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Three’s A Crowd

Shawn Morris drops out of the race for Albany mayor, leaving many of her supporters unhappy—and unsure whether they will support any Democratic candidate in the September primary By Cecelia Martinez

Thursday evening at the La Salle School on Western Avenue in Albany, some stragglers linger after the monthly Pine Hills Neighborhood Association meeting. They aren’t discussing the upcoming Upper Madison festival or the newly formed grouper-law task force, but rather the latest news to blog-bait those involved with local politics. Association president Dan Curtis breaks the news to two members who hadn’t yet heard: He and others are still reeling from the day’s announcement that mayoral candidate Shawn Morris had dropped out of the race because, she said, there was no “path to victory in a three-way race.”

Aside from sideline candidates with smaller campaigns, the race is now narrowed down to 16-year incumbent Jerry Jennings and one-term Common Councilmember Corey Ellis (Ward 3).

Morris’ campaign reported raising $29,000, roughly $10,000 less than Ellis had reported, and less than a tenth of what Jennings reported. And her campaign lost critical endorsements from the Working Families Party Line and Citizen Action. Some observers believe that Morris and Ellis may have had a handshake agreement that one candidate would voluntarily quit the race by a certain date based on factors including, but not necessarily limited to, the amount of money each candidate had raised.

However, Morris’ supporters up until last week believed that the 16-year veteran of the council was the best candidate to beat Jennings in September. They routinely attacked Ellis as being too young and inexperienced.

On the eve of her withdrawal, many of these Morris supporters are shocked, others just disappointed, and more than one is left wondering what to do next. At least Curtis has a short-term plan.

“I’m going to go drink myself silly,” he says.

Although Morris lives in the Delaware area of the 7th Ward, she attends occasional neighborhood association meetings and has many supporters in Pine Hills, including Curtis, who went door-to-door collecting petitions for Morris as part of his work as a main organizer for her campaign.

Whether or not these Morris supporters will begin to back Ellis, who is more aligned ideologically with their progressive agenda than Jennings, is yet to be seen. But many will tell you that their support was for Morris herself, and not something that is transferable to the candidate who helped drive her out.

“Obviously there are a lot of people that are disappointed in the way that this has turned out,” says Curtis, “but I don’t think this is going to break the progressive spirit. I think this is just going to shift a lot of the resources into the council races instead of the mayoral race.”

With Morris out of the race, many of her supporters are now deciding how best to carry on the spirit of her campaign. While some group Morris and Ellis together as “anything-but-Jerry” alternatives, Morris doesn’t feel that she was an anti-Jennings candidate.

“I don’t really see it like that,” Morris says, “and certainly the voters are not polarized in that matter.”

While many Morris supporters admit they aren’t lining up to vote for Jennings, Ellis may have his work cut out for him attracting former Morris supporters to his campaign.

“I’m not of the “anything-but-Jerry” camp,” says Curtis. “I was in the race to help out Shawn because I thought she was a great candidate. Now without her there, it’s not like we are just going to go and support the other guy. We’re going to support other people we believe in.”

In fact, Curtis and other Morris supporters are now shifting their focus away from the mayor’s office to other Albany races happening in the fall—to the council races and the race for the treasurer’s office.

“If we have progressive voices on the Common Council and in the city treasurer office,” Curtis contends, “then we can really rankle a lot of the wrongs that are taking place in this city.”

Morris acknowledges that while she doesn’t necessarily encourage her supporters to rally behind any particular candidate, they tend to gravitate towards those whose platforms fall in line with Morris’.

“I think that many of the people that worked on my campaign were also supporting the other candidates who are independent thinkers, who are focused on neighborhood issues,” she says. “My strongest support certainly came from the organized communities in this city—people who have been working hard for safe streets, code enforcement and vacant buildings, preservation issues, and certainly open and transparent government. Other candidates across the city who are also working on those issues, our campaigns work very closely and we’re mutually supportive, so I think that you’ll see a lot of my supporters working on Kathy Sheehan’s race and various races for the Common Council.”

