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Albany Mayor: Corey Ellis (D, WFP)

Photo: Martin Benjamin

2009 primary Endorsements

Albany Mayor: Corey Ellis (D, WFP)

Sixteen years ago, when the brash, outsider alderman, the loudest critic of City Hall, won a surprise victory against an established leader of the Democratic Party machine, the win was heralded as the end of the political culture that dominated Albany for more than half a century—a culture of backroom dealing, thuggish voter manipulation and cronyism. Sixteen years later, many of the trappings of the machine’s power that were supposedly eliminated in a wave of reform have reemerged, and the onetime outsider and reformer—Jerry Jennings—directs a secretive administration from his corner office. Without term limits, Democracy suffers. And it suffers here in Albany. Sixteen years is long enough. It is time to clean out the halls of city power, to bring in new voices, new ideas, new vision, and new leaders. And there is no way better to start this era of reform than with the election of Corey Ellis.

Ellis’ years as a union organizer have left a deep impression on the 38-year-old councilman. A natural leader with an impressive gift for rallying disparate troops, Ellis has proven a boldness of vision that inspires and challenges the status quo. His 2005 Common Council victory over machine incumbent Michael Brown is a testament to hard work and belief in the future of the city. Losing by only a handful of votes in the Democratic Primary, Ellis mounted a general election campaign on the Working Families Party line and succeeded at something most people told him would be impossible.

As councilman for the 3rd Ward, Ellis defined himself as a leading voice for the progressive movement in Albany. Early on, he tackled the issue of abandoned buildings that cripple the city and his ward. He advocated for public-access television and charter reform. He joined Councilman Dominick Calsolaro in raising the alarm over the Rapp Road Landfill, which the administration had no plan to deal with. Most impressively, it was Ellis’ relentless advocacy for an investigation into the system of no-fine parking tickets that initiated two investigations—one mounted by the council itself—and uncovered a decades-long swindle that had robbed the city of untold revenue.

Ellis is challenging a mayor who has led the city into numerous crises. The city’s budget shortfall is estimated as likely to reach $20 million by 2012. The landfill’s expansion into the city’s ecological treasure, the Pine Bush Reserve, is a tragedy that could have been avoided. The mayor’s appointment and unyielding support of Police Chief James Tuffey—his fifth chief in 16 years—has robbed the city of vital community policing. Both the mayor and chief have proven themselves incapable of controlling the waves of violent crime and gun violence that terrorize Albany neighborhoods. Jennings’ push for an unneeded and ill-conceived convention center speaks volumes about his lack of vision for the city—and his proffering of costly construction contracts to his friends in the business world. Jennings has touted entertainment over infrastructure, ignored the abandoned buildings that blight neighborhoods and cripple the city. He has failed to create neighborhoods that people want to live in, giving state workers a city to come to for work and for drinks, but not a city where they want to raise their children.

If there is to be real reform in Albany, if the progressive movement is to have an opportunity to define a new vision for our city, then we must win the mayor’s seat on Sept. 15. We strongly support Corey Ellis for mayor, and urge our readers to give him the opportunity to chart a new course.

Albany City Treasurer: Kathy Sheehan (D, WFP)

Photo: Alicia Solsman

Albany City Treasurer: Kathy Sheehan (D, WFP)

This citywide race for the crucial position of city treasurer will allow the voters of Albany the chance to level a verdict on the disgraceful tenure of Betty Barnette, and we urge our readers to vote against the 18-year incumbent. We are extremely pleased that, in her place, we can endorse one of the strongest candidates of this election season, a woman who promises to bring to the office a transparency and dedication to ethical government that Barnette sorely lacks.

Kathy Sheehan, who built her career as a top executive at multimillion-dollar high-tech firm, has the kind of experience and leadership that we believe is vital for Albany at this time. Sheehan held three titles at the firm she helped to guide over a decade and helped to grow from $88 million in sales to more than $300 million. As vice president she worked closely with the top tier of management to forge the company’s successful trajectory. As the general counsel, she was responsible for the publicly traded company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as overseeing the company’s legal obligations to its shareholders. She worked in a high-pressure, transparent environment, which trained her well for the daunting task of assuming an office that has been misguided and obsessively opaque under Barnette’s leadership.

This year, Barnette went before the Albany Common Council and claimed that, in her 18 years as treasurer, she had never heard of the ghost tickets or VIP list that, according to the state comptroller’s office, allowed city employees, their friends and family to skirt the parking penalties that most of us in Albany have had to deal with at one time or another. She made this claim regardless of the fact that her office oversees the collection of these fines. According to the comptroller’s audit, more than 50,000 no-fine tickets were issued between 2001and 2008 due to these unregulated systems, and Barnette herself received seven. This begs the question: Was Barnette lying? And if not, was she derelict in her duties?

As for Barnette’s dedication to transparent government, two former city comptrollers had to level lawsuits to force her office to comply with the most basic requests.

