended press conference
in Troy, at the offices of Rensselaer County government, to
accept the endorsement of Ray Seney. Seney ran and lost in
the Republican primary for the 43rd, and, in front of a collection
of Russo supporters and Rensselaer County Democratic leaders,
the one-time Nassau supervisor announced that he was switching
his enrollment to Democrat and throwing his support behind
don’t bend to party politics. My special interest is to the
people I represent,” Seney said. He is endorsing Russo, he
continued, because “we both want to keep taxpayer money in
our district, we don’t want to send it down south. And I know
Mike is going to work hard to create jobs. It is a critical
time in New York state and in the country, and we only need
the strongest stepping forward.”
Russo, a onetime boxer, took the podium, and thanked Seney
for his endorsement. “One thing that we are really suffering
from is . . . how people use politics to separate us, so that
we are not focused on the things that are most important to
Next, Russo headed to Niskayuna to shoot a quickie interview
with CBS 6 news.
the campaign?” the cameraman asked, as he tied a mic to Russo’s
going good. It’s not your typical campaign,” Russo said, explaining
that it wasn’t gamed out over months of preparation, raising
money and laying strategy. “It has been a blur. It is more
like guerrilla warfare.”
When the titan Joe Bruno quickly vacated his seat in the 43rd
earlier this year, under what many suspected to be intense
pressure stemming from an FBI investigation, he stunned the
political world and caused a seismic shift in alliances and
ambitions. Before his retirement, the Democratic Parties in
Rensselaer and Saratoga counties had endorsed Brunswick attorney
Brian Premo in his second bid to unseat the majority leader
in what most pundits viewed as a noble but doomed effort.
Then Bruno retired.
Russo came onto the scene and slaughtered Premo in the primary.
Bruno put his hand on Assemblyman Roy McDonald’s shoulder,
killing the brief flirtations with a run from some loyal Republican
insiders by, in the eyes of many, anointing his heir apparent.
Russo has had to quickly build a coalition and war chest since
his primary victory, leaning heavily on his connections to
organized labor, with little help coming from the Senate Democrats.
It is the assumed advantage of name recognition for McDonald
(R-Saratoga), along with Bruno’s public support, that is driving
Russo to the long days of campaigning, but more than that,
it is the reality of money.
McDonald is receiving a substantial amount of financial support
from the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee,
which is responsible for donating more than half of the roughly
half-million dollars that he had declared by the end of September.
In comparison, Russo had declared nearly $38,000 in campaign
contributions during the same period, with none of the money
coming from the Senate Democrats.
The Republicans are making a strong push to retain a district
that they have held for more than 50 years. It is one of the
top recipients of money from the Senate Republicans. It appears
that the Senate Democrats are offering only tepid support,
focusing instead on other races in their effort to secure
Russo’s campaign is optimistic despite its financial shortcomings.
One member pointed to polling numbers from this summer that
he said showed McDonald holding a narrow margin of victory
over a generic Democratic candidate. With Rensselaer County
seeing a historic majority of registered Democratic voters,
and the phenomenal momentum surrounding the national Democratic
ticket, they are predicting a surprise victory come November.
Tuesday evening, at a public forum hosted by the League of
Women Voters at Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park,
Russo and McDonald fielded questions on economic development,
property-tax relief, home- heating costs, bloated government
Both men argued that their personal experiences gave them
unique ability to deal with the economic realities facing
the district, and they briefly ran through their backgrounds.
Russo started his career as a union official when he was 20
years old, and rose through the ranks to become the executive
officer responsible for the entire northeast in an international
union. That experience, he said, gave him a full working knowledge
of how not only to represent workers but also how to help
businesses competing in the global marketplace. He has worked
for Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Greenport) as her district
McDonald was born and raised in Lansingburgh, worked in a
steel mill with the rest of his extended family, fought in
Vietnam, came home, started a business, and spent decades
as supervisor of Wilton before getting elected to the Assembly.
Saratoga County, he said, is the county that everyone wants
to live in due to its low taxes, high employment, and low
crime numbers. “We are living in the strongest county in the
Wilton had no personal property taxes for 27 years.
In a boxer’s jab, Russo pointed out Wilton had the mall to
thank for its lack of taxes, and not necessarily McDonald,
but the blow seemed to have little impact on the crowd.
McDonald further pointed to his early and protracted support
in the Assembly for the now-probable AMD chip-fab plant.
Russo, a former union leader, pointed out that he has worked
for the past two years as a staffer in the district office
of Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, and, he said, has worked
diligently on her behalf to help the chip-fab project move
forward. He claimed that it was through his work in the congresswoman’s
office, through connections at all levels of government, that
the infrastructural demands that needed to be realized before
AMD would agree to begin building were realized.
I did not have the pleasure of being involved with it early
on, setting it up,” Russo said, “the timing was as such that
I was brought in when the process was very vulnerable. When
it came to the infrastructure needing to be in place, whether
it was the Environmental Facilities Corporation funding that
stopped dead in its tracks, the Army Corp [of Engineers] permits
that were stopped dead in their tracks, DEC permitting issues,”
Russo said, “I personally facilitated that process.”