For Curtis, it’s a simple matter of how best to utilize time, money and volunteers to make a significant change in the political culture of Albany. “You have to put your resources where you think you can win some real battles.”

He questions the viability of Ellis’s mayoral campaign.

“With $11,000 in the bank, that isn’t even enough money to run one citywide mailer,” Curtis says. “He has the support of the Working Families Party and the support of Citizen Action as well, and hopefully they bring out a lot of the big guns for him, but nobody in the city wins unless they’re on the Democratic line. I think that a lot supporters feel like their time can be best spent by helping progressive voices get elected to the council.”

“We all want to see a change of leadership in Albany, I’m just not sure if this is going to be the year that happens,” says Leah Golby, who is running for council in the 10th Ward. “It’s hard because I like Corey on a personal level, but I didn’t, and still don’t, think that he is a strong candidate for mayor.”

Golby is a supporter of Morris despite running on the same Working Families Party line that also endorses Ellis. Now, she says that she does support Ellis, but that she will focus the majority of her efforts on her own campaign.

Morris is holding off on making an endorsement in the mayoral race, and declines to say whether or not she feels that Ellis can take on the mayor.

“It depends on whether or not the challenger fronts a campaign that can get a message out,” she says. “There are a couple of months to go before the election, and we’ll see if Mr. Ellis can mount the campaign that can do that.”

Curtis stresses, however, that he is not working against Ellis.

“We’re not wishing ill will on his race,” he says. “We think that Shawn would have been the better candidate, but there are plenty of other opportunities for progressive activists to get involved.”

‘Jennings has a broad base of support and a lot of money, so I can understand people’s opinions about it being an uphill battle and potentially unwinnable,” says Luke Gucker, a candidate for council in the 11th Ward. “But I don’t agree. I think the entire progressive community was fractured, and I think it’s an opportunity to really come together.”

Gucker said that he feels that Ellis can mount that sort of campaign that can topple the mayor, and would like to see the progressive community rally around Ellis. However, he said that he understands that many of Morris’ supporters still feel passionate about her campaign and that those feelings may get in the way of the progressive party uniting behind Ellis.

“A lot of people were very emotionally invested,” he says. “People that made that choice early, I think they had to make Corey the enemy because that was the competition. Overcoming that competitive spirit is something that they sort of have to reconcile now, and I think a lot of people are having trouble with that.”

Many are getting involved with council races in the hope that an independent, progressive voice can still be heard in Albany regardless of who wins the mayoral race in the fall.

“The one thing you have to remember about the city of Albany, unfortunately, is that the Common Council holds little power compared to our mayor,” Curtis says, “but that’s not to say that they hold no power.”

“There’s no way to get around the fact that mayor’s race is a big deal—it’s like the checkmate,” Gucker says. “But the council is where the democratic process happens. I think what Barbara Smith and Dominick Calsolaro and Cathy Fahey have been able to do in the last couple of years, with the ghost tickets and the landfill issue, just having people on the council that are going to stand up for what they believe in, it really throws a wrench in everything that’s going on. There’s all these things that are happening, and that, I think, is the result of people getting active on the council.”

“There’s a lot of different ways to achieve change in Albany,” says Morris. “Way too much authority exists in the mayor’s office itself. For all the time I’ve been on the council, we’ve kind of floated around seven to nine members, depending on the issue, who are willing to take independent stands, who vote their consciences regardless of the pressure that they might get from the mayor’s office. Electing a few more people like that will perhaps put more issues up for referendum and abide for better checks and balances in city government.”

Ellis most likely will be able to pick up some of the displaced Morris supporters to aid in his bid for mayor.

Ellis’ campaign did not return calls for comment.

“I’m sure there will be some folks that go out and help Corey and I think that’s fine,” Curtis says. “I just think that a lot of our time is going to be better spent working on races like Kathy Sheehan, like Cathy Fahey, like Luke Gucker, and people who are really going to hold the next mayor accountable.”

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