Next year, the office of treasurer will assume responsibilities that were once handled by the now-dissolved comptroller’s office, including the issuance of municipal bonds, cash-flow forecasting, and overseeing investments made for the city—essentially making the treasurer the city’s chief financial officer. More than ever, there will be no room for politics in this crucial office and, as the former chair of the Albany County Democratic Committee, Barnette is viewed by many within the city government as a fiercely political actor.

This year we have the opportunity to usher in real change in Albany, and to place a respected, hard-working adult in a vital role in city government. We strongly support Kathy Sheehan.

Albany Common Council President: Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (D)

It’s hard for us to get very en thused about our endorsement in this citywide race. To begin with, the role of council president is a largely ceremonial one with limited responsibilities. The president can level no vote on legislation unless it is to break a tie. However, skillful and dedicated representatives have served in this position and have helped shape public opinion by offering valuable insight into the machinations of the council.

Unfortunately, we don’t believe that either Democrat running this year will bend the office to offer any more beyond its perfunctory role.

On one hand we have Carolyn McLaughlin. A 12-year veteran of the Common Council and the current majority leader, McLaughlin came to office as a driven community advocate, yet has matured over her tenure into something quite different. The councilwoman from the 2nd Ward was an early supporter of the convention center fiasco, has refused to state publicly who she supports in the current mayoral challenge, and has been quick to concede the important issues.

On the other we have Leonard Ricchiuti. A 20-year veteran of the Albany police force, Ricchiuti made a name for himself as the director of the nonprofit Police Athletic League. At first blush he seems like a stand-up, apolitical fellow driven by his altruistic interest in the city. And while his lack of participation in the Common Council at any level at any time certainly casts him in the popular role of political outsider, we find his newfound interest a little suspicious.

Putting aside the recent allegations of Ricchiuti’s sexual and physical intimidation of an underling at PAL, we instead will focus on his campaign.

His pledge to be a bridge between the mayor and council sounds nice until you consider his stance on two key issues: He dismisses the council’s lengthy ghost-tickets investigation as a pointless dud, and he chides the council’s 2006 attempt to reform the charter by removing the mayoral stranglehold that it currently allows. Both are positions taken by the current mayor. And when you add to this the fact that Ricchiuti’s impressive fundraising has drawn nearly a third of its money from supporters of Jerry Jennings, one wonders exactly what kind of bridge he intends to be.

McLaughlin did support both the ghost-tickets investigation and the attempt at charter reform.

All of this considered, the most important role for the council president is that of bench warmer in case the next mayor is unable to see through his term. In that instance, we would much rather have a lapsed progressive than a groomed machine candidate leading our city.

Chief City Auditor: Leif Engstrom (D)

Photo: Alicia Solsman

Chief City Auditor: Leif Engstrom (D)

The citywide auditor position—created this year to absorb many of the responsibilities of the now-defunct comptroller’s office—is responsible for performing reviews and analyses of city departments for efficiency and abuse, particularly in areas of budget. It is a position that, although elected, needs to be carried out apolitically. Further, it needs an officer who will be thorough and detail-oriented. We are fortunate to have two qualified, serious and compelling contenders.

Darius Shahinfar, an attorney, is a favorite among many Democratic Party insiders. He worked closely with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand while she represented the 20th Congressional District, and has secured her endorsement. Shahinfar even mounted his own run for Congress last year in the 21st District. However, while Shahinfar may indeed have a future as an elected official, in this instance we don’t believe the office fits the man.

Leif Engstrom is a newcomer to the political arena and one who has demonstrated an energetic and serious work ethic. His years as an industrial engineer have given him experience with cost- benefit analyses and performance reviews, which will be vital for analyzing the minutia that makes a city run. He appears to understand the importance of not politicizing the position, and has run on a platform emphasizing independence. While we are not so naïve as to believe that any elected official operates outside the dealings and alliances necessary to mount a campaign, we do believe that, for Engstrom, this position is likely not a stepping stone in a political career, but one that is an obvious fit.

We urge our readers to vote for Engstrom for city auditor.

Albany Common Council Ward 1: Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (D, WFP)

In Dominick Calsolaro, the voters of the 1st Ward have the ideal representative. No one else on the council brings his level of commitment to the job. He understands that a great representative is able to advocate on citywide issues, such as his opposition to the recent bonding for the unfortunate expansion of the Rapp Road Landfill, his ardent advocacy for public-access television, the ghost-tickets investigation, and charter reform. Yet he is also able to tend to the needs of his neighbors who put him into that seat, attracting money and resources for vital infrastructure work in his ward.

Calsolaro is being challenged in the primary by Scott Mannarino, who appears to be nothing more than a puppet candidate, propped up and backed by Mayor Jerry Jennings. Mannarino has refused to debate Calsolaro, refused to respond to reporters’ repeated questions, and has never attempted to articulate his stance on any of the issues facing his ward. Mannarino simply brings nothing to the table.