Russo said he hoped that this experience, his claim to a piece
of the anticipated AMD treasure, would highlight and amplify
his abilities as a leader within the world of business to
a crowd of nervous voters deeply and primarily concerned with
taxes and economic development, and, at the same time, steal
some of the thunder from McDonald.
You Call That a Goof?
likely heard the news on the Colbert Report,
on one of a plethora of national blogs, or on
any number of local media: Absentee ballots issued
from the Rensselaer County Board of Elections
listed Democratic presidential nominee Barack
Obama as Barack Osama. Both the Democratic and
Republican election commissioners described the
mistake as a “typo” (without mentioning that “b”
and “s” are not exactly neighbors on the keyboard)
and media reports called it a “goof.” We here
at Metroland can understand typo angst,
but a lot of people aren’t buying the idea that
after three people “copy edited” the page they
did not catch the Democratic nominee’s name combined
with that of a despised terrorist. The Rensselaer
BOE has done good work in ensuring its name will
be associated with ignorance for some time to
How They Fight
would appear that nothing can get done in Troy
without a lawsuit, or, in the case of the revision
of the city charter, two: one filed by Mayor Harry
Tutunjian and one filed by former mayoral candidate
Jim Conroy. It is possible that today (Thursday)
Judge John Egan will rule which, or if both, of
the charter-reform commissions’ proposals, the
mayor’s and the council’s, will appear on the
November ballot, putting to rest a rather tedious
controversy. The fight over the commissions has
been ongoing for months and spilled over into
a popular downtown Troy list-serv, with Councilman
Bill Dunne lamenting the fact that he can’t seem
to get the Troy Record to print his op-ed
and Tutunjian spokesman Jeff Buell launching a
missive defending the mayor’s charter proposal.
Go to Metroland’s blog as soon as possible
to read the e-mail bombs launched between Dunne
Will Not Hire You—Not Now, Anyway
economic downturn apparently has left no one,
and no organization, untouched. On Tuesday, the
Times Union reported that Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute has instituted a hiring freeze, in an
effort to position the university, President Shirley
Jackson was reported saying, “ahead of the game.”
“We are taking these measures to assure our future,”
she said. “And interestingly enough, the investments
that we have made have placed us in a better position
to withstand the economic downturn.”
in the Race
Alice Green hosts a public forum to discuss the historic candidacy
of Barack Obama
Though presidential nominees Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John
McCain typically play down the issue of race, voters across
the nation have been paying attention to the special implications
that this election will have. While the candidates may shy
away from speaking directly on the sensitive topic, cable-news
commentators and analysts have cranked out so much chatter
on the issue that the attentive voter has heard every pundit’s
take. But how do average African-American citizens react to
the issue of race in the presidential race?
The Center for Law and Justice, a nonpartisan group of lawyers,
social workers, and intellectuals who advocate the improvement
of social policies, held a forum on race Wednesday night in
the Albany Public Library. Dr. Alice Green, founder of the
center, accompanied by Drs. Frankie Bailey and Alethia Jones,
led a clearly left-leaning, Obama-supporting group through
the sociology of this presidential race.
have expressed some fears, anxiety, and frustration about
this whole election, and how things played out,” said Green.
“We really want to provide an opportunity to talk about that.
I think we can help each other think about what’s going on
and what might be the result.”
Panelists and attendees compared those frustrations and shared
the aspects of the campaign they thought to be outrageous.
Erroneous claims that Obama is an Arab or Muslim still infiltrate
the American consciousness. Some African-Americans think he’s
“not black enough,” or that he is an elitist. A lot of the
discussion focused on the special language politicians use
to disguise racially charged remarks. Bailey said that words
like “urban” and “inner-city” are used by politicians to say
“black” in an ambiguous way.
Language was also Jones’ cornerstone argument. Through her
distinction between the meanings of race, racism, and racialization,
she argued that carefully choosing the right words makes some
political rhetoric seem less racist than it is actually is.
“The question became, ‘What is Obama going to do about his
race?’ I think the real question is, ‘What are those voters
going to do about their racism?’ His race is not a problem
that he is supposed to fix in some way,” she said. “But the
entire structure of the dialogue made the fact that he’s black
Eventually, the focus of the evening dissolved, and the discussion
moved from a structured format to an open talk on slanders
against Obama, the treatment of the black race, and the black
voters in this election.
thing I noticed was [the audience was] really positive,” said
Green. “It’s exciting to hear. Having this, we are letting
people share those thoughts.”
would have liked to have had some McCain supporters,” she
said. “That would’ve been better, to hear their ideas. We
don’t get enough opportunities to have discussions with the
other side. I want to understand, and I want them to understand
how we view what’s going on.”
Rally for Obama
from around the region gathered Saturday at the steps of the
state Capitol to voice their support for Democratic presidential
nominee Barack Obama. Prominent local politicians, including
Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris, former congressional
candidate Tracey Brooks, and Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany),
were in attendance. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, who
could not make the event, sent a message of support, saying,
“I learned the importance of organizing women directly from
my grandmother, Polly Noonan, who organized women in Albany
for decades—so I know—as well as anyone, that when women organize
and women vote, women win. I am living proof of that.”
loose ends this week-