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Jerry, It Is About You (Most of the Time)

Andrew Cuomo came to town on Monday, surrounded himself with Albany’s old political guard, and stoked the ego of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. “Jerry talks about, ‘I’m tired of people degrading Albany,’” Cuomo said, pointing to Jennings. “You see all of these ads that are on TV now all about ‘Albany,’ meaning the state government in Albany. They’ve been saying it so often that they now use the short form: ‘Albany must change,’ ‘Change Albany.’ It bothers Jerry, as the mayor of Albany—’cause you know Jerry takes everything personally. He thinks this is all about him! I keep saying, ‘Sometimes it’s not about you, Jerry. It’s about the state government.’”

But I am here to tell you, Jerry: It is about you. Sure, when people talk about “Albany dysfunction,” they are talking about state government, but if they knew how you’ve ruled Albany for the past 16 years, they would have the sense to know that you represent the old politics that choke progress and drown new ideas and ambitious young politicians in a bathtub like an unwanted litter of puppies.

The old guard won. On Tuesday night, local legislators “slept through their races,” one highly placed political insider told me at the Democrats’ rally at the Polish Americans Citizens Club. A few patronage jobs go a long way, and so does having the same name on the ballot year after year. It gets the same people elected over and over. Even if they don’t have new ideas. Even though it stops new, progressive leaders from ever getting a chance to test themselves. Even when it is driving people out of our city.

Sorry, Jerry, but I am here to tell you that it is about you. Take it personally.

The people in Buffalo, Long Island and Manhattan may not know how your legendary grip on the city has led to scandal after scandal, the dissolution of community policing and nearly a thousand abandoned buildings—all while your associates fatten their wallets—but Albany residents do. They know how Albany is suffering from a drought of young new leadership.

Yes, the state government is a dysfunctional, corrupt embarrassment—but guess what? The city of Albany is not doing much better. On Tuesday night after Cuomo had declared victory, I asked whether you planned to take a position with the Cuomo administration. “Not right now. I have a three-year contract with the people of this city. I don’t take orders from anyone at my age, kid,” you replied, before punching me in the arm. It’s funny, because I clearly remember you promising not to run again during the 2005 mayoral race. Should we believe you now when you say that you will stay with the city during a time when the budget is finally collapsing under years of mismanagement? The rumor mill is churning overtime that you won’t be serving out the remainder of your term. Why do you think that is? Do you think Albany is hungry for new leadership?

Do I have much faith that good new leaders will replace you? Honestly, I don’t.

Because your tenure in Albany has quashed the development of young new leaders. The people with ideas leave Albany. The people ready to get in line behind you and stay quiet, stay.

I learned a lot about just how dysfunctional Albany is on Tuesday night. I was telling some Metroland freelancers how sad I was that you wouldn’t let me take your picture while you playfully pretended ti sport a Paladino button earlier in the evening, when Democratic County Chair Dan McCoy sicked Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo on one of our female freelancers. I say “sicked” because Mr. Scavo is a notorious “ladies man.” In other words, he can’t keep his hands to himself or refrain from making unwanted advances. He has made them to a number of female Metroland employees, as we have documented in the past. But tonight was particularly special, in that it was utterly loathsome.

I had just finished sarcastically complaining that Albany politicians “don’t like me” when Scavo walked up and told me he respects me because: “You’re a pit bull, man.” He talked about how Metroland has “slandered” him in the past and then he proceeded to degrade our freelancer. Scavo ran his hands through her hair, caressed her face with both sides of his hands and ran his hands up and down her arms. He ignored her requests to stop, and proceeded to talk about how there was a plan to “legalize prostitution” in the works in the Albany County Legislature. “Touch my bicep. I want you to know I am a real man,” he said. She declined.

The event was witnessed by a Metroland intern and our female freelancer’s boyfriend, who was rightfully quite angry.

But this is Albany. Former Common Council President Shawn Morris vehemently warned of Scavo’s erratic behavior—after he asked her 17-year-old daughter on a date—and Morris was chided for speaking up by the police union that backed Scavo.

I can’t blame everything on you, Jerry—Scavo is a separate mess—but you have conditioned Albany voters to expect very little from their representatives. A smile, a tan, a handshake will do it. Results? Well we can’t expect those in a short amount of time. It took our dear mayor 16 years to leave us with the budget mess we are in. Great works take great investment.

It is time for Albany incumbents to start working with the younger generation—stop fearing that they will usurp you—and realize that it is an inevitability. Like the Joker said—“Think about the future!”

I’d like to say that, in Albany, we are lucky if the people we elect are actually breathing. But that isn’t actually appropriate. The truth is, in Albany we would be lucky if our politicians took the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” But after Tuesday night, I think I’m setting my hopes just a little too high.

—David King

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