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Coup Plotting

Lawmakers position themselves as talk of a challenge for the Albany County Legislature’s chair position heats up

Albany County Legislator Charles Houghtaling Jr. (D-District 38) has been the chair of the countywide lawmaking body since 1994, and said that he would like to remain in that position for the next two years. He might not get that chance. For the past few months, behind the scenes, Legislator Dan McCoy (D-District 10) has been busy securing support for a potential challenge to Houghtaling’s leadership, said sources.

“That started months ago,” said Lucille McKnight (D-District 2) of McCoy’s angling. McCoy is in a unique position, McKnight pointed out, and one that sets him up to become a powerful force in county politics.

A relatively young member of the legislature, McCoy started his first term in 2000. In 2008, he was elected by members of the county Democratic Party to be their county chairman, with the strong public backing of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who told the Times Union at the time, “I have confidence in Dan McCoy to bring people together and do what’s in the best interest of everyone.”

Using his position as Democratic chair, McKnight said, McCoy has been “making some promises, making offers that can’t be refused, to win votes.” But with a challenge to Houghtaling’s leadership becoming likely, McKnight said she questions McCoy’s ability to govern.

That is why McKnight has let it be known that if Houghtaling decides not to seek reappointment as chair, she will seek the position. In a letter that she sent out to her colleagues on Nov. 20, the 17-year veteran of the legislature pointed to her accomplishments, including her recent tenure as president of New York State Association of Counties, and asked that they support her.

“I have been in the Legislature for 17 years,” McKnight told Metroland. “And after 17 years, we all have aspirations to go up higher in the career ladder.”

Albany county’s 39 legislators are paid $21,000 a year, plus some benefits. The chair is paid $35,000. Beyond running the meetings, the chair also appoints the committee chairs and is a standing member of each committee.

McKnight stressed the fact that she has no intention to unseat Houghtaling if he wishes to remain chair. What she doesn’t want to see is Dan McCoy win the position. “I just want it to be known that I am qualified to replace Charlie if he leaves his seat. And if there is a contest, I am ready for that,” McKnight said, adding that she believes herself to be a more “reputable” option than McCoy.

“But I do support Charlie Houghtaling. And as long as Charlie Houghtaling sits in that seat I will continue to support him,” said McKnight. “Should he resign, then I would like to be considered. Mr. McCoy has been making a lot of calls to people, and a lot of promises to people trying to ensure that they get on his side. So I said, let’s bring this thing out in the open. This is not how this is supposed to be done. I am not a Democratic Party chairman, and I can’t offer people maybe some of the things that he can offer a person.”

“I think that’s a strange situation,” McKnight said, to have the head of a political party also be the head of a legislative body. If appointed chair of the legislature, McCoy would be able to cut deals with members based on both of his leadership positions, as head of the party and as head of the bipartisan legislature, she said. “He’s a fireman in the city, too, so he works for Jerry Jennings. And that would allow another spillover from the city.” She pointed to Jennings’ support for McCoy, who she said essentially anointed McCoy as the party chairman, as a potential conflict of interest. “You put someone in power, then you are the one who controls him.”

McCoy could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday morning, Houghtaling said that he hadn’t seen the letter that McKnight said she mailed to her colleagues the previous Friday. “We don’t get our mail as quickly as you do in the city, out here in the country . . . so I can’t make a comment about that.” But he did say that he will be running. “I haven’t stepped down,” he said, “and don’t expect to.”

If McCoy does try to run for the chair position, would Houghtaling have the support of his colleagues? The chairman wasn’t sure: “You’ll have to ask my colleagues that. I think I’ve done a good job.”

McKnight said that if Houghtaling chooses to remain, she cannot see McCoy beating him. The vote will have to occur soon, McKnight said, as the new chair must be sworn in at the first organizational meeting in January.

—Chet Hardin

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