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Albany City Court Judge Democratic Primary

This year’s primary to choose three Albany City Court judges certainly will go down in the history books. Aside from the typical mudslinging, this will be the first time since 1943 that there will be a Democratic primary for City Court judge. Last March, when Tom Keefe announced that he would be running for one of the three seats up for election this year, he ruffled the feathers of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings because the mayor had not yet announced his own third candidate to run with his two sitting appointees, Cheryl Coleman and William Carter. Jennings said that he would not support Keefe and then picked city corporation counsel Gary Stiglmeier as his third choice, creating a four-way race for the three positions. Jennings and his supporters were persistent in their attempt to secure their preferred outcome in the primary by pushing a bill in the state Legislature that would have altered the way judges are elected in Albany. The bill, however, was shot down. Had it been passed, it would have required candidates for City Court judge to specify which seat they are vying for rather than the current procedure, in which candidates running for a position do not run for a specific vacant seat; rather, all contenders enter into a general election in which those who receive the most votes win.

We don’t agree with the mayor’s attempt to change the election laws, nor do we agree with his decision not to support Keefe. We heartily endorse Keefe based on his 28-year commitment to social justice and progressive politics. Since he first moved to Albany in 1974, Keefe has shown his dedication to the community. In 1988, he founded the local chapter of Citizen Action. In 1995, he founded the Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club, where he was co-chair from its beginning until the announcement of his candidacy for City Court judge in March. He showed his commitment to city schools by becoming a member of Citizens of Albany for Reform of Education, an organization that worked to make the school district independent of the Democratic party in Albany. He was actively involved in the creation of the Albany Citizens’ Police Review Board and fought for a gay-rights ordinance, which passed in 1993. Finally, he is the only judge running independently from the local political power structure. The other three candidates are party-backed.

Keefe’s 18 years as a civil and criminal lawyer have given him a wide variety of experience in the local courts. He prides himself on representing “average people” and has said that he has never represented big corporations, governmental agencies or even wealthy clients. We are confident that Keefe would make a fair and effective judge, and we endorse him in Tuesday’s primary.

Of the three remaining candidates, we endorse Judge William Carter. Carter, an Albany native, was appointed in December by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings to fill the vacant spot in city court. Previously, he worked as an assistant to Paul Clyne, Albany County District Attorney. He is the first African-American to be appointed to judgeship in the Capital Region, and he had demonstrated a commitment to the innovative legal-remedy philosophy known as restorative justice. Based on the reputation he has established in the short time he has served, we endorse Carter to retain his seat as City Court judge.

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