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Glad-handing: Common Councilman, and Albany mayoral candidate, Corey Ellis campaigning in the 9th Ward.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

The Race Is On

Albany mayoral candidate Corey Ellis takes his message door to door, while incumbent Mayor Jerry Jennings defends his record

To make sure that the schools are effective, we have to make sure that these kids live in safe neighborhoods,” Councilman Corey Ellis said, standing on the front porch of a modest single-family home on Forest Avenue in Albany’s 9th Ward. “Forty percent of the children in the South End and Arbor Hill live below the poverty level. We have kids who can’t live in safe neighborhoods, where crime is running rampant. How can we expect them to leave those unsafe neighborhoods and be effective students?”

He could have asked anything to the middle-aged homeowner staring blankly back at him. Ellis knew before he went to her door that she was a supporter of Mayor Jerry Jennings.

“Certain demographics, the older age groups,” the first-time mayoral candidate said later, are where his campaign has found the majority of Jennings’ supporters.

But there are Machine houses, too, he said. “I can tell not only by age but by how many are registered in the house. You see seven people registered Democrat in the house, regardless if they live there, if the kids are off to college, I know that those aren’t my votes.”

Ellis is running an ambitious campaign to unseat a 16-year incumbent who raised more than $360,000 in campaign contributions by the July reporting. That is nearly 10 times the $37,000 Ellis was able to raise. Further, Ellis had spent all but $11,000 of his war chest; Jennings still had on hand $273,000.

Ellis shrugged. “What can Jerry spend that money on? TV spots? The voting population is so small, you can only spend so much money to get a vote. We are only talking about 16,000 people.” A successful campaign is about going door to door, he said, and about calling voters. “You can talk to voters without money.”

It has worked for him so far. He has already enjoyed an early victory by outlasting Common Council President Shawn Morris, who dropped out of the race on July 16. “Our campaign was reenergized by that,” Ellis said, adding that he hopes the people who supported Morris will now support him.

At least one of the people Ellis spoke to Monday night was a former Morris supporter and volunteer. The college-aged woman told Ellis that she would now volunteer for his campaign. “I was supporting her because I didn’t know about you,” she admitted. “I don’t like Jennings.”

“That’s what we have seen,” Ellis said. “It’s definitely a battle to beat Jerry.”

At another house, during a discussion on the growing tax burden facing the city, a mother told Ellis: “There needs to be a moratorium on charter schools.”

“I voted for it,” Ellis said. Until the current charter schools are full, the city doesn’t need to spend its valuable education resources on them. “They are placing an undue burden on a school system that is already burdened.”

“Does the mayor favor charter schools? Are there too many of them?” Ellis asked. “He needs to answer that.”

“I think that we are pretty maxed,” Jennings told Metroland, “but we wouldn’t need charter schools if public schools were effective. Charter schools play a role because a lot of parents are sending their kids to charter schools because they have lost confidence in our public schools.”

Charter schools have advantages, Jennings continued: They have longer school years; the kids wear uniforms. “But they don’t have the demands of a special education program, etc., etc., so that’s why I think that they could complement each other, as opposed to being competitive with each other.”

On that Monday evening in that middle-class neighborhood, Ellis fielded multiple questions about how he would approach what is seen as an increase in crime in Albany.

“We need to get back to community policing,” Ellis said. “Our police department has become stat takers. They can tell you where the crimes are, but we have to begin to prevent those crimes from happening. And I believe the way we can do that is by having officers on the beat, constantly, so people know who their officers are. That way the community gets more engaged in the police department, and vice versa.”

Jennings answered: “People have to look at it: One crime is too much, but crime has gone down in the city, over the past three years. If you look back, what we did was we modernized the department,” pointing to the city’s development of the Strategic Deployment Unit, more than 20 officers who can be deployed anywhere in the city. “You can’t have a beat cop on every corner, that’s unrealistic.” But, he added, the city is looking at ways to direct recently announced federal funds toward hiring 10 new officers to be used for community-policing efforts.

This plan will be released, he said, in a week or so.

“I want people in the city to recognize the hard work we have put into the city over the past 15-plus years, and I think that they will,” Jennings said. “I am not ready to give the city up, ’cause we have a lot of work to do, and the people in the city recognize that. The easiest thing for me to do would be walk away.

“People who are objective will look at it realistically and say, ‘Are we better off? Do we have more jobs? Do we have more opportunities for our kids?’ I mean, that All-America City recognition wasn’t something to take lightly. People from outside evaluated what is going on here, and that was 350 cities that applied for that. That is something we can be very proud of.”

—Chet Hardin

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