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Our City Indeed

I have rarely seen a political slogan that creeps me out more than Jerry Jennings’ current one: “Our City. Our Mayor.”

Yes, it’s our city. And a damn fine one at that, for all its troubles.

But a city is a synthesis of its neighborhoods, its residents, its history and architecture, its businesses and institutions, and its landscape. It rises and falls with the strength of its vision and the skills of the people we elect, and the ones they hire to continually problem solve, adapt, learn from others, and channel change.

It is emphatically not synonymous with its mayor. And it should go without saying that you can love a city and be devoted to its well-being without feeling loyalty to a mayor just because he’s been there for a long time, just like a large majority of us here in Albany continued to love this country through the Bush II years.

This is our city. That means we get to choose our mayor. That means our mayor should be the person who can do best by the city. It is neither a hereditary nor a lifetime position, whatever the ghost of Erastus Corning II may whisper around the corridors of City Hall.

But it seems that Jennings has given up even pretending to make a nod to these basic facts. You would think he’d be a little bit embarassed, or at least defensive, to have presided over the landfill crisis, the gun purchase scandal, the ghost ticket scandal, the increase in vacant buildings, and so on. But he’s not. And that the party at large might be embarassed about things like not inviting Cathy Fahey, the incumbent 7th Ward council member and member of the 7th ward committee, to the meeting at which they chose who to endorse. It is their choice not to endorse Fahey, but to exclude a legit member of the committee from the meeting is childish and undemocratic. It’s 6th-grade cafeteria government. But they’re not embarassed, and neither, apparently, is their candidate.

And these things, more even than the details of how to run a city over which we disagree, are what troubles me about Jennings.

He is, however, familiar. We know what to expect. For some longtime residents I think he may represent a bit of a grasping at the past, at memories of the glory days. They may not admit to missing being able to call up a committee person to ask for a job for their cousin, but they may miss other things about that time in the city’s history.

We need, however, to be looking forward.

We need a mayor who will make use of the talents of everyone in the city, and give us all the information we need to use to help.

We need a mayor who is willing to take essential, if difficult, measures such as taking back control of the foreclosure process from the county, so we can make rational plans about what to do with vacant property and focusing on stabilizing dilapidated properties at absentee owners’ expense before they have to be demolished.

We need someone willing to think creatively and non-fatalistically about the Rapp Road Landfill.

We need someone who is about process over personal networking.

There’s a good chance that Corey Ellis, 3rd ward councilmember, could be what we need. He has the right priorities. He has a commitment to open government and an organizing rather than political background. His campaign feels that it has the ground operation to win despite being radically outspent. No disrespect intended, but Ellis is no Archie Goodbee. He’s done this before.

But even more than what we need in a mayor, we need, ourselves, as a city, to take a chance on the risks of change—which do exist—over the risks of not changing, which are, right now, far greater.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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