Nathan Lebron: De-bugging Albany '09

Nathan Lebron, 2009 Republican Candidate for Mayor of Albany, New York, has been an Information Technology (“IT”) professional for many years. He also grew up poor in the South Bronx, in a family touched by loss and health problems. Both of these facts define his view of Albany and the 2009 Election.

Albany has been run by a Democratic Party “Machine” since 1924. Serving Mayor Jennings now owns the Machine he ran against in 1993: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” to quote The Who. Shawn Morris, a Democratic challenger, wants to change ownership of the Machine. One Democratic challenger, Corey Ellis, a good, idealistic man like perennial Third Party Candidate/Maverick Democrat Jack McEneny, wants to fix the Machine.

Nathan Lebron, an IT consultant, wants to replace the Machine with a System.

Mr. Lebron has an IT professional’s quick, systematic mind: looking for ways to improve processes; for ways to make things more effective and efficient.

He also saw the dark side of life early on and he knows that government can do tremendous good. Medicaid paid for the cancer surgery he had on his spine as a child, which saved his life but left him with a permanent limp. However, he also saw, growing up in the South Bronx in the 1970s and 80s, how the wrong kind of help, overbearing help that shatters initiative, can channel people’s natural entrepreneurial streak into drugs and gangs and crime. Albany has been good to Mr. Lebron and he wants better things for the city that has been his home for 20 years.

Nathan Lebron, who moved in his life from the mean streets of the South Bronx to Harvard Yard, does not aspire to be Mayor for Life. His goal is simple, serving no more than two terms, to improve the City and the public life of its citizens: streets that are in good repair, neighborhoods throughout the City that are safe and well-policed; schools that are safe and effective; a fair and efficient system of assessment; and a City government that his responsive to all citizens.

As a Harvard alum (Masters of Science in IT ’06), who also is an alumnus of a Bronx high school with a jail cell in its basement, he understands the value of good education. The University at Albany, where he received his undergraduate education, gave him his start in IT and introduced him to his new home City. But he wants to work with the School Board make the Albany Enlarged City School District one that sends gifted kids from poor families to Harvard and Yale, to VMI and MIT, as well as to great local institutions like the University at Albany, RPI and Siena. He thinks about how certification programs in things like MicroSoft Network Management might hone the skills and excite the imaginations of average kids, who too often slip through the cracks. He considers what the City can do to make schools safer and drug-free.

Nathan Lebron worries about crime, especially gangs. He saw worse conditions than exist in Albany today when he was growing up in the South Bronx during the Crack Wars of the mid-to-late 1980s. He does not want that fate for Albany.

Based on what he has seen, he thinks Police must be present, especially in high-crime neighborhoods. He believes honest people everywhere in the City must know they can trust the Police. He is talking to experts in Police and Security matters, locally and further afield, about best practices in community policing, about where and how the “Broken Windows” theory has been most effectively applied. While he firmly supports gun-ownership, he listens to people like Albany’s Pastor Mueller, who are implementing innovative programs to get illegal guns off the streets.

As a homeowner, he shares the burden that Albany property taxes place on people who own residential and commercial property. He looks at Albany’s Equalization Rate of 101.3% for 2009 (the assessed valuation of commercial and residential property in the City of Albany as of July 1, 2008 was 101.3% of its fair market value) with alarm. He knows that fair assessments and low tax rates encourage people to live and start businesses in Albany. He wants the School Board to know what the reasonable limits are for its budgets, so that, with parents and teachers, the Board can plan how to best educate students with these finite funds. None of this can happen with unconstitutional over-assessment.

Nathan Lebron is a man marked by both practicality and limitless curiosity. He thinks about problems systematically. How does Albany best get abandoned property back on the tax roll? How does Albany best zone industrial areas so as to facilitate emerging uses for industrial property, such as artist’s lofts, without taking away the productive use of industrial space for manufacturing and warehousing? What can be done to advance the cause of Regionalization, outside of waste management? He talks to people throughout the City, from all walks of life, to find workable solutions to current problems and to see emerging problems that will require solutions.

Most people in public life are lawyers. They are trained to be concerned with conflict and with ramming people’s irregularly shaped lives through the symmetric and regular gateways of the law. In large measure, we have the government we have due to these traits of many elected officials.

In contrast, Nathan Lebron is an IT professional. His stock in trade is neither conflict nor the application of unbending rules from the Common Law: it is solving problems by refining systems to meet people’s needs. It is time to take Mr. Lebron’s approach and apply it to the governance of the City of Albany.

Let’s trade the Machine in for a System.