Restoring Democracy in the City of Albany

Since the 1920s, the Democratic Party, first in the guise of the O’Connell Machine then in the guise of the O’Connell/Corning Machine and now in the guise of the Jennings Machine, has dominated the politics of Albany, capital of the erstwhile Empire State.

The patrician Erastus Corning, bound to the O’Connells through a  shared passion for the blood sports of cock fighting and politics, served as Mayor of Albany for some forty years, taking time out only for military service in World War II.   Since Corning’s death in 1983, the Democrats have retained their grasp on power.

The Corning/O’Connell Machine was replaced in 1993, by Jerry Jennings, a Democrat  Education Bureaucrat, who demonstrated The Who’s perceptiveness when they sang, “meet the new boss/same as the old boss.  According to Wikipedia, “Democratic Party enrollment in the city is 38,862 compared to Republican enrollment of 3,487.”  Albany is a one-party state as surely as Stalin’s USSR.

However, there are factors at work that may make this year a positive one for Republicans.
Corey Ellis, a City Counsel member and an early supporter of then-Sen. Obama, is running against Mayor Jennings, using a scandal over parking meter enforcement and issues with a rapidly-filling city dump as a fulcrum.  Although he mentioned high property taxes as an issue when he announced his candidacy, he mentioned no concrete solutions.

Mr. Ellis has a compelling life story. He has great notoriety in the city, due to his leadership of the Obama Campaign in Albany.  He seems, however, the type to launch a third-party effort in the likely event he does not get the nomination.   Additionally, Common Council President Shawn Morris is also running for mayor.

While all of this happens, the 2008 Equalization Rate for the City of Albany is 101.3%, according to the NYS Office of Real Property Services. ( http://www.orps.state.ny.us/cfapps/MuniPro/muni_theme/muni/ratehistory.cfm?swis=010100&dom_sw=010100)  This implies that the real property in the City (residential and commercial) is assessed at more than its full market value, which is an unconstitutional level of assessment under the NYS Constitution.

While all of this happens, Albany is home to Crips, Bloods and Surenos 13 (among the few national businesses to open an Albany office in the last few decades, other than some yuppie casual dinning and bar chains downtown) and such local gangs as the Original Gangster Killas, Jungle Junkies, and Yard Boys. These are among the city’s few recent start-up businesses.

While all this happens, the city’s public schools manage to distinguish themselves neither for safety nor for effectiveness.  As in most one-party cities, the teachers and bureaucrats are, however, well paid.

So I make this modest proposal:

—While the Democrats tear themselves up in a vituperative primary battle, why don’t the Republicans find a decent candidate: a woman or man who is from Albany; who has a record of success in the professions or business; and who wants to return something to the City and its people?

—Why doesn’t this candidate go up to Arbor Hill and the Ida Yarbrough Projects and the South End and talk to people in their Churches and their Community Centers about how vouchers could get their children a shot at a better education and a better life and how much safer their streets would be with CompStat methods, like Mayor Guiliani used in New York City to locate and control crime?

—Why doesn’t this candidate go down to North Albany and the area around the Port, where there are still warehouses and small manufacturing concerns, and talk to business owners about how reining in property taxes and reducing regulations and pointless user fees would benefit their endeavor’s bottom line?

—Why doesn’t this candidate talk to merchants out on Central Avenue and Downtown (a part of the city where Jennings did help preserve and expand business opportunity) and tell them she or he would work with Republicans in the County Legislature to reduce sales taxes and keep them low?

—Why doesn’t such a candidate confront the teachers’ union and the rest of the Education Bureaucrats, telling them that there would be limits set on spending and they had to get used to hard and fast budgets based on lower tax rates and a property inventory that was declining in value?

—Why doesn’t this candidate speak truth to power to the Education mafia about standards and pay based on performance and ending tenure and substituting short term contracts, increasing both employer and employees’ options and freedom?

—Why doesn’t this candidate tell people in Albany in general about the opportunity that comes with less nonsensical regulation and wasteful user fees?

–Why doesn’t such a candidate put herself or himself on the side of residents, not grasping unions or corrupt machine politicians? Why doesn’t such a candidate present the optimism and humor that comes from knowing that when people are free . . . and not taxed-to-death . . .  good things happen?

If this happens, while Jennings and Ellis and Morris tear themselves apart and perennial third-party candidate Jack McEneny dusts off his standard and ponders yet another run, we might be able to end almost 90 years of sometimes efficient corruption and occasionally (mostly in the person of Erastus Corning, Jennings is a typical, Stalinesque, humorless apparatchik) genial disregard for growth and opportunity and freedom.

And if this message is sent in 2009 here in Albany, what could that mean for New York State . . . and the country . . . in 2010?

The time has come for bold and effective action.