We strongly support Calsolaro’s bid to serve the 1st Ward for a third term.

Albany Common Council Ward 3: Lisa Feaster (D, WFP)

First-time candidate Lisa Feaster might be a newcomer in terms of running for office, but the Working Families Party-endorsed activist has an impressive history of promoting progressive politicians and the progressive agenda in the city. In 2004, she helped secure District Attorney David Soares’ upset victory. In 2005, she campaigned on behalf of Councilwoman Barbara Smith, and for the current Councilman for the 3rd Ward, Corey Ellis, in his surprise ousting of Jennings-ally Michael Brown. Feaster works for the Albany Community Land Trust.

Her opponent, Ronald Bailey, is the second vice-chairman of the Albany County Democratic Committee, and a strong supporter of Jennings. In interviews with Metroland, he has demonstrated a lack of depth in his understanding of the issues, and a lack of vision for his ward.

We give our endorsement to Feaster in this race, and with this endorsement we believe that she will continue to push for a progressive agenda, and work to ease the burdens facing some of the most undervalued neighborhoods in the city.

Albany Common Council Ward 4: Councilwoman Barbara Smith (D, WFP)

Incumbent Councilwoman Barbara Smith has served the people of the 4th Ward with intelligence, studiousness, and dedication during her tenure. She boasts a strong voting record of supporting progressive legislation and has demonstrated a commendable independence. Her work with Operation SNUG brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to Albany in an effort to deal with violent crime, and is a great testament to her work ethic and dedication to the city.

We support her bid for reelection.

Albany Common Council Ward 5: Jackie Jenkins-Cox (D)

The 5th Ward has a history of being neglected by both the city of Albany and its representation on the Common Council. Jackie Jenkins-Cox has the passion and political savvy to change that history. A former school board member who has worked with the New York State Legislature and the Arbor Hill Community Center, Jenkins-Cox is so involved in the community that she was able to get 180 signatures in two days with the help of just a few friends and family members.

Her opponent, incumbent Willard Timmons, has done little for the ward over the past four years, and has been a consistent ally with Mayor Jerry Jennings in the mayor’s most unfortunate policy actions. Jenkins-Cox has pride and respect for her ward, and will bring the urgency to the Common Council that the 5th so desperately needs.

Albany Common Council Ward 7: Councilwoman Catherine Fahey (D, WFP)

Incumbent Councilwoman Cat herine Fahey has proven in one term to be a fine representative. Her opponent, Susan Tobin, is a political newcomer who secured the endorsement of the Albany County Democratic Committee, which has backed Jerry Jennings and Betty Barnette in their reelection campaigns. While Tobin claims that she knows how to work well with people, which we don’t doubt, it is the people she might choose to work with that concerns us.

With Fahey, we wholeheartedly support her voting record and the people, such as Barbara Smith and Dominick Calsolaro, with whom she has aligned herself.

We are happy to endorse Fahey in her bid for a second term.

Albany Common Council Ward 10: Leah Golby (D, WFP)

Going up against a 20-year incumbent is not an easy task. Councilman James Scalzo has made a lot of friends during his two decades representing the 10th Ward, and has the backing of the Albany Democratic Committee. However, more and more residents feel that the quality of their representation has declined in recent years, and that the neighborhood is suffering from out-of-control college students, code violations, absentee landlords and a spike in crime. Gone is the family-friendly atmosphere of the ward from when Scalzo was first elected, many residents will say.

Challenger Leah Golby is up to the task of not only dethroning Scalzo, but also tackling the big issues facing the ward. Golby has talked to both residents and students about improving the student/community relationship in the 10th and, although she is a political newcomer, her experience as an advocate has earned her endorsements from the Working Families Party, Citizen Action and former mayoral candidate Shawn Morris. Golby would bring an important progressive voice to the Common Council, and has the fire and passion that Scalzo lacks after 20 years in office.

We support her candidacy in the 10th Ward.

Albany Common Council Ward 11: Luke Gucker (D, WFP)

This year, four candidates step ped forward to fill the 11th Ward seat being vacated by Glen Casey. While all four seemingly come together on big issues like community policing, the landfill expansion and the convention center, Luke Gucker stands out from the crowd, due to his background in urban planning and his depth of analysis for issues affecting the ward.

Candidate Ken Barnes has some creative ideas, but seems to lack the political know-how to see them through, while consummate campaigner Anton Konev falls on the other end of this spectrum. Justin Teff, the current ward leader for the Democratic Committee in the 11th, has experience working with the people and issues of the ward, but it’s too close to call on whether or not he would bring a sense of independence to the council.

Gucker has, from the outset, been a progressive political voice and, being the only candidate not to have previously run for an office, his claim that he is motivated, not by career politics, but by a passion to bring change to his ward, is one we believe. Gucker has the right balance of political persona and platform to get the 11th back on track.

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