On Tuesday, Nov. 3d, four people will seek the mayor’s office in Albany, NY: Jerry Jennings; the incumbent mayor, a Democrat; Corey Ellis, the Working Families Party Candidate; Valerie Faust, a Democrat seeking write in votes and Republican Nathan Lebron. For the following reasons, Mr. Lebron is the best, in most ways the only, choice.
Mayor Jerry Jennings’s progression from T-shirt and leather jacket wearing, progressive city council member to expensive suit wearing and perpetually tanned Machine Mayor illustrates the Who’s famous lyric: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
About the only thing that has stayed the same since 1993 are the mistakes that Mayor Jennings makes.
Albany’s Equalization Rate (the ratio of assessed property value to actual property value) has swung violently since Mr. Jennings took office, reaching 101.3% in 2008. (http://www.orps.state.ny.us/cfapps/MuniPro/muni_theme/muni/ratehistory.cfm?swis=010100&dom_sw=010100)
While this is not as bad as Schenectady’s problems in this area between 1992 and 1998 (http://www.orps.state.ny.us/cfapps/MuniPro/muni_theme/muni/ratehistory.cfm?swis=010100&dom_sw=010100), it contrasts poorly with the consistent equalization rates enjoyed by Poughkeepsie since 2006 (http://www.orps.state.ny.us/cfapps/MuniPro/muni_theme/muni/ratehistory.cfm?swis=131300&dom_sw=131300) or the larger Rochester, relatively stable since the late 1990s (http://www.orps.state.ny.us/cfapps/MuniPro/muni_theme/muni/ratehistory.cfm?swis=261400&dom_sw=261400). Like Albany, both Poughkeepsie and Rochester have a great deal of tax-exempt property.
Additionally, the kind of problems with parking enforcement that have generated a recent scandal were the subject of criticism by the office of the State Comptroller as far back as 1997. (http://www.albanyny.org/_files/FinalReportrevised8309.pdf)
In short, the value of experience in Mayor Jennings case is under cut by a patent inability to learn from that experience.
Mr. Ellis is an honest and capable man. He did better against Mayor Jennings, with 44% of the vote, than any other recent primary challenger.
However, he is the candidate of the Working Families Party, at a time when a recent scandal involving the Working Families Party in Troy (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/10/20/tried-steal-election-ny-voter-fraud-case-heats/) may discourage more conservative Democrats and Independents who have grown opposed to Mayor Jennings (as well as Republicans) from crossing over and voting for him. Additionally, despite a lot of time, money and effort put into the Primary (leaving little of any of these for the general election) by the Working Families Party, Mr. Ellis lost the Primary, likely his best chance to take the office.
Ms. Faust, judging from the number of lawn signs, has drawn a great deal of interest. However, it is far easier to put up a lawn sign than to vote for a write-in candidate in a New York State election.
While campaigning for Mr. Lebron, I have noticed a great deal of disaffection toward Mayor Jennings on the party of rock-ribbed Machine Democrats, the kind of people who send their children to CBA and Bishop Maginn and who go to Mass every week, who have probably voted for the Machine candidate most of their lives.
Will they come over to Mr. Ellis? Although Mr. Ellis is one of them, Albany-born-and-breed, life-long Democrat, graduate of Maginn and Fordham, I doubt it. They did not flock to him in the Primary. They are not the type of people who will generally vote on the Working Families line, especially where the scandal in Troy is getting national attention on Fox News. (This is regrettable, as Mr. Ellis and the Albany Working Families leadership have nothing to do with these issues, but as with many things in life, it is a matter of timing.)
They may vote for Ms. Faust, she has generated a plethora of lawn signs, but the mechanics of write-in candidates in New York State are, probably intentionally, difficult.
This leaves Mr. Lebron, a conservative, low taxes Republican, who arrived at these political views through a curriculum vitae that includes:
1) surviving childhood cancer that left him with a pronounced and permanent limp;
2) growing up in the South Bronx and becoming an IT Consultant in Albany; and
3) an academic career that started in a high school in the South Bronx with a jail cell in the basement and culminated (to date) in a master’s degree from Harvard in Information Systems.
Clearly, he is not your typical Country Club Republican.
While he lacks experience in elective office (probably no disadvantage in Albany, world capital of entrenched incumbency), he has extensive experience, as a consultant, in getting people to buy into his ideas.
This is both the stock in trade of consultants and the heart of politics. As an IT consultant, as opposed to consultants in other areas, his ideas either work or they don’t: the program either runs or it doesn’t; the hardware either performs or its doesn’t. The fact that he is successful is proof that he is not only a man who can sell his ideas but a man who has has good ideas in the first place.
Unlike Mayor Jennings, who was an assistant school principal, or Mr. Ellis, who was a union organizer, Mr. Lebron is a businessman. He has profit and loss responsibility. He hires and fires. He has been accountable for his ideas and his actions and has held others accountable. His particular area of endeavor involves making his clients more effective and efficient, leveraging information.
Given these facts, which of these men are more capable of finding waste, fraud and abuse in the City budget? Which of them is most likely to be willing to make such necessary cuts? Which of these men will help the School Board stand up to the Teacher’s Union? Which of these men is more likely to make Albany’s 19th Century City Government more responsive to the People, both individually and as neighborhoods?
You may say, while most conservatives are not likely to vote for Mr. Ellis, most Progressives will not vote for Mr. Lebron. However, it is in their interest to elect Mr. Lebron.
Mayor Jennings, as mentioned above, started as a Progressive. Over time, he buckled under the weight of Democratic Machine that has ruled Albany since 1922. The Machine has a life of its own, the long, living shadow (still wearing a hat and clutching a fighting roster) of Dan O’Connell. If, however, the Machine were to be replaced by a Republican Administration, this might be a new beginning for both Republicans and Progressives: a rebirth of political choice.
While Mr. Ellis is a different man than Mayor Jennings, dismantling the Machine first might be to his lasting political advantage, especially if such a Republican Administration were led by a man, like Mr. Lebron, who is committed to term limits.
In sum, there is really only one choice for Republicans and Democrats, for Conservatives and Progressives. That choice is Natnan Lebron, mayor for all these reasons.