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
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
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
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
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,